City draws support to restore cemetery

There are 1,643 graves with stone markers in the City of Princeton Cemetery. Notably, 43 are the graves of Civil War veterans and two are veterans of the War of 1812. They lie among the memorials to veterans of other battles, the region’s first settlers and generations of families. And an unknown number of poor and indigent residents remains are buried in potter’s field.

City employee Cheryle Nickel calls the burial site a treasure — a rich source of the community’s history and the legacy of its founders. That’s why she was so disappointed at what she saw when she looked for her grandfather’s gravestone.

“We were walking along and we started to see broken stones and trees growing through them. It just looked horrible out there,” she said. “It’s a disgrace.”

DSC_0696City employees Cheryle Nickel, Lee Williams and Mary Lou Neubauer

Walking Tour Aug. 26, 2017

A Guided Cemetery Walking Tour is set for Aug. 26, 2017. For information, contact City Hall in Princeton at (920) 295-6612, stop in at 531 S Fulton Street, or contact via email cnickel@cityofprincetonwi.com

Contributions

To contribute to the Princeton Cemetery Restoration Project, call Cheryle Nickel at 920-295-6612 or go to http://www.cityofprincetonwi.com/index.asp.

Decades of damage from the over growth of trees, vegetation, weather and vandals have taken its toll on the cemetery. Hundreds of gravestones are estimated to be in need of repair or restoration.

“We went to (City Administrator) Mary Lou and asked ‘What can we do?’ ” Nickel says.

The conversation lead to a multi-faceted, in-depth cemetery restoration project that residents of this city of 1,200 in western Green Lake County have embraced. The project includes cataloguing each gravesite and collecting history of those buried, rededicating potter’s field and war memorials, the restoration of original maps and documentation — all culminating in a series of tours and performances where local residents will act out the history of the city’s founding residents.

All totaled, the estimated cost is $150,000.

princeton cementery beforePrinceton cementery after

Before and after restoration

The entirely donor supported project is slowly making progress from funds raised through bake sales, brat frys, a flower sale, a meat raffle and a silent auction.

Grants from foundations, like the one awarded by the Green Lake County/Ripon Community Foundation last year, help a lot, says Mary Lou Neubauer, city administrator. With $7,000 raised so far, the project is certainly going for long-term status. And the city is OK with that, says Nickel.

“Each year, we raise money for the next year’s restoration work,” Nickel says. The city is working with Shane Peik, who operates Monumental Cleaning and Restoration LLC. Peik helps identify which gravestones can be repaired based on the amount of money available. Last year, 12 gravestones were restored.

Neubauer says getting community backing has been easy.

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“We have seen a kind of resurgence with the support for preserving history, with a lot of downtown building restorations happening in the region,” she says. “We lose a lot through modernization, and I think that’s why the community has embraced this.”

This is evidenced in thousands of dollars raised through grassroots bake sales and raffles, to a community clean up day.

“To me, it’s kind of like sitting in history class in high school. When you go to the cemetery, the history of your city is right there. You hear the stories of who they were and what they did and didn’t do. I’m just a history nut that way.”

— Shane Peik, of Monumental Cleaning and Restoration, LLC

Peik, from the Chilton area, has restored dozens of gravestones in the Princeton Cemetery since the restoration project began two years ago. He says most of the cracks and broken pieces can be repaired with a natural bonding material, or epoxy as a last resort. Special agents will clean moss and lichen off so the engraving is readable.

For more information, go to gravestonecleaning.com.

Mayor Charlie Wielgosh was one of more than 30 volunteers who scrubbed gravestones with a brush and hot soapy water when the project was launched. It was gratifying to see so many people give their time to preserving history.

“You hate to lose all the history that’s out there, and I think it’s important to keep that history in our present,” Wielgosh says.

The mayor is one of dozens of people who have offered historical information of record. Wielgosh’s mother and father saved the burial cards of every funeral they attended. “It was a huge selection of cards, probably dating back 80 years ago to present.”

After his parents passed away, Wielgosh sorted the cards by year and brought them into city hall in case any of the names could be matched with graves that are missing information.

“I didn’t want to just throw them away because it’s like throwing away history,” he says.

People from across the country — New Mexico, Illinois, Ohio and Florida — have reached out to contribute information about their family members buried in the cemetery.

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Nickel says volunteers have been invaluable chronicling each gravestone with a photo and any historical information on a free website, findagrave.com.

Every bit of history is stored in thick binders. Thanks to the Internet, historical information from people with roots in the area but live elsewhere is among the records.

Some of the gravestones have missing information, which Nickel hopes can be found with more awareness and publicity. Finishing the restoration project depends solely on the generosity of donors.

To contribute to the Princeton Cemetery Restoration Project, call Cheryle Nickel at 920-295-6612 or go to http://www.cityofprincetonwi.com/index.asp.

Published by

OACF Community Matters

Since 1928, the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation has helped donors turn their charitable investments into projects that add energy and vitality to our community. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization serving Winnebago County, Waushara County, Green Lake County and Ripon. The Foundation strives to strengthen our communities through leadership and funding support, collaboration and partnership, outstanding stewardship and inspired philanthropy.

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