CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Lizzie Andrus was a Girl Scout Cadette in Middle School who was looking for a project that would help her to earn the Cadettes’ Silver Award when she saw the small forlorn cemetery on the south side of Clifton Park Center Road.
When she first discussed cleaning up and restoring the cemetery for her project little did she know it would move her to do a year’s worth of research, fundraising, and cleanup before eventually hiring a professional restoration expert to complete the job.
According to Clifton Park Town Historian John Scherer, the cemetery Andrus took on to restore was established in 1795 and long associated with the Clifton Park Dutch Reform Church. The church which is now gone was on Clifton Park Center road between the cemetery and the intersection with Moe Road. The church served a small group of farm families in the immediate vicinity which was known as Millious Corners, named after an early farmer.
The graves in the cemetery and the stones identifying their occupants are a who’s who of those families that lived and farmed nearby. With time and suburbanization the old homes, like the church, are now gone and only the cemetery remains.
“I was looking for something to help my community and passed by the cemetery and it looked very overgrown and I noticed how little care it was getting so it was my idea to put some love into it,” Andrus said.
The Silver Award is a community action project for Girl Scout Cadettes in grades six to eight. It requires a minimum of 50 hours of work along with supplies, going to meetings, and organizing volunteers. Andrus who was 12 when she began looking into the project had planned to have the work started in the spring.
Now 14-years-old and in ninth-grader in Shenendehowa High School West, she was allowed an extension by the Girl Scout Council to complete the project due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After doing preliminary research Andrus, whose father is Matt Andrus the town’s information specialist, went to the Town Board with her idea for the project. After a discussion there and a suggestion to present the project to the town Historic Preservation Commission, Gail Winters, a member of the Commission, offered to act as advisor to Andrus on the project.
“She took a real interest in being a main contributor and working with me and focusing on cemeteries,” Andrus said.
To raise money for project supplies Andrus sought funds through instructing a group of Brownies for their Family Story Badge and submitted an application and later received a Community Action Grant from the town.
After Winters, Andrus, and Andrus’ mother, Jen Andrus spent three days this summer ridding the cemetery of leaves, brush, and tree branches, Lizzie Andrus realized in order to reach the 50-hour minimum required for the Silver Award more had to be done on the project. Restoration of the stones and repositioning them was the next logical step.
To do that part of the project, restoration expert Joe Ferrannini of Grave Stone Matters was brought in to give an estimate. In November 2019 he visited the site and explained what a full restoration would take and what it would cost.
At his initial walk-through, Ferrannini said he wanted to raise three stones that were leaning and reposition them properly so no would get hurt. In the end, Andrus said he raised and restored 10 stones.
“We had enough money to get him in for a day and then he donated a day, “Lizzie Andrus said. “He became very dedicated to the cemetery and came back for two more days because he was really focused on completing the restoration.”
The Historic Preservation Commission has agreed to cover Ferrannini’s additional costs.
The work on the gravestones took four days, Oct. 3 to Oct. 6.
“At one point we had 12 volunteers working there,” Andrus said. “We all did different things at different times. We dug up, sprayed, and cleaned the stones and Joe Ferrannini bonded the broken ones together.”
A tripod was used to reposition three of the gravestones.
Jen Andrus, Lizzie’s mother, is pleased her daughter took on the project and completed it.
“It makes me proud in the sense that she set a goal, she’s seeing it achieved, and then it’s a finished product that people can enjoy, understand, and remember in the cemetery,” she said.
Jen Andrus said she’s heard from a lot of people that they too have driven by the cemetery and always wondered about it.
“And I say, so did we,” she said.
Lizzie Andrus was asked what she learned from working on a project that went so deep into the community’s history.
“I learned that there were certain families that had a lot of children in quick succession and that a quite a number of them died while they were very young; four to five months,” she said.
Lizzie Andrus is scheduled to make a presentation about the project to the Town Board at the Oct. 19 board meeting.