Alan Lee (left), Jonathan Appell, and Alan Brenner are pictured working on a tombstone early this morning. Photo by Aila Boyd
By Aila Boyd

Members of Fincastle Presbyterian Church participated in a two-day tombstone maintenance project yesterday and today.

Jonathan Appell, a Connecticut-based specialist in tombstone preservation, conducted the workshop, which taught the proper methods for cleaning, repairing, and maintaining tombstones.

Appell has been working in tombstone preservation since the 1980s. He recently worked on the Knight’s Tombstone at Jamestown. The grave dates back to the first half of the 17th century and is believed to be the grave of Governor Sir George Yeardley. The tombstone is embedded into the floor of a church.

Alan Brenner, who is in charge of property management at the church, said that after getting tired of seeing so many of the tombstones at the graveyard leaning over and breaking apart, he started doing some research and came across Appell, who he reached out to. Because of Appell’s busy schedule, it took nearly a year for him to make it to Fincastle.

Before starting the maintenance, Appell conducted a site survey in order to determine which tombstones needed the most work. One of the issues that he said was apparent from the start was that the location of the graveyard is problematic. Because the graveyard is on a hill, the soil has slowly moved downhill over time, which has caused the tombstones to slant or fall over altogether. He also noted during the survey that some of the previous repairs that had been done on the tombstones were not in line with the practices that are currently used.

Once the site had been surveyed, Appell taught participants how to reset the slanting or fallen over tombstones. In order to reset the tombstones, they first had to be removed from the ground. Then, a deeper hole was dug. Once the tombstones were placed back in the ground, gravel and dirt were compacted around them in order to ensure that they wouldn’t go anywhere.

Aside from getting as many of the tombstones in good shape as possible, the workshop also equipped participants with the necessary knowledge and skills that they will need in order to continue to maintain the graveyard.

Originally, Appell said, most of the stones were smooth marble, but after centuries of exposure, they’re now rough and have the feel of sandpaper. Over time, he said, there has been a shift away from marble tombstones because they don’t hold up as well as tombstones that are made out of other materials.

In total, there are 205 graves, including those of Revolutionary War veterans, on the grounds of Fincastle Presbyterian Church. The church itself dates back to the 1770s. Dr. David Dickerson currently serves as the reverend at the church.

Lyn Burton, a member of the church and one of the participants of the workshop, noted that all of the maintenance work that was done will now make it easier for visitors to find the graves of their ancestors.