Verville Preservation is paying homage to Orange County cemeteries. Husband and wife duo Michael and Hilary Verville restore and help maintain the headstones that mark our loved one’s final resting place. “Cemeteries are places where people remember their loved ones,” explained the Vervilles’. “We approach our work in the field with respect, both for those who have passed and for those who remember.”
Michael, a historian and graduate of UNC’s historic preservation program, began studying the science of cemetery restoration in an apprenticeship under the notable master craftsman Dean Reudrich. Upon Reudrich’s death, Michael was offered the opportunity to continue his work. “[Reudrich] died unexpectedly and bequeathed [to me] his tool trailer, tools, materials, contracts, and his blessing to continue with cemetery restoration on my own.” Joined by wife Hilary in 2019, the Verville’s have been involved with hundreds of cemetery preservation projects; cleaning, maintaining, and restoring the valued markers.
Hilary, who also works as the director of research development at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, brings her field of expertise to the Verville operation. “Our tagline is ‘combining history and science,’” explained Hilary. “There’s a lot of history out here. These are people’s families; we want to respect [them] and approach [our work] with a scientific mind.”
The Verville’s apply organic practices, steering away from harsh chemicals and working with “unique characteristics” of various monument materials. “We want to restore and repair [the headstones] using materials that are appropriate for what they’re made out of,” said Hilary. “We’re working with things mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. We want to make them last for another 100, 200 years.” Michael added, “We want them to look level, plumb, and all put back together. Our goal is not to get them to where they look brand new, but instead, the best work done is when you don’t notice that we’ve been there.”
The Verville’s stress the importance of cemetery maintenance, teaching volunteer courses on proper cleaning procedures, and providing pro-tips for beginners. “I’ve led volunteer workshops in the past, teaching people how to do proper cleaning methods,” said Michael. “But you can’t train anyone in a day how to repair, level, or restore [the stones].”
The Verville’s strongly advise leaving the restoration work to the professionals. With even the smallest monuments weighing hundreds of pounds, the Verville’s use lifts and other safety techniques to reset the stones and perform a proper evaluation of the monuments’ potential weak spots.
The work of Michael and Hilary can be seen throughout Hillsborough’s Town Cemetery, Old Town Cemetery, and St. Mary’s Chapel. They have also completed projects at Hillcrest Cemetery in Cary, Raleigh’s Historic Oakwood, New Bern, Fayetteville, and Chocowinity.
“We recently did work for Cary First Christian Church, which was one of the first African American cemeteries,” said Hilary. “They have an old wooden marker, which is rare to find.” The two have no plans for slowing down. Currently completing a project at the Masonic Home for Children at Oxford, Michael and Hilary are in talks with additional prospective clients, details of which they are keeping to themselves at this time. Walking in the footsteps of his mentor, Reudrich, Michael is gearing up to host his first UNC preservation field school in May.
“I think that it’s important for people to visit cemeteries,” said Michael. “They’re an important part of our history and the legacy of people who are still here. You know, there’s been so much in the news about monuments, but you know those are monuments to ideas. These are real people.” Hilary added, “We know there are real people connected to these [monuments]. There’s something humbling about being able to help keep people’s connection to their past.”
Readers can follow their latest projects or browse maintenance and cleaning tips by visiting www.vervillepreservation.com.