Cleaning up Port’s oldest cemetery

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Volunteers clean a gravestone at Monfort Cemetery in Port Washington. (Photo by Luke Torrance)

The Monfort cemetery has sat at its current location — adjacent to Paul D. Schreiber High School — since long before there was a Port school district, or even a Port Washington. Some gravestones in the cemetery have been there since the 1700s, and they look like it: many have splotches of moss while some have toppled over.

The Town of North Hempstead has approved an effort to restore this piece of local history, and on Saturday a group of volunteers began by cleaning the stone.

“This is really just a start of the restoration process,” said Town Historian Howard Kroplick. “Eventually we hope to restore all of the headstones here, to repair the ones that have fallen on the ground, this is our initial phase.”

He said that part of the purpose of the cleaning was to draw attention to the cemetery, which would help with raising funds for the more difficult and time-consuming parts of the process.

The gravestones were cleaned first with a chemical called D2, which contains a quaternary ammonium solution and is used to prevent organisms from growing on the stone.

The group of volunteers was led by Johnathan Appell, a gravestone conservator and head of Atlas Preservation, who has traveled around the country to lead workshops like this.

“For these things… you don’t want to use household chemicals… metal brushes or power washers or bleach,” he said.

Instead, the volunteers used small brushes to gently clear the growth from the gravestone.

Appell said the most damaging thing to the headstones is water, and that those in the shade were more likely to be damaged, as water would not evaporate as quickly and would instead seep into the stone.

He said the D2 would need to be reapplied every few years, although the headstones in the shade would need to be cleaned more frequently.

Saturday’s event was the first time Appell, a Connecticut native, had come to Port Washington. He had previously down work on Shelter Island and in Southampton.

“He’s one of the world’s experts on the conservation of headstones and monuments,” Kroplick said.

A group of more than 20 volunteers was carefully cleaning the stones.

Some came from Port Washington while others came from further away to help out. Phyllis Chan Carr, the public relations director for the Sagtikos Manor Historical Society, came all the way from West Islip to pitch in.

“This is my first time, and I wanted to learn,” she said. “The manor has a family cemetery, so we’d like to learn how to preserve what’s left.”

Kroplick and the town covered the cost of the cleaning, which totaled about $1,900.

“It’s important to remember our history and honor our history,” he said. ” In this cemetery alone, we have four [Revolutionary War soldiers]… we honor them by preserving their final resting place.”

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at ltorrance@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

1 COMMENT

  1. More Than a Cleanup!
    Referring to the gathering at Monfort Cemetery as “cleaning up Port’s oldest cemetery” is only partially true. It was much more than that.
    Town Historian Howard Kroplick organized a workshop to teach cleaning techniques for gravestones and to demonstrate more difficult restoration processes that with additional training or under the supervision of a professional would enable any of us to go to the next level. So not only did we begin cleaning up Monfort Cemetery, but the 30 or so people in attendance can apply what was learned in communities all over Long Island.
    For all of us, it was eye-opening to see clear text emerge from the gravestones as we cleaned. I had come expecting to learn a thing or two, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect that cleaning a gravestone would be fun.
    A special thanks is due to Howard Kroplick and Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth for making this day possible.
    Ross Lumpkin, Trustee
    Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society

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