Restoration work completed at historic cemetery in Colts Neck

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COLTS NECK – An historic cemetery in Colts Neck that dates back to the late 1700s has been restored by a nonprofit organization.

The Polhemus Family Cemetery is the resting place of the family of Daniel Polhemus, the original owner and builder of the Polhemus farmhouse on Phalanx Road which dated to 1700s. The cemetery is the resting ground for three men who fought in the Revolutionary War: Maj. John Polhemus, Capt. Tobias Polhemus and Col. Auke Wikoff.

The restoration of the cemetery was undertaken by William Rott and David Visconi of the Society of Archaeological Research (SOAR), a nonprofit organization based in New Jersey that assists associations and private property owners in the recovery, identification and research of historical artifacts.

Through the use of known data, historical information and archaeological techniques, SOAR helps property owners unlock the keys to their property’s past and understand its importance historically.

According to the book “New Jersey Graveyard and Gravestone Inscriptions Locators – Monmouth County” by Edward J. Raser, which was published in 2002, the Polhemus Family Cemetery had 40 gravestones accounted for, with 15 gravestones predating 1800.

SOAR said 21 headstones were visible at the end of the restoration, however, they found 11 gravestones that were not accounted for.

“A lot of trees had fallen throughout the years,” Visconi said. “It caused a lot of the headstones to be disrupted from their original settings or the tree broke headstones and also buried headstones. In some cases, trees fell over and broke the headstones, while other tombstones fell backward. As a result of being under a tree for decades, some stones were about 6 inches underground.

“One of the first things we did was cut the trees, which took us some time,” Visconi said. “We started assessing each stone individually. We are not experts, we had some prior experience with a cemetery in Waretown, where (Rott) lives.

“We kept it as original as we could, we did not want to make any changes to it. Some stones were broken into pieces and we had to put them back together like puzzles. I took home the smaller ones to glue them with straps and clamps,” he said.

Rott and Visconi said the work would not have been completed without the help of Veronica Cicalese, the owner of the farm next door.

“Our logical recourse was to access the site from her property,” Visconi said. “Any other option was overgrown and we probably would have had to park in developments and walk in between houses.”

SOAR made 24 trips to the cemetery from April 14, 2016 through Sept. 1, 2018 and accounted for almost 150 hours of work. Representatives of the organization presented their work to the Colts Neck Historical Preservation Committee on Sept. 12.

Township Committeeman Frank Rizzuto, the liaison to the Historical Preservation Committee, said, “Several years ago I was directed by the Historical Preservation Committee to conduct a survey and submit a report on the condition of the Polhemus Family Cemetery. At that time the grounds were in a terrible state of neglect and disrepair. It has been amazing to see the amount of work which has been completed. A big thank you to all those involved in the restoration.”