A cemetery walk Saturday aimed to help fund the restoration of the South Farmington Cemetery's 1895 chapel building
FARMINGTON — Kathleen Purdie huddled against a weathered vault door in South Farmington Cemetery and pulled her woolen cloak around her.
She and other costumed living history reenactors portrayed restless spirits who roamed the cemetery and talked about their lives and their roles in the history of Farmington.
This was no ghostly affair. It was the First Annual Historical South Farmington Cemetery Walk, held Saturday to help fund the restoration of the cemetery’s crumbling 1895 chapel building.
Purdie, a South Farmington Cemetery Association member, played the role of Pennsylvania Herendeen, one of the first to be buried near the chapel Purdie is intent on saving.
“It really has a great history,” she said of the Shortsville Road cemetery and its deteriorating building.
“It was built as a chapel, but was used as a meetinghouse, Sunday school and as a chapel,” she said. “Many different groups used it, and it was an original part of what was in this area.”
Like her counterparts, living historian Barbara Vandervort meandered silently through the gravestones, portraying the wandering spirit of one of the people buried there.
Like many of the reenactors on Saturday, she’s part of the 28th New York Company E Volunteer Infantry. The group travels regularly to historic events across the Northeast.
“We’re always willing to go somewhere to honor the Civil War soldiers, and there is one from the 28th New York who’s buried here — a captain,” said Vandervort.
Saturday’s fundraiser was the brainchild of South Farmington Cemetery Association member Dave Plante, who said he had attended a similar fundraiser in Newark and “loved it.”
“We’re really glad that there’s been a great turnout,” said Plante of the 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. tours. “We’ve tried to reiterate that we’re here to learn the history of the town and be respectful. It’s not a Halloween tour, it’s not a haunted cemetery, it’s here to learn the history of the town. We think it’s going to be really popular and we’d like to do it again next year with some different characters.”
They’ll need to.
The repair list is long and it comes with an estimated $100,000 to $250,000 price tag. But Plante is a land use planner by trade, and has experience writing grants. He and other committee members seem to have a handle on what needs to be done.
“We have to repair the entire tin roof — that has to be replaced,” said Plante. “After the tornado hit in 2015, it did a lot of damage that will be in the tens of thousands of dollars to fix. We have to redo all of the outside. Mostly we can save it by sanding it down and repainting it. And we’re trying to redo the porch.”
Projects already underway or completed include repointing the foundation and straightening the walls inside. And then comes the interior renovation, which will include addressing mold issues; resurfacing floors, ceilings and walls; and installing utilities and perhaps a kitchen in a back room.
“We want people to be able to come in and use the chapel building as a community space or for get-togethers after a funeral or burial,” said Plante.
“One hundred percent” of Saturday’s proceeds will go directly into chapel repairs and restoration, according to Town of Farmington Historian Donna Herendeen.
It will be a drop in the bucket of the quarter-million-dollar overall restoration budget. But according to Herendeen, a recent engineer’s report showed the building had “good bones” and was worth the investment.
And the good news is: much of the work can be done by skilled volunteers. Work like the stabilization and straightening of interior walls. And the foundation repointing.
“We put the word out and had about 30 people show up to help,” said Herendeen. “We had a Victor teacher who gave extra credit to students who came out, and they were all girls! The year of the woman’s suffrage and the girls show up! I love it.”
The South Farmington Cemetery Association was just awarded its 501c3 status as a non-profit, which will allow Herendeen, Plante and others to apply for grant funding.
“We’ve also received a generous donation from the Georgiana and Robert Gerlock families that’s additional land for burials,” said Plante.
That means in addition to South Farmington Cemetery’s more than 270 documented gravesites, an estimated 500 new gravesites will soon be available for sale. That’s added revenue — great news for the non-profit.
“Another big thing our committee has decided to do — we’re going to have a section of the cemetery for green burials,” said Plante. “It’s a form of burial that does not use embalming or cremation. Basically you’re put in a pine box without preservative, so it’s more environmentally friendly, and it’s more economical for the families because you’re not paying to embalm.”
Front and center on Saturday’s first cemetery tour was Farmington Supervisor Peter Ingalsbe.
“Obviously there’s a lot of the heritage of the original settlers of Farmington in that cemetery,” said Ingalsbe, after the 10-station tour and re-enactment. “The Town Board is strongly in favor of it being a success.”
Since laws have changed in recent years to allow municipalities to pitch in with the upkeep of private cemeteries, Farmington crews have helped remove brush and hauled in topsoil and gravel, Ingalsbe said.
“We have a really great history here in Farmington, and we wanted to share that with people,” said Plante. “So this is a great way for us to raise funds to try and save that building and also keep the cemetery up. Farmington doesn’t have a lot of old buildings left, so we’re trying to do what we can to save the ones that we have.”