William Peace cemetery plot being restored in Raleigh

jblack@newsobserver.comJune 21, 2014 

  • O’Rorke-Catholic Cemetery work completed

    The city will hold a ribbon-cutting event at 10 a.m. Thursday to mark completion of improvements at the O’Rorke-Catholic Cemetery at 1101 Pender St. The improvements include the removal of a cyclone fence and installation of a decorative black aluminum perimeter fence as well as the planting of new trees.

— Hoisting 3,200-pound stone slabs is no easy task, and it’s even harder when the 170-year-old stones are at risk of falling apart.

Yet that’s what Dean Ruedrich and his team of masons found themselves doing in City Cemetery this month, as they worked to restore the family plot of William Peace, the namesake of William Peace University.

The Peace Plot is comprised of four monuments marking the graves of Peace, his brother, his niece and his grandniece. Surrounding the monuments is a stone wall with a wrought-iron fence embedded on top. Because of its old age – it was built in 1842 or 1843 – and bad weather, notably the tornado in April 2011, much of the plot and cemetery were in disarray.

Ruedrich, president of Ruedrich Restorations of Louisburg, was hired by Raleigh City Cemeteries Preservation to restore the Peace Plot. The organization was formed in 2006 and works to restore the city’s three historic cemeteries: City Cemetery, Mt. Hope Cemetery and O’Rorke-Catholic Cemetery.

“We are a small grassroots organization with no office,” said Jane Thurman, RCCP president. “Everything we raise money for is used for marketing and restoration work.”

RCCP began raising money for the Peace Plot in 2006, but work did not begin until 2009, with the help of William Peace University anthropology and archeology students, who helped sort through the rubble.

The wall was constructed with large coping stones resting on top of much smaller stones. The largest stone measures 19 inches wide, 12 inches tall and 12 feet long and weighs about 3,200 pounds.

“Lifting 3,200 pounds by hand was the biggest challenge in this project,” Ruedrich said. “Generally, the biggest hurdle is working with really delicate pieces of stone. A lot of those stones are very fragile.”

After eight years of raising money, it took only a month for Ruedrich’s team to restructure the stone wall surrounding the plot. The next steps will be repairing the fence on top of the wall and William Peace’s box tomb, which sits above ground.

“It was very fashionable before the Civil War, and there are a number of them in City Cemetery,” Thurman said. “That was part of the reason the cemetery was placed on the National Register in 2008.”

Funding for the tomb came from the 1789 Questers, Raleigh’s chapter of the International Quester Organization, which encourages an appreciation, restoration and preservation of antiques and landmarks.

“We had several speakers who came and spoke about local cemeteries,” said Sis Ashby, president of the 1789 Questers. “We got really interested and started looking around somewhere to put some money into restoration.”

The chapter received $3,200 from the International Quester and kicked in $1,800 of its own toward the Peace Plot restoration.

William Peace was a Raleigh merchant and church elder who donated $10,000 and eight acres of land to establish the Peace Institute. He died in 1865 at age 92.

Black: 919-829-4835; Twitter: j_black13

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