Joe Plunkett loves cemeteries. He is one of nearly two dozen volunteers in Williamson County who have made it their mission to repair and preserve the pieces of Texas history that our historic cemeteries represent.
Now in his fourth year with the Williamson County Cemetery Restoration Volunteers, Joe is the group’s expert on stone leveling and repair. He began his work as a weeder, the group that mows and clears brush, and, over time, he noticed little was being done to upright and level the stones. “Obelisks may be pushed over by trees, cattle, or vandals. We are an older group; and it’s no easy thing to lift stones 800 to 2,000 pounds, so some laid there for years. It is a complex job, but I am committed to it.” Joe built a portable hoist tripod that could right stones up to 2,000 pounds, and the group uses pinch bars to lift the bases.
He also has techniques to repair tablet stones, which break easily due to their shallow depth. “There are three types; limestone, marble, and granite,” Joe says. “Before the 1920s, limestone and marble were common because they were easier and cheaper to carve, but they are not as durable. We have many graves in settlements from the 1850s and they clearly show their age.”
They officially maintain 18 formerly neglected cemeteries in Williamson County, and last year, made more than 100 visitations to 23 cemeteries for grounds maintenance and stone work. Most of the time, volunteers pay their own expenses. But Joe says the County Historical Commission (WCHC) has recognized their efforts with $2,000 in donations for equipment, supplies, and signage to reflect their work at each site. Anyone can contribute to their work by donating to the WCHC and including the group in the memo/message.
A PASSION FOR HISTORY
Joe and the team have a unique perspective on the history of the county as well as small towns that are little more than a crossroad or a mention on a map. He notes these cemeteries are not abandoned, just neglected, and connect us to the earliest residents of the area. For instance, the community of Gabriel Mills was absorbed into the City of Liberty Hill nearly a century ago, but the graves remain, despite being forgotten by everyone but the Restoration crew. The same is true for the former Donohoe Creek community in Jarrell. “All these little towns and communities have a history, and the work fascinates us, particularly when descendants come out to help. Those moments bring it all home and maintain our connections between the living and the past.”
The CRV welcomes anyone who wishes to volunteer to help with the “yard work” of this labor of love. Contact the Williamson County Historical Society (WilcoHistory.org) for opportunities, or email WilcoCRV@gmail.com.