A weathered tombstone bearing the names of brothers John Gibson and Charles Gibson stands near the entrance to the Ellsworth Cemetery, Westminster’s historic black graveyard.
The tombstone leans backward at an angle. Weeds are growing up around its base, and a small American flag is planted there.
John Gibson, who died in 1908, and Charles, buried next to his brother in 1910, rest along with several hundreds of Carroll County’s black citizens from the last 19th and earliest 20th centuries in the one-acre Leidy Road cemetery established in 1894.
Over the years, trees and weeds and sticker bushes have grown up and taken over the old cemetery. Many of the gravestones have fallen over and some have plainly been knocked down by vandals. Others were hidden in the dense underground.
Now the Union Memorial Baptist Church on Center Street and Westminster High School senior Will Andalora have joined forces in an ambitious project to clear the cemetery, right the tombstones, and restore it once and for all to the well-maintained condition appropriate for the final resting place of hundreds of citizens.
Andalora’s grandmother used to take him walking by the cemetery when he was a small child. Even then, he noticed that the place was overgrown and in need of care.
A decade later, when Andalora, 17, was looking for a community service project to complete his Eagle Scout work, he naturally turned to Ellsworth Cemetery.
On Saturday the cemetery was buzzing with activity as a dozen people worked all day to erect a fresh, unweathered split-rail fence across the front of the property. Soon 800 feet of fencing – that’s 80 post holes – will extend across the front and down both sides.
The workers included Andalora, and scouts from Troop 393, which is associated with the Grace Lutheran Church, and members of the Union Memorial Baptist Church.
The Rev. James E. Hinton, pastor of Union Memorial, plans to have a wrought iron gate and sign built at the entrance to the cemetery.
“We have black history out there,” Hinton said at a church service and meeting Sunday afternoon devoted to the cemetery project. “We’re trying to restore and maintain that cemetery so that we can keep that portion of our history alive here in Westminster.”
“I know so many people from Westminster that were buried there,” Westminster resident Richard Frye Diggs, 79, remembered this week.
“Those were prominent Negroes. In those days people worked for what they got and they were respected for what they were,” Diggs said Sunday. “I have regard for the people that rest there.”
“At my age I couldn’t just get in there with pick and shovel, but I gave them a contribution,” said Diggs, who donated $1,000 toward the project. Several local businesses have donated materials for the work.
Ellsworth Cemetery seemed quiet in the hot sunshine early Sunday afternoon, even though it is within sight and sound of busy Md. 140 on the east side of Westminster.
Several huge piles of brush, thorn bushes and tree limbs have been cut and collected by crews working almost every weekend all summer. Soon a chipper will be brought n and the brush will be removed.
Much of the graveyard has been cleared, but work still remains to be done.
In some corners there are isolated grave markers that need to be reclaimed from the wild brambles.
Loads of dirt will be brought in to fill the spots where graves have settled, and the cemetery will be reseeded. The wood fence must be finished and the wrought iron gate built.
Andalora expects the work to continue at least through August and September.
“We’d like to see more people out there because it is a big job,” he said at the church Sunday. “it’s a very ambitious project.”
“Although the most recent headstone seen Sunday was dated 1958, the cemetery may have been used into the 1970s. Hinton said he does not expect any new burials there after it is restored. The church hopes to buy a lawn tractor and pay someone to cut the grass every week or two.
“We want to make it nice because people still go out there to visit,” Andalora said.
“We hope and pray to have it all done this year,” Hinton said.