Volunteers Rediscover Capitol Hill’s Historic Figures
National preservation training program launches first D.C. project at Congressional Cemetery
The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s HOPE Crew, a program connecting people to preservation trades and breathing new life into historic landmarks, has announced an expert-led, volunteer-driven project at Congressional Cemetery to restore, document and clean the site’s nationally significant headstones. On Saturday, May 19, 2018 (rain or shine), in partnership with the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery, HOPE Crew will celebrate the first Congressional Cemetery Volunteer Day as a unique hands-on opportunity for the public, regardless of skill or ability, to gain a deeper understanding of the captivating layers of history at the only American cemetery of national memory founded before the Civil War.
We’re excited to launch HOPE Crew’s first volunteer day inside the nation’s capital at Congressional Cemetery—historic burial grounds are in many ways America’s first parks,” said Monica Rhodes, associate director of the National Trust’s HOPE Crew. “Beyond teaching preservation craft skills and rehabilitating historic places, volunteer efforts like this one are an example of how community, technology and preservation can come together to contribute to ongoing conversations and future narratives about our nation’s intricate past.”
Established in 1807, Congressional Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 67,000 people—from Revolutionary War heroes and Native American tribal chiefs to early leaders of the Gay Rights Movement. Located on a rolling site above the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., the cemetery boasts a diverse collection of monuments, many of which were designed by well-known artists and stone carvers, including architect Benjamin Latrobe, who designed the cenotaphs that mark the graves of approximately 80 members of Congress. Among those buried at the historic cemetery are former President John Quincy Adams, Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, and J. Edgar Hoover. Like most early cemeteries, however, Congressional was established without a perpetual care plan. As plot-owning families move or die out, the site can suffer from neglect, vandalism and theft. The cemetery was listed on the National Trust list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 1997.
Now a National Historic Landmark, Congressional Cemetery’s brick pathways and slate walks have been restored to their original beauty, and new trees and gardens are being planted. In 2013, as part of the National Trust’s Partners in Preservation campaign, the cemetery also received a $50,000 grant to replace and reconstruct a row of 26 mausoleum vault roofs. Congressional Cemetery stages regular educational events, tours, fundraisers, and even 5k races. Marching bands, including the world-famous U.S. Marine Band, regularly play at the grave of composer John Philip Sousa.
During the one-day volunteer event on Saturday, May 19, 2018, 9AM–1PM, the public will be trained on how to properly document, realign and clean the historic headstones, which are suffering from overgrowth, the effects of air pollution, misalignment, and more. Genealogists, photographers, historians, birders, anthropologists, joggers, and dog walkers can all find something to learn and love among the old stones. Families, groups, and all curious individuals are welcome.
Nationwide, since the start of the program in 2014, HOPE Crew (named for “Hands-On Preservation Experience”) has completed more than 150 projects, trained more than 700 young people and veterans in preservation trades and recruited over 3,000 volunteers to protect historic structures on public lands, including: Chalmette National Cemetery in Louisiana; Custer National Cemetery in Montana; and Raleigh National Cemetery in North Carolina.
For more information about Congressional Cemetery Volunteer Day and to register as a volunteer, please visit: www.savingplaces.org/congressional-cemetery-volunteers.