December 8, 2021

Couple volunteers to repair historic cemetery pieces

S.N. Briere/ staff reporter

Tina Utter, of Mount Upton, works on a headstone in McGraw Rural Cemetery Friday afternoon. She and her husband, Dale, have been working to restore headstones of Revolutionary War soldiers at the cemetery. They are also doing some headstones in Willet.

Tina Utter grabbed her tools — brushes, bucket, shovel — got on her knees leaned over one of the tablet headstones stuck in the ground at McGrawville Rural Cemetery and began brushing away the dirt, stone and leaves.

“It’s a hobby,” said Dale Utter, Tina’s husband and partner. “We love history and we’ll work on a stone like this and my wife gets curious, so she goes home and she gets on the internet to see what she can find out about the individual.”

They were at the cemetery Friday to take two more of the Revolutionary War soldiers headstones out of the ground and place upright fashion in front of the commemorative headstone.

The six Revolutionary War soldiers are James Knox, Rev. Isaac Bellows, Major Aaron Day, Enon Phelps, Charles Rowe and Samuel Gilberd(t). They have been in the McGrawville Rural Cemetery since the early 1900s when they were moved from the Old Baptist Cemetery in McGraw,” said Mary Kimberly, the McGraw village historian.

However, she said she hasn’t discovered why the headstones were moved or why the soldiers came to McGraw.

Looking for descendents

McGraw village Historian Mary Kimberly said she hopes to find descendants of the six soldiers in the McGraw Rural Cemetery. If you are a descendant or know someone who is, contact her at 607-836-6738.

Fixing the headstones is a project that Kimberly has longed to have done for years. Through a friend of a friend, the couple heard and then saw photos of the headstones; that’s when they decided to volunteer to fix them.

The couple, who are from Mount Upton, were able to get four of the six headstones up and plan to get the other two up by the end of the month, Kimberly said.

Dale Utter said he got into it after being with and then marrying Tina. She had always loved cemeteries as a kid. He also said about 10 years ago she wrote a book about the epitaphs that people sometimes put on headstones.

“Sometimes it’s a Bible verse, sometimes it’s killed by a falling tree,” Utter said. The couple likes to travel across the state going to cemeteries, exploring the history of some of the people buried there, and fixing headstones.

“A fun day for us is we take off in the morning we say ‘Let’s go up to Utica or beyond’ and we just look for cemeteries,” said Dale Utter.

The couple has taken several workshops on fixing headstones, but like working with tablet headstones the most because larger headstones require equipment they don’t have. They also like studying the carvers on the tablet, like Joseph Crandall of Norwich, who created one of the Revolutionary soldiers’ headstones.

“He was a carver from about 1815 to about 1832 or something like that,” Dale Utter said.

The couple is also working on 30 headstones this year in Willet Cemetery and restored about 30 last year after someone left money to the town specifically for the cemetery.

For the couple, the hobby brings them happiness knowing they have helped someone’s memory live on.

“These gravestones were meant to be up, so that you could read them — it commemorates an individual’s life,” Dale Utter said. “This is all that’s left to know some of these individuals is their gravestones.