Castleton community members weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to do some good at the Main Street Cemetery during a recent volunteer cleanup initiative hosted on Sept. 25-26. The event, which was organized by Castleton University sophomore Joey Kinney, invited anyone interested to pick up a brush and help “preserve the legacy of Castleton’s ancestors.”
Kinney, a history major, said he was first inspired to run the event back in August when he learned one of his education courses with professor Monica McEnerny required 15 hours of community service. Having developed a deep respect for headstones during a prior history course, the event seemed like a no-brainer.
“If you take a look when you pass the cemetery, you realize how forgotten it is – full of decay, broken stones, ones covered in moss,” Kinney said.
After meeting with cemetery overseer Raymond Ladd, Kinney really started to get the ball rolling. Ladd recalled being excited about the opportunity from that moment on, especially after having had a previous experience with Castleton students who played on their phones instead of cleaning the headstones.
“Joey Kinney is an awesome guy. He does everything very thorough. He’s gonna be a future leader of America,” Ladd said. “And it was good to see the number of people there. They intermingled, they were really polite, and just awed by the process.”
Kinney quickly received permission from the town as well as roughly $400 in funds to cover the cost of supplies – including a product called “D/2” which striped the grime from the stones. The event was also endorsed by both the American Legion and Castleton University’s President Jonathan Spiro.
The event began at 9 a.m. on both days with the group spending seven hours on Saturday and six hours on Sunday cleaning up. Though people popped in and out throughout the day, Kinney said he had roughly 15 to 20 people helping out at any given time. Snacks and water were supplied by Huden Dining Hall for Castleton residents, student and university faculty, alike.
“I think this kind of [event] makes us more aware of Castleton and its rich history. At the same time, I think it demonstrated the degree to which the town and the college can come together on shared projects of interest,” Castleton history professor Andre Fleche said.
In total, the event and its volunteers fixed up roughly 60 headstones with four being large obelisks. The stones date from the late 18th century to the early 20th century, many from pre-America Civil war era. Included in the cleanup were the gravesites for two United States senators, four U.S. congressmen, veterans from the American War of Independence, a soldier killed at the Battle of Hubbardton, and even the founder of Castleton.
“One thing people were saying on Sunday was that they felt really honored to be there and really glad that they went because they felt so much better afterwards for doing this,” Kinney said. “People were pulling me aside and asking, ‘when is it gonna happen again.’”
Though Kinney didn’t initially plan to run another event like this, he said he has already contacted the town in hopes of cleaning up more of the hundreds of stones at the Main Street Cemetery in the spring.
“I really am happy that the awareness got raised for this kind of issue with the stones. It’s easy to drive past it, go to school, go to the bookstore, and not really look at the stones,” Kinney said. “I’m glad people know now – and feel good about it, too.”