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W.Va. county hopes to save historic cemeteries

Mar. 19, 2013 @ 12:10 PM

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — One West Virginia county has lost several historic cemeteries, thanks to a combination of development pressure and lack of documentation that they existed.

Now the Berkeley County Landmarks Commission is trying to compile a list of cemeteries to protect.

President Todd Funkhouser tells The Journal (http://bit.ly/YlVlZ8) that if a cemetery isn't on the National Register of Historic Places, the state of West Virginia doesn't know it exists. And if it's unregistered, there's no obligation to protect it.

That's how several have been lost.

The commission has identified 10 previously unknown cemeteries, so its list currently stands at 70, Funkhouser said. In April, he will meet with state archeologists to start registering them.

Some of their unique features include wooden headstones, zinc monuments and coffins with windows.

Funkhouser said he also plans to appear before the county Planning Commission to help increase public awareness of cemeteries that he says "need to stand the test of time."

"Cemetery endangerment is more than just development pressure; it's custodianship as well," he said. "We have a few of these older family cemeteries that are down to one or two people maintaining them, if they're being maintained at all."

If the cemeteries are registered in the national database, they could also qualify for preservation money the county could use to reset stones and maintain mausoleums.

The Landmarks Commission hosts cemetery tours as part of its "Stories in Stone" program.