An update from Jim Vichich, President of the Brighton Area Historical Society
The Brighton Area Historical Society installed a new, double gated archway.
Many folks that reside in the Brighton area have paid a visit to the Old Village Cemetery. Being located adjacent to the Millpond, the cemetery is a convenient, outdoor museum of history. Names found on headstones can also be found on street signs as you travel through the area as many of Brighton’s original founders are buried here. Today, the Old Village Cemetery is a beautiful space to visit, but it hasn’t always looked so nice. Just a decade ago, you would have been disgusted with its dilapidated appearance. With the leadership of the Brighton Area Historical Society (BAHS), the helping hands of volunteers, funding provided by donations, memberships, and sponsorships, the Old Village Cemetery is being restored.
In February of 2009, the Old Village Cemetery was locked 24/7. You could not see into or out of the historic burial ground. The thick brush and trees around the perimeter blocked out any sight lines. It was clear the overgrown space was falling apart. Restoring the cemetery would be a huge task, but the Brighton Area Historical Society was determined to do it. With a group of passionate volunteers, the BAHS approached the City of Brighton with a plan to restore and preserve the City’s oldest cemetery.
The first spring cleanup took place in May of 2009. In the beginning, this process could be classified as hard labor. The whine of chain saws cutting back the overgrown lot became just background noise. Junk trees were removed along the cemetery banks, brush was pulled from the perimeter, and areas around headstones were cleaned up. Supported by the City’s Department of Public Works, all of the heavy lifting was done by the BAHS and community volunteers. Once clean, the Brighton Area Historical Society installed a new, double gated archway and the Downtown Development Authority helped fund a concrete walkway. In the spring of 2010, the Old Village Cemetery was finally open to the public.
It was obvious that the community supported the restoration from their attendance at the annual spring cleanups. The cemetery was taking on a whole new appearance and in 2012, the BAHS decided it was time to expand the restoration project. The BAHS approached the City of Brighton about the need to restore broken headstones that littered the beautiful grounds. Unfortunately, the City wasn’t able to finance these expensive repairs so the BAHS decided they could do it themselves. They had a professionally trained individual equip volunteers with the skillset and knowledge to repair and preserve headstones themselves. By the fall of 2012, the Headstone Preservation Team was born and restored headstones began to rise proudly from the ground.
The BAHS Headstone Preservation Team now meets on the fourth Monday of the month throughout the summer. They have just completed their fifth year and are now all trained in the headstone repair process that is used in cemeteries across the nation. The first person to die in Brighton was Truman Worden in 1838. His headstone had been missing for over 140 years and was found under a foot and half of leaves and soil. His broken headstone was one of the first to be restored. Still, many require additional finishing work for a full restoration, but the focus of this group has been to reassemble the headstones and get them standing upright. A majority of damage to these pieces occurs when they lie flat on the ground and are exposed to freeze/thaw cycles and run over by large mowing equipment.
The project to restore and preserve headstones is estimated to be a 10-year program, but in just five years, 137 broken headstones have been rebuilt and 200 were reinstalled vertically. Volunteers have donated nearly 4000 hours of their time at spring cleanups and to restoring history. With the support from the City’s Department of Public Works, this donation has saved the City of Brighton and its citizens thousands of dollars.
The Brighton Area Historical Society looks forward to continuing their valuable restoration work next summer. If you would like to volunteer, become a member of the BAHS, or donate to the effort, contact the Brighton Area Historical Society at 810-250-7276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org