About 30 yards from the traffic passing by on Route 6A in East Sandwich is a white gravestone pressed flat in the ground, carrying the heartfelt wishes of Moody and Rhoda Fish.
“We hope to meet again,” the stone reads.
The gravestone marking the burial plots of Mr. and Mrs. Fish in the Cedarville Cemetery once stood upright.
And, should the Sandwich Historical Commission realize its wish, the Fishes’ stone and other gravestones damaged or fallen in this historic cemetery will be restored.
But first the commission wants to document what is in the cemetery, which is at the corner of Route 6A and Ploughed Neck Road. The two-acre parcel contains 375 gravestones.
That is where the voters at the May 5 Annual Town Meeting will come in.
The Sandwich Community Preservation Committee has recommended that voters approve the use of $20,000 in preservation funds to electronically document the location, inscriptions and conditions of the gravestones in the cemetery. Walls and fences in the cemetery also will be included.
Should voters approve and the documentation be completed, the commission will seek preservation funds to repair gravestones in the cemetery as needed.
Sandwich voters previously approved documentation and gravestone repair at the Old Town Cemetery in Sandwich Village, the oldest cemetery in the town and one of the oldest in the United States, according to historical commission member Jennifer Y. Madden.
Graves in that cemetery, which is off Grove Street, date back to 1663, according to Kaethe O. Maguire, a former commission member who has been working with Ms. Madden on the cemetery preservation initiatives. The oldest stone in that cemetery dates to 1683, Ms. Maguire said.
Working with town archivist Barbara L. Gill, Ms. Madden and Ms. Maguire proceeded to review the rest of the cemeteries in town for their historical importance.
Ms. Madden said they determined that the Cedarville Cemetery stood next in line.
They found that the cemetery is the burying ground of many early Sandwich families and their descendants up to the present day. For example, the cemetery includes the interments of members of the Wing family, including Henry T. Wing, for whom the school is named.
The researchers further found that the cemetery is a rare example of the changing styles of gravestones over the centuries.
The oldest gravestone in the cemetery dates from 1805.
According to the historical commission’s application for Community Preservation Act funding, the public is very aware of the cemetery, given its prominent location on Route 6A.
No plots are available for sale in the cemetery, which is owned by the town. But deceased people continue to be buried in the cemetery in previously purchased plots. John S. Jillson, well known in Sandwich, was buried there following his death January 1.
Ms. Madden said the historical commission plans to use the documentation and repair approach used at the Old Town Cemetery as the model for the Cedarville Cemetery initiative.
First would come the preparation of a master plan that would include a very accurate global positioning system (GPS) map of the stones in the cemetery, along with photographs of individual stones, what is written on them, and their condition.
The master plan would be funded by the $20,000 that the historical commission is seeking at May’s Annual Town Meeting.
According to the commission’s application for Community Preservation Act funding, work on the plan would begin in late summer or this fall, with completion slated for the spring of 2015.
Next would come the repair work itself, again funded by preservation funding at an amount yet to be determined. Should voters approve, Ms. Madden said, that work could start next year or in 2016.
Ms. Madden said the town needs to take care of graves in Sandwich cemeteries such as Cedarville.
“They’re really important pieces of our town’s history,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re paying attention to them and preserving them.”
The dates and inscriptions on the stones, she said, help provide an appreciation of what earlier residents of Sandwich went through.
Ms. Madden said that the numerous stones for infants and youths up into their teens speak of a lack of antibiotics, as well as the dangers posed by accidents and epidemics.
Ms. Maguire said the gravestones at cemeteries such as Cedarville provide “a teaching tool for our earliest American history.”
“If we don’t preserve it,” she said, “there will be nothing there to pass this knowledge to future generations.”