After eight years and $28,000 in donations, the Civil War Burial Plot restoration project is finally complete
By Mark E. Vogler
SAUGUS – Last Friday, Gordon Shepard smiled as he stood in Riverside Cemetery admiring the newly-installed 150 feet of granite curbing around the Civil War Burial Plot.
The curbing and the related work cost about $16,000 and was the final phase of an eight-year project that Shepard, a Saugus resident and Vietnam War veteran, instigated to restore the site known officially as General Edward Winslow Hincks Post No. 95 Grand Army of the Republic Burial Plot.
When Shepard began the massive volunteer project back in 2015, the plot was in dire need of restoration. Almost all the plaques identifying the 26 Civil War soldiers and sailors were unreadable, many of them damaged and some sunk into the ground. The plot was overgrown with weeds and brush.
But by the fall of 2019, anyone passing by the plot could read the names of al 26 from new markers. The restoration was so impressive that the National Organization of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War honored Shepard with the organization’s 2019 Founder’s Award for his outstanding service in the memory of Union Civil War Soldiers.
The curbing and related work done by VCO Landscaping keeps water from pooling at the entrance and protects the grass and sprinkler system from being damaged by vehicles passing through the cemetery.
“With this new curbing, they’re going to damage their cars before they damage the sprinkler system,” Shepard told The Saugus Advocate. “With the curbing, the salt and sand won’t come up to the grass anymore in the winter time,” he said.
The latest work includes a paver walkway at the entrance, pavers around the flagpole and new grass.
When all the phases are added up, Shepard said it cost about $28,000 – and none of it came from taxpayer’s money.
To quietly celebrate the project’s completion, Shepard pulled a composition notebook out of his pickup truck. He pointed to the 12 pages of names totaling close to 300 names of contributors from Saugus and many of them from all the U.S.
“I’m really happy about being a part of this project and putting this Civil War Burial Plot back together again,” Shepard said.
“But if it wasn’t for the donations from these people – a lot of them from the Saugus High Alumni Association – this project wouldn’t get done. We had some local businesses and organizations help out too,” he said.
“And the people from out of town and out of state had the same story. Their fathers are buried here. Their brothers are here. Their mothers are here. And they’re happy to see somebody doing something to take care of the veterans,” he said.
Shepard was initially drawn to Riverside Cemetery to visit the gravesite of his old childhood friend — Richard “Dicky” Devine, Jr. — a fellow Vietnam War veteran who was killed in combat in January of 1969.
He made frequent visits over the years to his departed buddy’s grave. Shepard noticed his friend’s headstone was sinking into the ground and another gravestone of the hero buried beside Devine was covered with dirt and grass. As Shepard surveyed the cemetery, he noticed that many of the headstones and plaques bearing the names of other veterans were in disrepair. A few cemetery visits turned into a major mission for Shepard, who has restored more than 400 gravesites belonging to veterans. The town honored Shepard with a Founder’s Day “Person of the Year” Award in 2014.