Cemeteries are essential elements of societies’ collective history, providing fascinating insight into past burial customs, religious beliefs, cultural and ethnic influences, community origins and development, and landscape design principles. Although virtually every remnant from the beginnings of a town or city may be lost, cemeteries often remain as some of the last tangible links to the past.
In Delaware, many prominent historical cemeteries such as Dover’s John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Cemetery and Wilmington’s Riverview Cemetery (maintained respectively by the Dover Air Force Base and the Friends of Historic Riverview Cemetery) have been preserved due to the efforts of governmental agencies, private organizations and individuals. Other historical cemeteries, unfortunately, are vulnerable to the threats of neglect, vandalism and development.
The following information is intended to address some of the common questions that the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs (HCA) receives from the public regarding historical cemeteries. The specific cemetery-related topics discussed include HCA’s responsibilities and services, jurisdictional questions including who is responsible for the maintenance or conservation of cemeteries, procedures following the discovery of historical unmarked human remains, research resources, eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and federal and state legislation.