Fifteen years ago a group of volunteers began unearthing a bit of Rockville history. On a third of an acre nestled between three industrial buildings not far from where Twinbrook Parkway passes over railroad tracks, it lay buried under about a foot of overgrowth and trash.
On Saturday, the group marked the preservation of that history as it dedicated four cornerstones marking the boundaries of the Higgins Cemetery and held a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the family’s patriarch, James Higgins, a planter and Revolutionary War soldier who is buried at the site.
Volunteers and Higgins descendants also celebrated the cemetery’s designation by the Montgomery County Council last year on the county’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation.
“This listing recognizes our tiny historic plot as worthy of restoration and interpretation, and will help to ensure its survival for another two centuries," John E. Higgins Jr., president of the Higgins Cemetery Historic Preservation Association, Inc., wrote in a letter inviting supporters to last Saturday’s ceremony.
“It’s been a nice community effort,” Eileen McGuckian said. McGuckian, a local historian who was executive director of Peerless Rockville when the historical society, along with Higgins family members—who can still be found throughout Montgomery County—began organizing restoration efforts.
The group has conducted about 20 cleanups since 1997, meeting several times a year at the site to clear garbage and yard debris. Some of the first cleanups unearthed what McGuckian described as “1920s yard trash,” including milk bottles and, once, a gun—a discovery to which county police quickly responded before deeming the gun inoperable.
A volunteer who worked for the county once hauled away about 50 dump trucks of debris from the site, McGuckian said.
Once the garbage was removed, the group focused on the natural overgrowth, cutting down 30 trees of various sizes and overgrowth that had ensnarled the tombstones.
“The central memorial was upside down with a tree growing all around it,” McGuckian said.
Volunteers meet four times a year to maintain and improve the grounds.
Chevy Chase-based JBG Companies, which is developing several properties near the cemetery, agreed to mow the grass at the cemetery free-of-charge after McGuckian took a few of the company’s vice presidents—who, she knew, were history majors in college—by the site.
Improvements include the boundary markers that were dedicated Saturday. The markers were an Eagle Scout project completed by Patrick Hall, a member of Boy Scout Troop 90 in Chevy Chase. They were sculpted free-of-charge by Eduardo Serra of Serra Stone in Bethesda from a donated piece of Seneca sandstone. It is the same type of stone used on the obelisk marking James Higgins’ grave and on the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, DC.
Plans are in the works to engrave an “H” on the cornerstones in the same design found on Higgins family plot cornerstones at Rockville Cemetery on Baltimore Road, McGuckian said.
Another Troop 90 member, Peter Daugherty, constructed a path across the cemetery as part of his Eagle Scout project. The path, which was not part of the original cemetery layout, is well used by employees of Colorlab. The film laboratory owns the buildings surrounding the cemetery and has supported the restoration efforts, including lending storage space for headstones in various states of refurbishment.
The Chevy Chase chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution conducted the wreath-laying ceremony at noon last Saturday. The wreath laying was timed to coincide with Wreaths Across America Day. Though not officially a part of the national observance honoring fallen soldiers with wreaths placed on graves at Arlington National Cemetery and around the country, the ceremony honored all veterans.