BEAUFORT — The touring season for the town’s historic cemetery is Hurricane Florence’s latest casualty, as Beaufort Historical Association officials have opted to end the season a month early.
Located on Ann Street’s 400 block, the Old Burying Ground contains some of the oldest graves in the region. Although the cemetery has weathered its share of storms, Hurricane Florence was particularly damaging, according to Denise Finley of the BHA.
“It’s the most (damage) I’ve seen from the many years of hurricanes,” BHA Director Patricia Suggs said.
The historic cemetery holds tours between March and November, including self-guided excursions. BHA officials, who oversee the property, decided to halt the tours in September due to the damage the cemetery sustained.
“It’s going to be closed for quite a while,” Ms. Finley said.
Officials anticipate the cemetery will be ready by the beginning of their next season, March 2019.
“I’ve had to cancel schools, I’ve had to cancel other groups that have booked … tours with us,” Ms. Finley said. “Hopefully they will be able to reschedule for the spring.”
BHA officials anticipate the town playing a large role in the cemetery’s recovery.
“The town owns it,” Ms. Finley said. “We maintain it. It depends on how soon they will be able to get heavy-duty equipment in because we have some large branches and things.”
The cemetery joins a long list of facilities damaged by the storm. Unlike other areas, the cemetery was mostly spared from flood damage, but didn’t fare as well when it came to the wind.
“There are trees that have been uprooted,” Ms. Suggs said. “One of the (heaviest damaged) areas is pretty much midway up the northeast side. That’s where the most wind came in. The cemetery is full with these gorgeous live oak trees and a lot of them lost major limbs, and there were cedar trees that had major problems.”
In the days before making landfall, Hurricane Florence was designated a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simposon scale, though it weakened as it approached the coast and made landfall as a Category 1.
The diminished windspeed made little difference, as a number of large branches fell.
While debris is a problem, officials are also concerned about damaged headstones.
“Some of the graves have been sheared off from their base. We noticed that some graves are tilting almost more like they’re sinking.”
Of all the graves in the cemetery, Ms. Suggs believes that 10-15 were damaged.
“It’s hard to make an assessment because there is so much damage,” Ms. Suggs said.
Staff and volunteers worked together to clear some of the smaller debris from the property.
“We had a great group from … one of the bands at East Carteret High (School) last week,” Ms. Finley said. “They came through and helped pick up a lot of the debris, which was a huge help.”
Ms. Suggs believes the town will contact Dean Ruedrich of Ruedrich Restorations to deal with the damage volunteers won’t be able to tackle.
“Hopefully the town will contract with them to do the repair work,” Ms. Suggs said. “He has done repair work (for the cemetery) since the mid 90s.”
Ms. Suggs said her staff has been in contact with the town and said they are aware of the damage. The state’s Historic Preservation Office is also aware of the damage.
“John Wood is with the state’s Historic Preservation Office,” Ms. Suggs said. “He was here (Monday) to take pictures and see if he could help us get (Federal Emergency Management Agency) money.”
Ms. Suggs hopes to be able to get the cemetery back to pre-storm shape.
“It’s such a special place on the National Register,” Ms. Suggs said. “It’s one of the most special places in town.”
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.