New life for old cemetery
Neighbors, historians collaborate to restore Collegeville
COLLEGEVILLE - David Ritchie was born May 15, 1848, in Perthshire, Scotland.
David Alexander McIntosh was 7 years old in 1872, when he died after falling into a threshing machine.
The Rev. Asbury Parks Black served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War before he made his way to Collegeville.
But since vandals made away with almost all of the stone grave makers after the Collegeville Cemetery officially closed in 1905, nobody walking through the old cemetery could know.
A group of family members, history buffs, neighbors, business owners and officials are attempting to change all that. The plan is to finish cleaning up the grounds of the cemetery and put in new headstones by April. Since the endeavor began in 2007, the group has cleared out brush and unwanted trees and collected donated materials for a fence, stones for new markers and time to make it all happen. There's now a sign made from donated steel and labor at the intersection of Jack Tone and Mariposa roads marking the cemetery's entrance.
"(We want to) make it where it's a historical site for the community instead of an eyesore," said Janie Gilgert, 57, whose father owns the land. She's organizing the cleanup effort from her home near the cemetery.
When she was growing up, she remembers maintaining the cemetery as one of her chores. In 1979, her brother, Randy Gilgert, and Lyle Hughes cleaned up the cemetery as part of an Eagle Scout project, she said. But the wooden memorial and grave markers had since deteriorated, Janie Gilgert said.
The latest renovation began as a joint Father's Day gift for their dad, Irving Gilgert, and a graduation gift for her son, Dusty Hodges, who studied history at University of California, Santa Cruz.
Her family has lived near the cemetery since 1852, but none of her ancestors are buried there, she said. They're buried in a nearby cemetery for Methodists, and the Collegeville Cemetery was for Presbyterians.
Bob Anglin, 57, thinks he has about a dozen family members buried in the Collegeville Cemetery. He has regularly been making the drive from his Napa Valley home since last year.
He traced his family history to the McIntosh family, which has one of the few remaining monuments in the Collegeville Cemetery. He went there to photograph the monument and decided to do something about the state of the cemetery. He contacted Janie Gilgert.
"We got together and started making it look pretty," he said.
Anglin had taken the lead on making the headstones and doing the research to find out who is there.
With help from the San Joaquin Genealogical society, Anglin was able to amass information from places as varied as Stockton's Haggin Museum to an individual's memoir held by the Mormon church in Utah. The documents include lists made from the existing headstones by workers in a Depression-era jobs program of the 1930s and a separate list by the local Genealogical society in the 1950s.
"These are all pioneers that are buried there - and its important we don't lose that," said Sheri Fenley, who edits the society's newsletter.
Pioneer cemeteries in the county fall into disrepair unless a group takes them on as a project, said Barbara Filbin, a member of the San Joaquin County Historical Society who researches cemeteries. The effort to fix up Collegeville Cemetery is similar to a community effort to renovate Harmony Grove Cemetery about 10 years ago.
Both made use of volunteers and donations, she said.
Gilgert estimates about 100 people have contributed time, money or materials to the cause since 2007.
John Robinson of Oakdale's Cornerstone Monument Co. said he donated granite and stencils after he was approached by Anglin.
"A man that has that much dedication - I wanted to be able to do what I could for him," Robinson said.
Anglin also is convinced there are others buried there who have not appeared on existing records.
Michael Stefani of Stockton's Conductance Subsurface Instrumentation has offered as a community service to look for the remains using the same technology he uses to locate weaknesses in levees. "It expands my knowledge of what my instruments will do."
The organizers are hoping to have a dedication ceremony in April.
That's the month, in 1871, when the Collegeville Cemetery Association bought the land for 25 dollars in gold coins, Anglin said.
He said researching the names of the people buried there and making new headstones is worth doing. It's not just preserving the names of the people, he said. "It's the history of the people."
By Zachary K. Johnson
Stockton Record Staff Writer