Work underway to preserve grave markers at Warren Union Cemetery

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published August 20, 2014

 David Carter, left, and his son, Ethan Carter, of Carter’s Cemetery Preservation, Inc., work on the grave marker of Ira Persall at Warren’s Historic Union Cemetery.

David Carter, left, and his son, Ethan Carter, of Carter’s Cemetery Preservation, Inc., work on the grave marker of Ira Persall at Warren’s Historic Union Cemetery.

Photo by Brian Louwers

WARREN — It’ll be a few years until the job is finished, but when it is, you’ll again be able to read the headstones at the historic Warren Union Cemetery.

Dave Carter, owner of Carter’s Cemetery Preservation, has been working on the painstaking task of righting, repairing and cleaning the cemetery’s headstones, some of which date back to the mid-1800s.

“I love history. I love genealogy,” said Carter, who works for a local DPW but started the business as a side job in 2010. “I went down south and learned from a gentleman who has been doing it for 25 years.”

Carter’s tools of the trade include a motorized nylon brush, a plastic scraper and spray bottles filled with water, or maybe a little bit of ammonia. He said they’re useful for removing dirt and the lichens that grow on the headstones, obelisks and other grave markers made of white marble, probably shipped to Detroit from Vermont by train in the 19th century and carted by wagon to the pioneer farms of Warren.

The work also involves using tripod hoists to level heavy, delicate makers and lift them back into place.

The company has worked on eight markers this year, and Carter anticipates work at the cemetery would be a three- to five-year project.

“We’re starting with the veterans’ markers that needed work and the ones that were the most dangerous,” said Becky Hetchler, president of the Warren Historical & Genealogical Society and treasurer of the Warren Historical Commission.

Hetchler said funding for the project was made available through the budget for Warren’s Village Historic District Commission, which maintains the cemetery in cooperation with the society and the St. Paul United Church of Christ. The church owns the eastern section of the land.

The cemetery, on Chicago Road just west of Mound at the edge of the Village Historic District, is the permanent resting place of hundreds of former residents, including some of the Warren area’s earliest pioneers. Records show the cemetery property was owned by pioneer farmer Peter Gillette prior to 1845, when it was purchased by a group of 18 families from the First Methodist Church. The Methodists later sold some of the land to the congregation at St. Paul.

The oldest grave, belonging to Moses Wilson, dates back to 1838 and may have been relocated from a family plot after the cemetery was established.

Hetchler said each marker could cost $70-$500 to repair.

“I wanted to get somebody in for quite a while. I knew we’d have to raise some money to get it done,” Hetchler said. “It’s a big piece of the city’s history, and there’s a lot of families in there — founding families. You recognize the street names.”

Donations are being sought for the project through the Warren Historical & Genealogical Society. Families and groups can sponsor restoration of a distant relative’s headstone or a specific marker in the cemetery.

Those wishing to make a donation can leave a message at the Warren Historical Gallery by calling (586) 258-2056.