Editor's Note: This article was updated on May 21, 2016, to reflect that Edward Richmond Tinker, who died in 1959, is the founder of the Edward R. Tinker Charitable Trust, which donates annually to the Tinker Fund. Giles Tinker, who was previously credited with founding the fund, was his father.
NORTH ADAMS — Early on a Wednesday morning, four volunteers are wrenching a pry bar under more than 200 pounds of stone.
They're resetting the gravestone of a person they never knew, whose family very well may have also died off long ago, and whose burial site likely hasn't been touched in decades.
With gravestones dating back to the 18th century, many parts of Hillside Cemetery are in desperate need of care.
Enter a dedicated group of city residents, who have worked tirelessly for the last three years to reset more than 400 of the stones at Hillside Cemetery. An additional 250 stones have been cleaned.
"We're saving history," said Ed Marino, a longtime volunteer.
The group recently got an $8,000 boost in their efforts thanks to a benefactor, Edward R. Tinker, who was buried at the cemetery following his death in 1959, and whose charitable trust continues to provide the city with funding for Hillside Cemetery's maintenance.
Those funds, approved last week by the City Council, will be used to purchase a mechanical tripod that will aid the volunteers as they lift and reset some of the cemetery's heaviest stones, which can weigh several tons, according to city resident Roger Eurbin, who is leading the volunteer effort. The funding also will be used to purchase tools for the crew.
"There's no way that we can do anything with these stones by hand. The smaller ones we're doing with pry bars and two-by-fours and what have you, and it's working out," Eurbin said. "The large ones, there's just no way, so this will help us in this regard. It's professional equipment."
Although the city's Department of Public Works will chip in with a helping hand or piece of equipment when needed, the group of volunteers has purchased their own equipment and brought the grave stones back to life, largely on their own.
"I think this will definitely make their work easier and safer," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, adding that the group's dedication to the work has proven the equipment will be put to good use.
The volunteers have completed work in the first section of the Hillside Cemetery near West Main and Brown streets, and reached roughly 85 percent completion in a section of the cemetery closer to West Main Street.
But they still have more than 800 stones that need tending to, as many of the cemetery's stones have spent decades shifting, cracking, and tipping in the steep grounds of Hillside.
Two stones that volunteers were working on Wednesday clearly had cracked, fallen over, and sunk more than four inches into the ground years earlier.
In addition to the physical work of repairing and resetting the stones, Eurbin's crew has also inventoried and mapped all of the lots at the cemetery. The volunteers have been able to match each lot with the name of the person buried there — many of the stones are so weathered they are illegible — and identify those who were veterans.
A flag holder has been placed at each veteran's grave, and the volunteers have been methodically placing new flags at the graves of hundreds of veterans leading up to Memorial Day.
The group also has installed three new entrance signs for the cemetery and a plaque at Soldiers Circle that lists the names of veterans buried there and identifies the war in which each fought.
The cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"It's about historic preservation, and that's very important," Alcombright said.
The preservation effort welcomes new volunteers, and Eurbin notes that not all tasks are as labor-intensive as lifting and resetting the stones. Some need to be cleaned, while flowers can also be planted.
The crew, which typically consists of about six or seven volunteers who work every Wednesday and every other Saturday, even removed enough brush and debris to discover seven previously unidentified stones.
"I have never worked with a bunch of people that are more enthusiastic about the work that they do," Eurbin said.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.