OXFORD – What a difference a year can make.
Last fall, cousins Nan Armour and Jill Mattinson were looking at a job that might have frightened off someone less determined. They were trying to restore an old Mattinson family cemetery off the Hansford Road that had become so overgrown and deteriorated that many did not even know it existed.
With help from the W.B. Wells Heritage Foundation, their mountain became much more climbable, and a return visit to the site last week showed how far the work has come.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Mattinson. “It seems like, at the time, it was taking forever. Now, we can’t believe it’s only been a year, considering what’s been accomplished.”
After forming the Mattinson Hansford Family Cemetery Society, the group acquired a quit claim deed from the property owner, giving them the necessary legal standing to have work done on the property. That opened the door to receiving funding from the foundation, which is dedicated to the maintenance and improvement of cemeteries in Cumberland County.
In fact, foundation administrator Ian Maclean alerted them to funds left over from the previous year that had not been spent by another project, and would be available to them if they could have the work done in the 2016 calendar year. They seized the opportunity and hired Athol Forestry to do the underbrush clearing at the site.
“We said, OK, let’s see if we can pull it together, and we did,” said Armour. “That was a big, critical part of it, because it enabled both the guys who were coming in to take down the big trees, and the stonemason, to see what was there.”
Athol Forestry completed its work in December, clearing the way for Woodpecker Tree Care to remove some of the large trees from the site in June. Some trees remain, as the group wants to maintain its atmosphere as a woodland cemetery.
Stonemason Keith Elliott did his work in July, focusing on 12 stones he had identified prior to the clearing work. He cleaned the stones, strengthened some, and straightened up others.
Society member Dave Hull followed that up this fall with some clearing of new growth.
“It never hit home for me until I saw the last photos Dave posted on our Facebook page a couple weeks ago,” said Mattinson. “Tears just came to my eyes because there was such a transformation.”
But there is still much to be done. Ten more stones were found after the initial clearing work, and all need attention. The boundaries of the cemetery also need to be moved to allow for better drainage and easier maintenance, while signage for information purposes is also in the plans.
Another application for funding has made to the foundation, which had several board members visit the site last week. MacLean said the application would be considered by the board in a week’s time.
“I think it’s marvelous,” he said, during the site visit. “Having been here at first, and seeing what a mess it was… you couldn’t even see more than half the stones. I just think it’s marvelous what they have done.”
The project is a prime example of how these initiatives must be started and driven by a local community group, according to foundation board member Morris Haugg, who said the site has great possibilities.
“When I hear talk about benches and gatherings, it has wonderful potential,” he said. “A cemetery has a way of bringing people together and giving them a connection which they otherwise wouldn’t have. And that’s important in our modern society it really is.