The serene settings of cemeteries are designed to put one at ease, take time for quiet reflection of the past and future, and instill an overall sense of peace. But when that scene of serenity is overrun with weeds, its monuments and tombstones desecrated, and neglect takes over the splendor, the survival of the serenity, as well as the cemetery itself, is threatened.
Such is the case several local residents have found recently while visiting the Oakwood Cemetery on Oil Ridge in Sistersville. Once eight acres of beautiful rolling West Virginia hillside, adorned with stately monuments, beautiful manicured family grave sites, and well built structured levels as the cemetery rises to the hill top for a breathtaking view of Sistersville and the Ohio River, the Oakwood Cemetery has fallen into severe disrepair.
"I hate to say it, but its sadly, embarrassingly ugly," said one member of the group willing to put their time and money into the restoration.
The graves of many veterans from several wars can be found in need of TLC at the Oakwood Cemetery.
"I'm in my 50's, and remember going up there with my grandpa to put flags on the veterans' graves when I was little," said another member. "It sure doesn't look like it used to. That was really a beautiful cemetery then. Now, it's just sad."
The group, "The Oakwood Cemetery Restoration Group", made up of local residents interested in seeing the cemetery returned to its former beauty, have begun steps to formalize their intent.
Having researched the history and proper ownership of the land itself, the group has found that it was deeded to the Presbyterian Church in Sistersville. But that ownership does not necessarily dictate responsibility, therefore the group has begun an assessment of what needs to be done.
In short order, the cemetery needs a good cleaning, but before that happens the group must assess what problems exist, how to go about fixing them, the cost of the repairs as well as the labor, and perhaps later down the road, day-to-day maintenance and care of the cemetery.
While a "Spring Cleaning" is being planned and any work at all will undoubtedly be a positive effect on the grounds, the group realizes that broken and fallen headstones, desecrated monuments, erosion, and general upkeep and repair could run to thousands of dollars, therefore, available grant money and fund raising will be a necessary component of their discussions as well. At this point in time, volunteers are being sought to help with the first Spring cleaning days. Individuals, groups, organizations, teams and all other interested parties are welcome and encouraged to become a part of the restoration.
Considered to play an important historic role locally, many prominent citizens of Sistersville's storied past are buried at Oakwood, including founding sister, Sarah Wells McCoy, daughter of Charles Wells, the founder of the city. The remains of the dear departed ones of current residents are there, as well as those of military veterans from several wars.
If nothing else, it's a matter of respect for those who went before us.
The Oakwood Cemetery Restoration Group will meet again on May 1 at the Sistersville Public Library at 6:30 p.m. At this meeting formalization of the group will begin with the election of officers and more complete plans discussed about the initial clean-up days.