Caretakers of Laurel’s history at Ivy Hill
The story of Ivy Hill Cemetery is woven deeply into the historic tapestry of Laurel.
The graveyard, which rests on a serene 10-acre parcel along the north side of Sandy Spring Road, frames a gently rolling landscape accented by stands of oldgrowth shade trees.
The burial grounds are overseen and maintained by the nonprofit Ivy Hill Association, a group that has kept the cemetery a peaceful spot in Laurel for decades.
The grounds are squeezed between townhouse developments, dotted with handsome memorials with names of fallen members of the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department, Laurel Police Department and Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad. American Legion Post 60 also has a monument.
One of the best-known stories about Ivy Hill involves the 1894 exhumation of a 500-pound woman, Jane Tyson. Her body was exhumed from a nearby graveyard and reburied at Ivy Hill.
The Baltimore Sun reported the body was “in a complete state of preservation, being petrified into white marble.” It took eight men to lift her casket.
The cemetery’s history can be traced to the mid-1800s, when the Laurel Cotton Mill reserved three acres to serve as a burial ground for poor mill workers. By 1890, a private company purchased eight acres next to the cemetry and sold stock to 150 families, entitling them to cemetery plots.
In1944 a Baltimore bank began acting as a trustee of the then-bankrupt mill company, deeding the cemetery to a private stock company. Ownership drama stretched into 1953, when a dispute landed in court and a judge ruled the cemetery’s finances were too confusing to sort out.
The court dissolved the corporation and Groundskeeper Walt Tegeler, left, Ivy Hill board secretary Maurice Harding, center, and president of the Ivy Hill board Bill Watts have helped restore the cemetery. appointed a receiver.
By the early 1970s, conditions at Ivy Hill had deteriorated. A group of Laurel residents organized the Ivy Hill Association in 1973 and launched a campaign to clean up the cemetery. The following year, the Circuit Court of Prince George’s County appointed the nonprofit group to serve as its trustee.
Warren Litchfield, born and raised in Laurel, helped refresh the cemetery. Litchfield, 87, an ordained minister and former chaplain of the Prince George’s County Fire Department, said a graveyard “should be a place of solace and remembrance.”
“We cleaned up weeds around the trees, took up an old hedge and put a blacktop road and fence in,” he said. “A lot of people were involved in the restoration.”
Today, Walter Tegeler serves as Ivy Hill’s manager and caretaker. Tegeler has practical experience — he owns the W.S. Tegeler Monument Co. in Woodlawn. He said Ivy Hill has more space available and is making plans to add a cremation garden featuring walkways, bushes and benches.
But preservation remains a primary focus.
Old Town Laurel resident Marlene Frazier, sits on the board of directors of the Laurel Historical Society. She said her strolls through Ivy Hill nourish her soul “for the history it holds, for the people who were here.
“And it’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s a nice, peaceful place.”
Bill Watts agrees. Watts, 65, a member of the cemetery board and a retired Prince George’s County police officer, said Ivy Hill is more appealing, more personal, than larger graveyards.
“I’ll just walk through there on a nice spring or fall day,” Watts said. “It means something to me to see firemen and police together. I find it calming and relaxing.”
Tegeler said he, too, loves to follow the burial grounds’ history. When he’s visiting Ivy Hill, he pictures “long ago, when there were horse and wagons on Main Street.”