How To Preserve A Historic Cemetery


What steps should I take to preserve a historic cemetery?

There are six steps to preserve a historic cemetery. Additional information is contained in the AHPP's cemetery preservation manual Grave Concerns.

1)  Organize your efforts

  • Locate and obtain written permission from the owner. If the owner can not be found, petition the quorum court for permission to conduct work at the cemetery.
  • Conduct research on the site to see what is currently known about your cemetery.
  • Form a group of volunteers, a cemetery association or join forces with an established organization such as a historical society.
  • Define goals and create a plan of action.
  • Become familiar with the laws for historic cemeteries.

2)  Document your historic cemetery through survey forms, photographs, and maps.

  • Perform a general survey that documents the overall site, recording location, site boundaries, major site features, and provides a historical overview.
  • Conduct an individual marker survey to record a detailed description of each site feature found in a historic cemetery.
  • A condition survey is a before-and after record that should be created whenever work is performed on a site feature, such as cleaning or repair.
  • A vegetation survey is important in identifying historic plantings that are part of the cemetery landscape.
  • Specialized surveys to determine property boundaries and locate lost markers should be carried out as needed. In the future, the records created during the survey process may be all that remains of a historic burial ground.

3)  Conduct research to learn more about the history and importance of your cemetery.

  • Select a focus for research such as a person buried at the site, the cemetery itself or on a monument carver.
  • Look at primary resources, such as personal papers or public documents, to develop the story of your site.
  • Look at secondary resources, such as books or websites, to help place your cemetery in a historical context.
  • Compile the information and write an analysis.
  • Store materials in a conservationally sound area.
  • Develop a policy for use of information by public.
  • File information with appropriate organizations.

4)  Clean and maintain your historic cemetery using the greatest care and proper tools, materials, and techniques.

  • If the site has been abandoned, an initial clean-up will be necessary. Take care not to remove or damage cemetery site features.
  • When cleaning markers and other site features of biological growths, dirt and debris, use water and a soft bristle brush. Never use household cleaners, abrasive tools or power washers to clean a marker.
  • Hire a conservator to repair cracked, chipped and broken monuments.
  • Perform regular maintenance using caution near grave markers and other site features.

5)  Raise funds through one or more of the following methods.

  • Request donations.
  • Stage events, create products or offer services.
  • Apply for grant funds from private and public sources.
  • Seek government assistance.
  • Ask corporations for contributions.
  • Seek gifts, and establish endowments, legacies, and bequests.

6)  Create awareness products and programs to insure that others understand the importance of the cemetery. Offer well-planned educational experiences and materials that take into account the irreplaceable landscape and relative's feelings. Many awareness activities can be used to generate funds for preservation projects.

  • Tours
  • Special events
  • Projects
  • Materials
  • Products

volunteers restoring a headstone
headstones in forest
Wolf Cemetery

What resources does the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program offer for cemetery preservation?

The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program offers a number of services and materials to assist individuals and groups in the preservation of historic cemeteries. Most materials and services are either free or available for a small charge.

National Register of Historic Places nomination packets

Grave Concerns: A Preservation Manual for Historic Cemeteries in Arkansas 

Tales of the Crypt: A Living History Project for the Preservation of Arkansas's Historic Cemeteries


Individual technical assistance on preservation issues, educational projects, and related concerns can be requested by contacting our office at 501-324-9880 or [email protected]

  • The AHPP can also provide information on professional conservators for repair and preservation of gravemarkers.

Technical assistance brochures on stained glass, cast iron and other materials in a historic cemetery can be requested by contacting our office at 501-324-9880 or .

Workshops on cemetery related topics for classrooms, cemetery caretakers, historical societies, civic organizations and other interested groups can be led by members of our staff.  To set up a workshop or presentation, please contact our office by phone or email.

Walking Tours: The AHPP offers a series of walking tours that focus on a variety of historic sites. Some of these tours are directed at cemeteries around the state. 

Lesson Plans on historic cemeteries for schools, scout groups, church groups, and other related organizations are also available from our office. 



Association for Gravestone Studies  This group offers resources, a newsletter, workshops and other cemetery related items. A good source for books on cemeteries. You may contact them by writing: AGS, 101 Munson Street, Suite 108, Greenfield, MA, 01301 or visiting their website at

National Center for Preservation Technology & Training This site has a wide range of technical and informational articles about cemetery care and restoration.  View articles and information at their website: 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation  This group published a pamphlet titled Preservation of Historic Burial Grounds (Information Series No. 76, 1993) that might be of interest. Call their national headquarters at (202) 588-6000, write NTHP at 2600 Virginia Ave, NW, Ste. 1000, Washington DC 20037, or visit their website at

The National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places  This group published Bulletin 41, Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places. The bulletin lists a number of resources, as well as related bulletins on the subject of burial grounds. This agency keeps a list of every cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Write: to National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, 1849 C Street, NW (2280), Washington, DC 20240, call (202) 343-9559 or visit

Cemetery Preservation 

headstones in a field
Blackwell Cemetery