Midtown Raleigh News

New generation of preservationists at work in Raleigh National Cemetery

A crew from the Northwest Piedmont Service Corps and the Historic Preservation Training Center repair a wall at the Raleigh National Cemetery on Nov. 13, 2014.
A crew from the Northwest Piedmont Service Corps and the Historic Preservation Training Center repair a wall at the Raleigh National Cemetery on Nov. 13, 2014. sbarr@newsobserver.com

The brick wall at the Raleigh National Cemetery has stood since 1875, enclosing the gently sloped green field where thousands of veterans and their families are buried beneath white headstones.

Time has taken its toll, though. Some bricks have cracked and some of the mortar needs to be replaced for the best protection against water damage.

For four years, a crew of preservationists has been steadily repairing the wall, replacing nearly 40,000 bricks.

Now, they’re introducing their trade to a new generation of workers through the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s HOPE Crew program, short for Hands-On Preservation Experience.

The program pairs preservation crews with youth job training organizations through the national Corps Network to work on repairs across the country. Since the program launched earlier this year, there have been projects at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument in Montana and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta.

Workers with preservation skills are expected to retire at a steady clip in the coming years, said Monica Rhodes, who oversees the HOPE Crew program.

“There’s a real need to bring a new generation into preservation work,” she said.

In Raleigh, for the program’s 12th project, the Historic Preservation Training Center for the National Park Service is paired with members of the Northwest Piedmont Service Corps, based in Winston-Salem.

James McClellan, 20, a member of the service corps, said the work can be tedious but he’s learned a lot in the first weeks of the project and enjoyed the camaraderie of working alongside others.

“I just like that I can look at it and say, ‘I did that,’ ” he said.

The preservation work demands an emphasis on the basics: where to position your thumb on a trowel, how to twist your wrist when you’re scooping mortar – also known as “mud” or “go-between” to those in the know.

“If you don’t learn it right, you’ll always do it wrong,” said Kevin Stumbaugh, a mason at the Historic Preservation Training Center.

The youth corps members also have the chance to hear from the experts about why their work is rewarding, including the chance to be outside and preserve a bit of history.

“I get to meet different people from different backgrounds all across the United States,” Stumbaugh said.

Another corps member, James Kenneth Hargrove II, 27, said he’s glad to know that his work will literally stand for generations.

“We go back and realize this is something that’s going to be here years from now,” he said.

The crew will work in the cemetery until mid-December.

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