MILTON — Headstones and monuments in Milton Village Cemetery received a facelift with the help of volunteers this past Saturday. The typically quiet and peaceful cemetery was buzzing with activity as Milton residents arrived early to steward a piece of local history.
Tom Giffin, president of the Vermont Old Cemetery Association (VOCA) travelled from Rutland to head the efforts. With guidance from Giffin, volunteers helped right fallen stones, epoxy ones that had broken, unbury ones being swallowed by tree roots and soil and clean them all meticulously.
Giffin said projects like these, restoring Vermont’s abandoned and neglected cemeteries, is the mission of VOCA. Just this year he’s already done about a dozen of these visits to cemeteries across the state.
“The history of the United States is the history of Vermont,” he said. “You can’t talk about Robert’s Rangers or Ethan Allen without talking about Vermont. And the people who made the history are all buried in Vermont cemeteries.”
For many of the volunteers, this was their first time participating in a cemetery work day, but that was nearly impossible to tell from the outside.
Kristin Beers, Milton’s Town Clerk and first-time volunteer, explained in between leveling old headstones that their goal for the day was to clean up the first few rows in the front of the cemetery, so that it would be in good shape as visitors drive through to get to the newer burial sites.
Jen Taylor, another first-time volunteer, could be found nearby digging out a headstone that tree roots had been pulling underground. Her husband, Chris Taylor, a Milton selectboard member, had also attended the work day at Checkerberry Cemetery a few years back.
Chris Taylor said the work was rewarding and that it’s “really important to preserve the history and to give back,” adding that they had a pretty good turnout.
Giffin said he continues to have a busy schedule ahead, making up for lost time from projects cancelled last year due to COVID-19. He’s already rescheduling projects into 2022.
“If you take pride in the history of your town, you take pride in your cemeteries,” Giffin said.
According to a commemorative 2021 calendar published by Milton Historical Society, the history of Milton Village Cemetery began with Judge Noah Smith, one of the first settlers in Milton. He gave land for the construction of the town’s Congregational Church, and a public burial ground along with it.
Smith was born in 1756 and died in 1812. He served both on the Vermont House of Representatives and as a Justice on the Vermont Supreme Court. A freemason, he became Vermont’s first Grand Master in the 1790s.
Another historical figure buried at the cemetery according to the historical society is Rev. J. H. Woodward. Woodward entered the ministry and in 1861 joined the First Vermont Cavalry during the Civil War to serve as chaplain. His accomplishments in the army awarded him the nickname the ‘fighting chaplain’.
Later in life Woodward was a pastor at the Milton Congregational Church for 17 years. He died in 1886.
Editor's Note: Luca Kolba is a student at the University of Vermont and a reporter for the Community News Service, a student-powered partnership with local newspapers.