Deborah Probert mixes a solution Sunday to kill mildew and moss on gravestones at Riverside Cemetery on Farmington Falls Road in Farmington. The retired public school teacher has been cleaning headstones around Franklin County since 2014. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — Motorists passing the Riverside Cemetery on Farmington Falls Road may notice some of the headstones look much cleaner and straighter.

That’s because over the summer members of the Farmington Historical Society have been holding classes there on cleaning headstones and collecting data on each stone.

“Some of these old stones are my family,” member David Spenciner said. “Which is just — to be honest, it’s just awesome.”

Spenciner said he has family going back six generations, and cleaning the stones has given him a chance to reconnect with them. He said he hopes that someday, when he is laid to rest, someone will clean his headstone.

Spearheading the project is Deborah Probert, a retired public school teacher who has been cleaning headstones around Franklin County since 2014. She said she initially got into the work after participating in a four-day workshop hosted by the Maine Old Cemetery Association and used the knowledge to clean headstones that belonged to her family.

“The first workshop I went to was because I had a family member down on the coast,” she said. “I don’t have any family members here in Farmington, but I just feel the need for preservation.”


Farmington Historical Society member Emile Richard sprays a gravestone Sunday at Riverside Cemetery in Farmington. Society members, participants in a Maine Old Cemetery Association workshop and volunteers with Work First Inc. cleaned over 200 gravestones at the cemetery this past summer. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

The project started at the Historical Society’s monthly meeting in May when members and volunteers received a demonstration on how to clean a headstone. Volunteers worked one Saturday a month during the summer.

Probert said they cleaned the headstones and Albert Staley, a preservationist and stonemason from Bowdoinham, did the preservation work.

Society members, participants at the association workshop, and Work First Inc. volunteers cleaned more than 200 stones this past summer.

Probert supplied the tools, which included brushes, water and several jugs of D/2 Biological Solution, a biocide commercial product used to kill or control the spread of harmful microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses.

“It is used to kill mildew, mold, lichen and moss,” she said. “It’s used professionally by contractors on vinyl siding and asphalt roofing, and it does not damage (the environment), and I asked around. It doesn’t kill grass, it doesn’t hurt insects, it doesn’t hurt human hands.”

Judi Granger, left, and Maxine Brown clean the headstone of Stephen Titcomb on Sunday at Riverside Cemetery in Farmington. Titcomb was instrumental in the settlement of the Sandy River Valley during the Revolutionary War and the establishment of Farmington as a town, according to the Farmington Historical Society. Submitted photo

Probert said as they cleaned the markers and monuments, they gathered data such as names, dates of birth and death, and a drawing of the headstones. They also documented any veterans’ graves.

“There are Civil War veterans, there are Revolutionary War veterans, there are Spanish American War veterans,” she said.

“This cemetery was formally founded in 1858, but a lot of the older stones are from family plots around the town that were moved here,” she said.

Probert said she is working with the University of Maine at Farmington to update the map of the cemetery, along with uploading all the information they gather to

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