WASHINGTON, W.Va. - Robert Edelen carved out a 1,248-square-foot piece of property that would, in perpetuity, become the burial place for the Lewis, Edelen, Neale and Harwood families of Washington Bottom.
The elder Edelen, who died in 1849, likely never envisioned that the cemetery property would sit in the shadows of a major chemical manufacturing facility. He likely never envisioned that the cemetery would fall to ruin, either.
The Edelen Cemetery has approximately 45 burial plots with the oldest belonging to George Lewis, who died in November 1811. It is typical of cemeteries in this area, according to Wood County Historical Society President Bob Enoch.
Dozens of Scouts, parents and community volunteers turned out to help probe, unearth and reset the stones at Edelen Cemetery in Washington, W.Va. Working are Kyle Walther, Loki Drummond, Sean Walther, kneeling, Sam Ollis and Andrew Waters.
As the family members pass on or move on, the cemeteries are left behind to the destruction of animals, weather and, in this case, tree roots. The amount of work needed to restore the headstones alone is daunting. "One of the best things this one had going for it was that it was surrounded by property owned by DuPont," said Enoch.
"While we provide access control to the cemetery, which has limited the vandalism, it was heartbreaking to see stones uprooted by overgrown trees and undermined by groundhog tunnels burrowed completely across the property," said DuPont public affairs manager Robin Ollis Stemple.
But then she read a news article about a similar cemetery that was restored as a Boy Scout Eagle project and she got to thinking, "I have Boy Scouts in my house."
She suggested the Edelen Cemetery restoration project to her stepson, Jordan, who was looking for an Eagle Scout service project. He began the work last spring.
Jordan wrote letters to two of the Edelen family members in Florida and Louisiana, who responded with historical information and gave no objection in proceeding with the project. Jordan also wrote to DuPont Plant Manager Karl Boelter to make sure his work team could cross DuPont property to access the site.
"At first, I thought all I'd need to do is pick up a few headstones and shovel some dirt. It turns out that a quality restoration includes genealogical and archaeological research and a lot of understanding in how to respectfully treat the grave sites," Jordan said.
He and his father, Dan, spent several evenings at the site planning the work with Dave Johnson, a DuPont employee who volunteered to assist in the effort. Johnson's wife, Jone, also became interested in the project and provided much of the genealogy.
The big work weekends involved about three dozen additional volunteers armed with wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, brushes and trowels. Many of the headstones were covered by grass and dirt and were not visible on the surface.
The Scouts used stainless steel two-foot probes to check for stones. The next steps were to mark them, remove the dirt then gently lift the stones. "The rain from Storm Sandy turned the dirt into a pile of mud and that was a miserable mess," said Jordan. "After that, we covered up the pile with a tarp."
"Most of the stones were in fair condition but there were a few that needed some special handling. The Scouts who came out to help got connected to the significance of returning stones to their correct positions especially when they could match families back together," Jordan said. "For the one that we could not salvage, DuPont purchased a replacement headstone."
In addition to the Scout volunteers and their families, several local companies provided services and assistance. "DeBarr gave us topsoil and Bosley donated a stump grinder. Peoples Cartage donated a bench and gave us the labor to grind and remove the stumps. DuPont put up a new fence and gave us lots of help with the planning, concrete and incidentals. And Bob Enoch. we couldn't have done the project without him," Jordan said.
An Eagle project, by definition, requires a Scout to plan, develop and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school or the Scout's community.
Josh Hughes with Troop 7 at the First United Methodist Church is also working on an Eagle service project restoring the Hendershot Cemetery in the Union District.
"There is no question about the historical value these restoration projects have in this community and that's where the Boy Scouts have made such an important impact," said Enoch.
Jordan is a member of Boy Scout Troop 12, based at Stout Memorial United Methodist Church. He is a senior at Parkersburg High School and works at Noah's Arc Thrift Shop. He plans to attend West Virginia University following his graduation next spring.
"We think Mr. Edelen would be pleased with Jordan's work," said Enoch.