Major General Linda Singh told an intimate audience on the morning of May 26 that she couldn’t believe she didn’t know about the Ellsworth Cemetery until recently.
“All my time in Westminster, I never knew this was here,” she said at the Memorial Day rededication service for the historic African-American heritage site.
“When I look at the plots and think of some of the names that [I recognize],” said Singh, “I said ‘Do you realize there is probably an even deeper connection I don’t even know about?”
Located on Leidy Road behind the Crossroads Community Church in Westminster, the Civil War-era cemetery was founded in 1876 when six black Union Army veterans sought a place to bury African-Americans — who were not allowed in the city’s cemeteries at the time.
The veterans, Ruben Walker, David Ireland, William Massey, William Adams, Lewis Dorsey and Samuel Bowens, created the cemetery but named it after a white man, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, a friend of Abraham Lincoln and the first Union officer to die in the Civil War.
It is estimated there are about 200 people buried at Ellsworth Cemetery and about 60 of them are African-American veterans from the Civil War to the present day, according to Audrey Cimino, executive director of the Carroll County Community Foundation.
Only about 60 headstones remain and of those that are left, many have eroded over so many years that the engravings have washed away. Others are cement block markers over the graves of people whose names are unknown — like a section in the back of the burial grounds called “Strangers Row.”
It had also survived vandalism and neglect over its almost 150 years.
In the recent past, the Boy Scouts of America, Maryland State Troopers of the Westminster Barracks, Union Memorial Baptist Church, Pritts Funeral Home and Branch 7014 of the NAACP recruited and organized by Liberty High School teacher’s assistant and cemetery restorationist George Murphy have taken care of the cemetery.
Currently it is maintained by Union Memorial Baptist Church in Westminster under its Reverend James Hinton, the Knights of Columbus, and local resident Michael Hill who said Saturday he has been caring for the cemetery since the early ’90s.
“I took care of this cemetery when it was first full of weeds,” said Hill after the service. “It was a jungle.”But it was a lot of work he said, and he was grateful when the Cimino and the Carroll County Community Foundation helped set up a maintenance program.
At the memorial ceremony, the Maryland National Guard presented Dan Kloss and Tom Greul of the Knights of Columbus and Audrey Cimino of the Carroll County Community Foundation with certificates of thanks and appreciation at the Memorial Day service.
“We raised money and worked with Lowe’s and Kohl’s,” said Col. Charles S. Kohler — with both the National Guard and KOC — after the Memorial Day service. “The fence was replaced, they’ve been cutting the grass, Knights of Columbus has been doing maintenance of these grounds.”
Other supporters of the ceremony and restoration work are Wawa Westminster, Morgan University, the Civil War Pipes Creek Roundtables and James Cardinal Gibbon Assembly 379, as well as United Memorial Baptist Church and Crossroads Community Church.
Kohler said he was surprised to learn the history goes back so far at Ellsworth. The cemetery is home to the grave of a 110-year-old man who died in 1876, he said, and there are other amazing stories to be discovered.
After the recognition, he said hopes are that the cemetery can acquire official tombstones from the Department of Veterans Affairs for those interred who do not have a memorial stone.
“I don’t think Carroll County really knows the history that is here,” he said.
Singh made the same point in her speech that day.
She asked attendees to ensure their families and loved ones learn about the history in their towns and families in order to carry it forward.
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“There may have been division between us before, but there can be no division now,” she said. “You shouldn’t be at my age and saying… ‘Where is all the history buried?’ ”