Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery Foundation

Preservation Merit


Greenlawn Cemetery was established in Portsmouth in 1829 and is the site for approximately 85,000 graves including veterans from every war the U.S. has fought in. The City-owned cemetery had not had major restoration efforts for many years due to funding and manpower shortages when, in 2017, the Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery Foundation was founded by a group of local citizens who shared a vision of preserving and restoring the Greenlawn Cemetery. 

The organization’s Board of Directors is a working board, where members are on-site every day interacting with the public and working on various restoration projects.  

The Friends group raises funds for their projects through various means including an historical reenactment titled "The Story of Us." The annual event utilizes local actors and volunteers to tell the story of Portsmouth through the years. Each year, there is a new subject with nearly 100 participants in period costume. This fundraiser sells out every year in a matter of days.  

Proceeds from the 2017 and 2018 productions were utilized for the Chapel restoration, which was the group’s first restoration project.  

Listed in the National Register in 1980, the Chapel had undergone a minor facelift in the mid-1990's but had not been returned to its original condition. During the 1940's, a makeshift storage building had been attached to the east side of the chapel and workers had closed in the original arched windows with brick. The chapel and addition were then used for cemetery-related storage for decades.  

The challenges of the restoration project were many. Deterioration and termite damage, as well as water intrusion, had destroyed the windows rendering them unrepairable. Fortunately, one of the board members was an engineer with WAl Construction Group, and a partnership was forged between the board and the company. The chapel restoration, including the roof, the interior walls, and the doors and windows, was completed in stages as the Friends were able to raise money through grants and the outdoor reenactments.  

Like the doors and windows, the chapel’s slate roof proved unsalvageable. In an effort to get a close a match as possible, new slate was ordered from a quarry located in New England where the original was quarried and installed to match. 

New windows and doors were handcrafted to the exact appearance and measurements of the originals, which were all slightly different, one from the other. 

The water leaks had destroyed the interior plaster walls on the north and west sides. New plaster was applied matching the original layering of varies brown and finish coats as near as possible. 

With an enterprising spirit and relentless hard work, the board of directors of the Friends of the Greenlawn Cemetery Foundation achieved a true restoration of the chapel, assuring its preservation for decades to come.