BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Christmas came a little early for the Fort Madison Historic Preservation Commission.
The group has been rolling with some improvement to the City Cemetery in the 1400 block of Avenue H, and some momentum came at the end of last week when an anonymous downer offered a $5,000 matching grant for all donations through Dec. 31.
“It has truly been a blessing,” said HPC President Chris Sorrentino.
“The cemetery project is a main focus for HPC right now. This will provide substantial help.”
The group has been working to identify all the graves in the cemetery, as well as repair fencing, clean up headstones and reset or even repair broken pieces of monuments and headstones on the property.
According to a release from Fort Madison City Clerk Melinda Blind Monday morning, the matching donation came after the donor heard about the efforts underway.
The preservation commission began planning to make improvement to the cemetery, which holds the grave of Fort Madison founder General John Holly Knapp, since July.
Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld made getting the fencing along Avenue H repaired this year a priority for city staff.
“The city did a wonderful job with the fence and the commission really appreciates Mayor Mohrfeld and the city’s efforts in taking that on,” Sorrentino said.
He said a big portion of the proceeds will go to cleaning the stones and replacing or straightening toppling or crumbling headstones and monuments.
He said research has turned up a non-abrasive cleaner that costs about $45 per gallon, but doesn’t harm the stones or the environment.
Since July volunteers have cleaned up several family lots and have begun replatting the cemetery to find out how many plots and graves are part of the original cemetery.
Sorrentino said another purchase down the road will be new tour friendly signage that outlines the history and where marked graves are located.
“We do ultimately want to have tours in there and make it easier to get through the cemetery,” he said.
Developer Michael Mohrfeld is building new homes along the south side of the cemetery, which Sorrentino said will just add to the value of the cemetery site. Mohrfeld also recently tore out an abandoned mobile home park two blocks south of the cemetery.
The 3.6 acre cemetery holds close to 1,500 burials, including the remains of some of Fort Madison’s most important founding figures, as well as prominent military figures from the Civil War.
The Commission plans to begin the application process to place the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places.
To make a donation, contact the Fort Madison City Clerk, at City Hall or call (319) 372-7700, ext. 206. All donations should be made to the “Friends of the Fort Madison Historic Preservation Commission” and can be made by check or credit card. All checks should note “City Cemetery” on the memo line of the check.