A historical burial ground in Essex is undergoing a massive restoration project, breathing new life to the final resting place of more than 150 years of local residents.

Located at 1 Jericho Rd., the Essex Commons Burial Ground contains plots dating back to the late 1700s and up through the early 1960s, when it was replaced as the town’s main burial ground by the nearby Mountain View cemetery. Samuel Bradley, born in 1791 and buried in 1792, marks the oldest grave at more than 225 years old.

But time, as it does, has taken its toll on the grounds, with once bright and inviting gravestones now stained to the point some are barely legible. So the town, assisted with a $25,000 preservation grant made possible by a partnership between the Freeman Foundation and the Preservation Trust of Vermont, has contracted with local Bianchi Stone Crafters to restore the burial grounds.

“Once every hundred years we get to do something like this,” Fran Kinghorn, chairwoman of the Essex Cemetery Commission, said last week as she surveyed the burial grounds.

Tim Jerman, board member of the Essex Community Historical Society, said many of the town’s founding families are buried in at the cemetery.

“There’s some great history going all the way back to the Revolutionary War,” Jerman said. “It’s fabulous to see them doing this.”

Jerman also praised the Freeman family, some of whose ancestors are buried at the cemetery, for their donations over the years.

Many gravestones at the Essex Commons Burial Ground have been in place for well over a century, and it shows. A new restoration project looks to change that, breathing new life into the historic cemetery. Above, a look at several stones before and after their cleaning (Photo by Colin Flanders).

The town fielded three bids for the project before awarding the work to Eric Bianchi, who has split the cemetery into four sections. He starts by cleaning the stones with a power wash mixture of environmentally-friendly chemicals before straightening up and repairing the stones individually.

Kinghorn said the commission has been very pleased with Bianchi’s work thus far, noting he even dedicated an engraving on a stone that wasn’t budgeted for.

“He says [the project] is his Mona Lisa,” Kinghorn said.

The restoration project is among a handful of others spearheaded by the local cemetery commission, on which Kinghorn has served for about six years. She recently retired from the University of Vermont and now splits time between local food shelf Aunt Dot’s Place and the commission.

She arrived to the group expecting a pace similar to when her husband served: meetings every few months at someone’s house. But she said “a whole new young crew” at the town offices have kicked things into gear, requiring the commission now meet monthly (in a public setting, no less).

While it took some adjusting, the more frequent gatherings have also helped the commission get more done than ever before. Kinghorn led a push to get signage at the Mountain View cemetery to aid families looking to locate their loved ones. And the commission recently oversaw the opening of a new section there, with burial plots now being sold.

“We’re just working on a lot of little things, but things that were driving me crazy,” Kinghorn said. “It takes time. It takes a lot longer than I want it to be, but that’s true of anything.”

She added that she’s been surprised to see how many people frequent the town’s cemeteries.

“It gives me more incentive to make sure it’s the best cemetery that it can be,” she said.