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Historic graveyard targeted by vandals

BY LINDLEY ESTES

The Gordon family cemetery, the burial ground for one of Fredericksburg’s first families, sits seemingly protected by a wrought-iron fence along monument-laden Washington Avenue.

Inside the fence, it’s a different story.

Most of the grave markers have been knocked over, some shattered, others marred by scratches from other vandals for more than a decade.

“Over half of the markers have been vandalized at least once, and some two and three times,” said David Via, an independent contractor who specializes in cemetery restoration and has been hired to restore the site.

Natatia Bledsoe, spokeswoman for the Fredericksburg Police Department, said that the cemetery’s location on Washington Avenue, so close to Kenmore Park, makes it susceptible to vandalism.

“There’s a lot of foot traffic,” she said. “And it’s easy to be in there doing mischief without being seen.”

Bledsoe said the vandalism is targeted at the gravestones, and since the most recent report in August, the cemetery has gone on the department’s watch order list, meaning officers know that it is a problem area and should be patrolled.

Restoration of the cemetery, home to 10 of the Gordons who owned Kenmore Plantation in the 1800s, is wrapping up in December.

Via has helped restore the cemetery once before, and said that, for its size, the damage is the most extensive he has seen in his 22 years in restoration.

City officials did not provide information about the cost of the repairs.

Sylvia Scaife, who has lived in the house next to the cemetery for 40 years, said she would like to see more done to keep it safe.

“I think it’s a wonderful asset for Fredericksburg,” she said. “I would like to see someone take it over, like the college, who could care for it.”

Via restored some of the headstones 11 year ago, when three were broken and defaced with graffiti.

Six of the 10 monuments at the site were damaged this time.

The gravestone of George Gordon, who died while a prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Md., during the Civil War, and Ella Gordon’s obelisk monument were pushed to the ground, as were four others.

Susan Gordon’s rectangular gravestone was one of the most severely damaged.

Vandals pushed the ledger covering the grave to the ground, breaking it into multiple pieces.

Next to that grave is the ornate covering of Alexander Gordon’s grave. It is heavily scratched. Via said that eleven years ago people had scratched it, and there have been progressively more scratches since then. I’ve never seen a monument scratched before.”

He said there is not much to do about the scratches, since they have broken through the stone’s surface.

Via creates all the tools he uses to repair monuments.

One brace used to set a tablet headstone back into place took weeks to make.

“We have to make the braces to fit,” Via said. “Every dimension is unique.”

Via has been a stoneworker for 35 years and has been involved in restoring stone, particularly in cemeteries, for 22 years.

He recently renovated monuments in the St. George’s Episcopal Church graveyard in downtown Fredericksburg. He also worked on each of the stones in the Madison family cemetery at Montpelier, completely taking apart and rebuilding the monuments for James and Dolley Madison.

“These are some of the early families [of Fredericksburg],” he said about the Gordons. “So it’s the early history of your area.”

Samuel Gordon purchased the plantation from John and Susan Thornton in 1819. He named the house Kenmore after the family’s ancestral Scottish home of Kenmuir.

The Gordons owned the home until 1859, when it was sold.

Kenmore was once the home of George Washington’s sister, Betty Washington Lewis. It was built by her husband, Fielding Lewis, in the 1770s.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com

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