The Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery Foundation is looking back on six years of restoration and preservation projects that will by mid-year top $500,000. “On March 8, 2017, a group of approximately one dozen local citizens gathered in the historic Greenlawn Chapel to discuss how to partner with the City of Portsmouth and the cemetery staff to assist in the restoration and preservation of the nearly 200-hundred-year-old cemetery,” according to Debbie Gambill, FOGCF representative.
“We had no idea how we would even start, but we agreed to form a non-profit foundation that would find a way to fund and implement the necessary preservation/restoration projects. We also wanted to find a way to fund the projects that would not interfere with the many other very worthy organizations who were doing good work throughout the city.”
Board Member Tanner Hatcher offered the idea of an outdoor drama providing a glimpse into the historical figures buried onsite. “We saw other areas of the country were doing something similar and we thought it might work here to help fund the projects.”
It has worked and the annual “Story of Us” historical reenactments helped fund the restoration of the chapel (a partnership with WAI Construction Group) along with donations from Portsmouth Area Ladies, Portsmouth Rotary Club and countless others. “We were lucky enough to have Linda and Gary Tieman work with us to make the productions successful.”
FOGCF Board Member Ben Allen described the restoration process as one that brings the chapel as near to its’ original 1884 condition as physically possible. “Each window and door were individually measured and crafted, and the stonework meticulously restored to be as near the original as possible.” The chapel is presently listed on the National List of Historic Places.
The installation of the adjacent Serenity Garden was the next phase. “The Serenity Garden was a partnership with Southern Ohio Medical and was inspired by our late board member Amy Keating,” explained Mary Arnzen (FOGCF Vice-President) “The garden provides a peaceful place for families and visitors with seasonal color and period specific benches,” added Board Member Bob Gambill who oversaw the development and installation.
Greenlawn Cemetery was established in 1829 and encompasses approximately forty (40) acres in the city and is home to approximately 85,000 graves. The FOGCF is presently working with City Engineer Nathan Prosch to digitize the records and make them easier to navigate via smartphone. Gambill added Pontem Cemetery Software has constructed new site maps and the next step is defining each section/lot/gravesite. In the coming months a large volunteer effort will be utilized to photograph, GPS and upload that data. This was one of the first projects the community indicated they wanted to see, and it is exciting to see it move to the next phase. Local volunteers Steve and Tess Midkiff are working with the FOGCF on this endeavor.
The entire community joined together over many weeks to scrape and paint the cast iron fencing that surrounds the large cemetery site, restoring it to the original black. The City of Portsmouth provided the necessary paint and the community provided the labor.
The Portsmouth Rotary Club co-funded along with proceeds from “Story of Us III,” the new Greenlawn Archway that greets visitors as they enter the main gate. While painting one evening, John Gowdy had discovered a small plaque with the name Stewart Fence Company on the existing fence. Steven Harris reached out to the company who was by chance still operating near Cincinnati. Stewart Fence still had some of the original templates and was able to duplicate the new archway to be as accurate as possible to the original.
The Scioto Foundation worked with the organization to fund the construction of a large information center at the East side of the main entrance on Offnere Street. Local designer Gina Chabot designed the covered pergola and a large map of the entire cemetery was created by local artisans Sharee Price and April Deacon . Members of the Portsmouth Garden Club maintain the season horticulture changes at the office area and FOGCF Board Member Melissa Appleton maintains the concrete planters on the entryway pillars.
The Glockner Family recently funded the replacement of thirty (30) flagpoles that surround Soldier’s Circle. American Legion Post 23 provided new American Flags for these poles and the relocation of the existing poles to the area near Kinney’s Lane and Offnere. Jay and Sonie Hash and Hopesource provided the funding for installation of the new flagpoles.
FOGCF Treasurer Melissa Appleton explained that each of the 350-plus veteran’s monuments that surround the center statue in Soldier’s Circle were raised and cleaned. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has a guideline for the height of each of the 240-pound monuments and it was important to meet those standards. Local volunteers along with FOGCF board members could be seen cleaning each monument over a period of weeks. The next monument cleaning will take place in late March.
The FOGCF partnered with Shawnee State University and the Scioto Foundation to catalog and GPS each tree on the site. In addition, Logan Minter (SSU Professor) who coordinated the project provided an additional “medicinal tour” that highlights the types of plants physicians or pharmacists would have used in the 1800’s-early 1900’s for treatment. Pedestrians will find a small tag on each tree and that tag links to the data provided on the SSU site.
Gerald and Marilyn Albrecht recently helped fund the installation of thirteen trees along Kinney’s Lane and Offnere Street. Mrs. Albrecht’s father, Arthur Mucha, had been the cemetery sexton from 1941-1970 and the trees were planted in tribute to her father’s love of Greenlawn Cemetery.
Over 150 individuals from across the Tri-State area traveled to Greenlawn in October 2022 to participate in the first annual Tombstone Trot. Runners and walkers in all ages (some costumed) enjoyed the 5K. Diane Applegate, Melissa Appleton and Ben Allen coordinated the event that is scheduled again for fall 2023.
Over 60 section markers were recently installed throughout the cemetery to help define the individual sectors of the site. The markers are exactly like those utilized at Arlington National Cemetery and will help visitors, genealogists and others find gravesites. Bob Gambill, Steve Appleton and volunteers from the Counseling Center installed the markers.
The City of Portsmouth recently installed period specific lighting and new sidewalks/curbing along the main brick entryway into the cemetery and leading to Soldier’s Circle. This provides much needed additional lighting and the sidewalks over a safer avenue for wheelchair and pedestrian travel. “I cannot say enough about the wonderful relationship we have with the City of Portsmouth. City Manager Sam Sutherland, Tracy Shearer, Jack Tackett and everyone onsite at the cemetery has been incredible,” Gambill continued.
Upcoming projects that have been funded and are due to be completed by the end of summer 2023 include the installation of thirteen large historical markers (a partnership with the Scioto County Commissioners/PALS/SOMC, the complete restoration of the Soldier Monument at Soldier’s Circle (including the base), Veteran’s flags on the light posts, landscaping at the Grant, Offnere and Kinney’s Lane entrances and monument cleaning.
Events planned include the upcoming Easter Sunrise Service scheduled for 7:00 a.m. Sunday, April 9th, programs with the Portsmouth Garden Club, Rotary Club and Kiwanis Club, “The Story of Us V”, Tombstone Trot 2023, Christmas Remembrance Event, dozens of tours, monument cleaning and routine daily cleanup.
“This is just a small list of the many improvements we have been fortunate enough to be part of and each of our board members are working members, onsite often picking up trash, painting, cleaning, talking to visitors, working with SSU students, cleaning and highlighting the history of our community.”