Preserving History: Volunteers are working to restore the forgotten historic African American cemetery in Halfway, Md. | WDVM25 & DCW50


HALFWAY, Md. (WDVM) – A forgotten historic African American cemetery in Halfway, Maryland is hidden almost within sight, tucked away by houses on Clinton Avenue.

Almost 10 years ago, historian and former Hood College professor, Dr. Emilie Amt, the Halfway Colored Cemetery, now known as the Halfway African American Cemetery forever lost. What she did not know was that the cemetery was being sold and divided into different parcels that had since been built over, leaving only a part intact but extremely dilapidated.

Dr. Amt began looking for the cemetery after researching a man who was a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Hagerstown who was allegedly buried in the cemetery. She was told that the cemetery is behind the old Jewish cemetery, but because the cemetery is between different houses and yards, the burial site is not visible or publicly accessible from Clinton Avenue. A few years later she received an email from Elizabeth Paul, whose courtyard is adjacent to the cemetery, asking about the cemetery.

Plat Map of Clinton Avenue and Halfway African American Cemetery

“We don’t know what the origins of the cemetery were. We have a few names of people who were buried here in the 1840s and later, ”said Dt. Amt explained. “But in 1897 this property, which was already a cemetery, was bought by the Good Samaritans of the Black Fraternal Order in Hagerstown.”

According to Dr. Until the 1930s, the cemetery was mainly used by the Afro-American churches in Hagerstown. She and Paul hope to reconnect the people buried on Clinton Avenue with their descendants. After joining forces a few years ago, they founded the Friends of the Halfway African American Cemetery.

“The people buried here were mostly members of the Jonathan Street Congregation. People from all walks of life are buried here and yet most of them are forgotten, ”said Dr. Government office. “We don’t know most of their names. We have 155 names of people buried here, but more than 400 people were buried here. “

Dr. Amt, along with colleagues from Hood College, brought in volunteers and a ground penetrating radar to try to identify a pattern below the surface without disrupting the remaining graves. They called Dr. Jarrod Burks, an archaeologist and archaeological geophysics director for Ohio Valley Archeology, came to examine Paul’s backyard, which is adjacent to the remainder of the cemetery. Dr. Burks used three instruments to scan Paul’s yard, a ground penetrating radar that sends radio waves into the ground and listens for echoes, similar to the echolocation used by dolphins or the technology used in machines like a fish finder. Dr. Burks also brought a magnetometer, which looks for changes in the earth’s magnetic field, and an electromagnetic conductivity meter.

Dr. Jarrod Burks explains the equipment to students at Hood College

“We’re always looking for different clues to show us where graves might be, so the point is to look for patterns and like that set of things,” explained Dr. Burks. “Because series of things don’t normally occur in nature. But they occur in cemeteries. “

Elizabeth Paul lives in part of the former Halfway African American Cemetery. She began exploring the cemetery after discovering that one of her neighbors was drinking and carrying trash in the abandoned room. She went to the county to find out who actually owns the land. When she discovered the land was a cemetery, she immediately wanted to know more. When she’s not teaching in Frederick County, she goes to her back yard to clean up and maintain the overgrown portion of the remaining cemetery with the help of community volunteers and Hood College students and faculty.

“It was important to me just because people’s relatives were buried here,” said Paul. “But then in the last year or so, with some race settlements in our country and a greater awareness from more people that normally only part of our history is taught or told or saved. That makes it all the more important. “

During her research, Dr. Office that a number of veterans were also buried in the Halfway African American Cemetery. The Friends of Halfway African American Cemetery will hold a Veterans Day ceremony in the cemetery this coming weekend to honor the veterans who can be traced back to the American Revolution.

You can find more information about the Halfway African American Cemetery at their Facebook site.

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