NORTHUMBERLAND — A historical marker on the side of the road piqued Marilyn Monroe’s interest.
The Northumberland woman lives only about 100 yards away from a historical marker on the side of Brownville Road. In May, she decided to take a closer look at what it said.
The marker indicated a nearby plot called Brownville Cemetery, a burying place for residents of the hamlet of Brownville from 1818 to 1916.
Monroe followed the path into the woods and found what she thought was a small cemetery of about 30 stones completely overgrown with sumac. Monroe and her cousin, Sheila Verner of Clifton Park, decided to help clear what they called a “sumac jungle.”
They soon realized the cemetery contained at least 128 souls. They found someone to clear the area with a steel-bladed weed whacker.
“When we saw the magnitude of the cemetery, we couldn’t believe it,” Monroe said.
They found an online list of those who were buried in the cemetery.
“So it was name after name after name, so we’d just go down the line,” Monroe said.
Brownville was a small settlement between Bacon Hill and Gansevoort, according to “Early Days in Eastern Saratoga County,” by Mrs. J.B. VanDerwerker, published in 1994. The hamlet included 20 or 30 houses.
The cemetery plot was donated by Martin Van Derwerker, and many of the stones in the cemetery carry the surname.
The cemetery was restored 18 years ago by Cody Wilson, who rehabilitated it as part of his Eagle Scout project. But it needed another facelift.
The cousins have always been interested in their own family genealogy, and Verner had wanted to adopt a cemetery.
“I didn’t think I was going to adopt such a big baby,” she said, “but once we started it was just incredible to see it unfold and find these stones and check them off our list that we found them. It’s been very rewarding.”
They enlisted the help of their husbands, family members and neighbors. After the area was cleared, the women used a biologic solution to clean stones.
They are particularly proud of the uncovered stone of Martin Van Derwerker, a Revolutionary War soldier, who died in 1843. Four of the stones mark the resting places of four Civil War soldiers.
The cemetery still needs work. Dead trees threaten the stones below them, and many stones are broken and still lying on the ground. Monroe and Verner hope someone will volunteer to take down dead trees and repair headstones.
Monroe said she wants families to know their loved ones are being remembered.
“It just seemed like this is the right thing to do,” she said. “It just touches us that there are headstones here that are neglected, and these people were loved and respected in their day.”
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