, Newburyport, MA

May 8, 2013

Volunteers restore Salisbury's oldest gravestones

Volunteers restore town's oldest gravestones

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — SALISBURY — The gravestones at the Salisbury Colonial Burial Ground mark the resting places of some of the town’s earliest residents, and this summer the Salisbury Historical Commission will be working to make sure their names are never forgotten.

Over the next few months, chairman Paul Colby Turner and other commission members will be going through the cemetery to rehabilitate the old gravestones, some of which have been worn down over the years, making it difficult to read the inscriptions.

“We started cleaning it up last summer, and last year we repaired about 40 gravestones, resetting them or repairing them,” Turner said. “I have about 20 stones left to do, and that’s what I’m going to be doing the rest of the summer.”

Located at the corner of Beach and Ferry roads, the Salisbury Colonial Burial Ground, dated 1639, is the oldest cemetery in town and is the resting place of many of Salisbury’s earliest leaders, including Major Robert Pike, who was one of the town’s first residents and first ministers.

Turner began working last summer to clean and repair the gravestones, some of which date back to the early 18th century. He said his goal is to fix up the remaining ones by July, when Pike’s living descendents are planning to visit Salisbury.

“I think something like 30 or 40 members of the family will be visiting in July, and I wanted to make sure it was cleaned up for them,” he said.

Turner recently attended a seminar in Haverhill where he learned proper preservation techniques, and he has also obtained special instruments used by historians for gravestone repairs. One surprisingly common tool he said can be used in preservation is Dawn, a kitchen soap, which he said is effective in cleaning the stones and getting the grime off them.

As far as repairing broken stones, Turner said it typically takes him about four hours per grave, although the time and process vary depending on how old the stone is, what type of stone it is, what condition it’s in and how much of the grave needs to be dug up.

“Some of them are sandstone, some are slate, each one takes a slightly different process so you can read what it says,” Turner said.

Turner said he is willing to take on the arduous task of grave repair because he has a unique passion for local history. His ancestor Anthony Colby was one of the original founders of Salisbury, and over the years Turner has embraced his family’s role in shaping the town’s history by documenting and preserving it.

“I’ve been here for 31 years, but the Colby name is what got me into it,” Turner said. “I do most of the genealogy work in the town when we get requests from people out of town who can’t visit.”