Wilmington College assists in preservation of cemetery records


WILMINGTON — Wilmington College’s Watson Library shared a unique resource to help ensure that Sugar Grove Cemetery records are preserved not only for posterity but also so citizens of today can access information about the facility and those whose earthly remains are buried there.

Established in 1857, Wilmington’s Sugar Grove Cemetery on West Truesdale St. is the site of nearly 15,000 interments. When the city of Wilmington took over the cemetery several years ago, the records, maps and other original documents were removed from the small onsite office, which was a poor depository for housing such fragile items, and taken to the Wilmington Municipal Building downtown.

There, the documents were reviewed and logged by staff members to update burial and plot records to better serve both those who wish to be buried at Sugar Grove and those with loved ones interred there.

Becky Bowman, who is the city’s archives technician, and others believed the fragile documents needed to be digitally scanned while the deteriorating documents were still legible. Digitized records also would accommodate ease of viewing and accessibility for future research. She was aware through her husband, Lee Bowman, Watson Library librarian and archives technician, that the College owns a cradle scanner.

“This is the kind of fun stuff we talk about during dinner at home,” Becky Bowman said. “So, the idea was born for me, as a city employee, to scan the documents for the cemetery at the College.” WC approved the project.

A cradle scanner is ideal for securing images of bound documents such as books, manuscripts and printed records. It allows for accurate scanning without damaging the original document, which could occur when placing such documents on usual flat scanners or copy machines.

Kirby Keltner, Sugar Grove Cemetery superintendent and clerk, said the preservation of cemetery records complements such other cemetery improvements as fixing the front gates and fencing, repairing old headstones, renovating the Soldiers Point area and maintaining ownership of the historic canons and cannonballs.

“The city has invested a significant amount of money and resources to returning the cemetery to good condition,” Keltner added.

He said all these enhancements have improved public access to the venerable cemetery, which serves both as a resource for ongoing use and as a unique part of Wilmington’s history.

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