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Johnson, historical society reclaim cemetery’s fallen headstones

MADISON – Concerned citizens are saving pieces of Madison history that are literally crumbling away. Ron Johnson and other volunteers are reclaiming fallen headstones on graves in Old Madison Cemetery.

In 2004 with the Madison Station Historical Preservation Society, Johnson suggested repairing broken headstones in Old Madison Cemetery, south of Mill Road and west of Hughes Road. The society agreed to fund the project, and Mayor Jan Wells approved the request for the restoration effort.

“Many headstones were laying down and (getting) damaged by lawn maintenance crews,” Johnson said. “Rather than removing them and replacing with new markers, the historical society agreed that using the actual historic stones would be better.”

The headstones represent “tangible pieces of history that deserve more than going to a landfill,” Johnson said.

Expanding tree roots or the shifting soil had turned over only a couple of headstones. “Marble is not a very strong stone, much like sandstone. It doesn’t take much effort to damage them,” Johnson said.

On some markers, lettering has been ‘obscured,’ or the removal of lettering from damage through the years so that reading the inscriptions is obscured to a best guess or no guess at all, he said.

Most headstones and bases are made from a marble slab, a few from poured concrete.

The first step in the repair process was to secure permission from the city. Repairs required several steps:

* Cleaning – Society members previously had worked on most headstones that were lying down. Volunteers gently removed old mortar, glue and caulking.

* Fittings – For minor repairs, headstones were fitted with fiberglass rods and white Portland cement.

* Major damage – If the damage is more than a clean break, volunteers pour a form with sand and white Portland cement and float the pieces like a mosaic.

* New bases – To replace bases, Johnson filled a form with Quikrete and re-enforced it with rebar.

One repaired headstone at James Francis Bronaugh’s grave shows his birth date as Jan. 8, 1834 (obscured) and death on June 16, 1897. The marker’s inscription reads, “Jesus, while our hearts are bleeding — O’er the spoils that death has won — We would at this solemn meeting — Calmly say, ‘Thy will be done.’”

Another reclaimed marker states “Son of Steptoe & Sarah O. Pickett. Died (obscured). Aug. 29, 1882. Blessed are the pure in heart – For they shall see God.” Volunteers included Dawn Estrada, Alex Johnson, Ron Johnson, Charlie Nola, Doug Smith and Andy Stewart.

“Madison Station Historical Preservation Society has funded and supported restoration of about 16 headstones in Old Madison Cemetery. We’ve also straightened maybe a dozen obelisks to avoid them from toppling over,” Johnson said.

“Members of the public have thanked us for the work,” Johnson said.

Alabama Historical Commission designated Old Madison Cemetery as a historic cemetery site in 2015.

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