With Loving Memory

Madison company restores
Underwood Cemetery

Tombstones of fallen soldiers
had endured years of neglect

Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(March 2010) – When Steve Leach sits down to fit together the pieces of his latest puzzle, he isn’t whiling away the hours on a casual game. Rather, he is working to re-assemble the tombstones of former Madison, Ind., residents whose markers have been broken through time and the elements.

Charlie Stiver, Nick Schultz, Steve Leach and Thomas Hilderbrand

Photo by Lela Jane Bradshaw

Veterans help Heritage Restoration
clean up Madison’s Underwood
Cemetery, the burial site of six U.S.
veterans, including Civil War and
Revolutionary War soldiers. From
left they are Charlie Stiver, Nick
Schultz, Steve Leach and
Thomas Hilderbrand.

Leach, 37, of Madison, owns Heritage Restoration, a company dedicated to making certain the final resting places of long-ago area residents are preserved and treated with proper respect. His work combines a stone worker’s artistic skill with a historian’s attention to detail.
Leach’s latest project has been working alongside the members of the Madison group, Veterans of the Vietnam War Inc. Post 11, to clean up the Underwood Cemetery.
“It’s neat to work in it, you bring it back to life. It feels good,” Leach says of the historic grounds.
The Underwood Cemetery, located on the Madison Hilltop, was in use between 1825 and 1888. So far, research has uncovered 55 tombstones, and there are plans to further explore the site to see if there are more graves in need of conservation. The cemetery houses the graves of six U.S. veterans, including two Civil War soldiers and four men who served in the Revolutionary War. The veterans group recently completed a plot map of the cemetery. The map will be posted to allow relatives and researchers to find specific grave sites.
While there is still work to be done in preserving the site, Leach said, “All in all, we’ve got the worst of it.”
Leach is now working to get a few final stones restored before the weather turns bad, since the limestone and sandstone markers turn dangerously brittle in the cold. “Once you get into October, it’s getting late in the season,” he explains.
Charlie Stiver, Commander for the Vietnam veterans group, recalls the condition of the cemetery before the group began its restoration work; “It was sad, something that we didn’t like.”

Cemetery Marker

Photo by Lela Jane Bradshaw

An old marker lies
on the ground ready
to be repaired
and cleaned.

He explains that the grounds were overgrown with vines and trees had fallen across the plots. Nick Schultz, treasurer and former commander for the veteran’s group, described the overwhelming task that faced the group when it began the cleanup. “The only thing we could see were the tops of the stones. I thought, ‘Boy, is this a waste of time!’ ”
The veteran’s group started work in the cemetery about 11 years ago. The members began by spending an entire summer removing trees and undergrowth that had taken over the area. The group supplies flags for the veterans’ graves and three years ago began the work of restoring the broken markers.
The Underwood Cemetery is one of four preservation projects in which Heritage Restoration has taken part. Steve Leach and his father, Bob, founded the company three years ago after attending a seminar on stone repair. Leach has already restored at least 12 of the damaged Underwood stones at a specially designed workshop.
Preservation workers begin by taking a series of cell phone photos of the area to record the original location of the tombstones so that they may be returned to their proper places. Then the process of collecting the broken pieces begins. Large pieces will be fit back together, while tiny fragments too small to be reassembled will be ground up and mixed with the epoxy adhesives used to repair the breaks. This addition of this original stone helps keep the repaired seam from being noticeable. Over time, the break will weather and age, and soon only a close inspection will reveal the damage.
Leach said he hopes his work will inspire others to become active in cemetery restoration and preservation. “Maybe one day we can get more people interested in cemeteries.”
Leach estimates that there are close to 40 cemeteries in the area that are currently inactive. He said “every cemetery has an old section.” These aging and neglected plots require maintenance. “We would like to see someone to serve as a go between for interested volunteers and the cemetery board.”
Leach says that Heritage Restoration would be willing to help train others in the art of restoring the tombstones. “You hear about the historic buildings in Madison,” he says. “These are the people who built those buildings.”

• Heritage Restoration may be reached at (812) 599-0028.

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