NORTH ADAMS -- Roger Eurbin is on a mission to survey, repair, restore and uncover the headstones on the north side of Hillside Cemetery, part of the city’s oldest municipal cemetery.
"I moved back to the city about one and a half years ago and was really surprised to see how nice some places look today," he said Friday. "Then I went to Hillside Cemetery and saw the state of disrepair it is in and became very concerned."
A U.S. Navy veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, Eurbin joined the armed forces after graduating from North Adams State College. After leaving the Navy, he settled in Pennsylvania, where he lived until retiring and relocating to the city.
His interest in visiting the graves of veterans drew him to the cemetery.
"I’ve been to some of the nicest military cemeteries in the world -- in Hawaii, in the Philippines and in Europe," he said. "I know the city can’t upkeep the cemetery in the same condition as a military cemetery, but we have a lot of history and a lot of our forefathers buried there. One of the main reasons for my concern is the number of veterans buried there.
"According to a survey done in 1940, as part of the federal government’s desire to register veterans’ graves, it was found that there are soldiers from the Indian War, at least five from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, two from the Spanish-American War, well over 140 from the Civil War and at
The cemetery, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dates back to 1798, when the Knight family donated their farm land to the city in honor of their daughter Olive, who became its first occupant. The city’s oldest cemetery, which is owned by the First Congregational Church, is located near the intersection of Hodges Cross Road and Route 8.
In addition to the veterans buried in Hillside Cemetery, some of the city’s most prominent and famous citizens are buried there. On the north side of the cemetery, those buried include William Bradford, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Gov. William Bradford, who came over on the Mayflower, along with members of the Arnold, Browne, Colgrove, Isbell, Haskins and Tinker families.
Eurbin brought his concerns before the City Council several months ago, hoping to draw attention to the issue.
"I had heard Mayor [Richard] Alcombright say he was concerned about the entryways to the city and thought that the cemetery is definitely something visitors to the city see immediately when they travel on Route 2," Eurbin said. "After that first council meeting, the mayor called me in for a meeting. He was pleased with my interest and wanted to hear my thoughts on what I would like to do."
From there, Eurbin met with the mayor, along with Public Works Commissioner Timothy Lescarbeau, Cemetery Foreman Paul Arabia and City Councilor Marie Harpin, where it was decided Eurbin would work to put together a committee of volunteers to start surveying and cataloging the graves and areas of disrepair.
"I’m very, very thankful for Roger stepping forward," Alcombright said Monday. "Over the last few years, I’ve spoken with numerous offices, including those of our local representatives and of U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown and U.S. Congressman John Olver. I’m sad to say there just isn’t any money available to take on this work."
But, the mayor said, he’s pledged to provide manpower and materials.
"It’s going to be a process. It could take a long time," Alcombright said. "But if we chip away at it, over a period of time, within our regular budget cycle along with money from the Tinker Fund and the Perpetual Care Fund, I’m sure we can make some great progress."
He said one of the ongoing issues at the cemetery, besides damage from weather and the natural age and materials of the stones, is an active groundhog community.
Currently, Eurbin is looking for volunteers to help him survey the cemetery, which he is mapping out into sections.
The last major repairs made to Hillside Cemetery took place in 2000, when the city received a $100,000 Historic Landscape Preservation Grant from the state, the majority of which went to repairs to a retaining wall on the south side of the cemetery. It also included repairs to numerous headstones.
Individuals or groups interested in volunteering should contact Eurbin by sending their contact information to: Hillside Restoration and Preservation, P.O. Box 1128, North Adams, MA 01247.