Berlin and Brunswick

In the late 18th century, settlements began to appear in this area of Maryland along the banks of the Potomac River. A ferry had been established on the Potomac at the “German Crossing” in 1731, creating a connection between Maryland and Virginia, allowing merchants to transport goods between these two colonies. In 1787, Leonard Smith, who had purchased property on the Maryland side of the river a few years earlier, laid out a tract of land close to the ferry, with 96 lots. He retained some of these lots for himself and his family, and sold the others. He named his town Berlin.

In 1834, the construction of both the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad reached Berlin as they pushed their way to Cumberland. Charles M. Wenner built a flour and grist mill at the end of First Street (present day Virginia Avenue) at lock 30 on the canal in 1845.

Berlin remained a sleepy little village with a population between 200 and 300 until 1890. That was the year when the B&O Railroad moved their large freight yard from Martinsburg to Berlin. The name of the town was changed because there was already another Berlin on Maryland’s eastern shore and this caused confusion in mail delivery. By 1900, the population had grown to 2,471 and by 1910 it reached 5,000. Brunswick was truly a railroad company boomtown. Today, Brunswick is on the National Register of Historic Places as an example of a town built by a railroad at the turn of the 19th century.


The Earliest Cemetery

People moved in, people moved out, children were born, and people died… and needed a place to be buried. Some were buried in church cemeteries outside of town. Many were buried in Berlin’s “old burying ground.” This is the story of that cemetery.

The first known reference to a cemetery in Berlin was in the Frederick Town newspaper, The Gazette, on Sept 11, 1799:

On Monday the 30th inst. on the premises, will be exposed for Public Sale, for ready money, 281 acres of land consisting of two tracts called “Hawkins’ Merry Peep O Day” and “Marylandexcepting such parts of the former as may include within the town of Berlin (and half acre thereof occupied as a burying ground), taken in execution by virtue of fi fa [or Writ of Fi Fa, a lien recording document] out of the Western Shore General Court of Maryland by John Hoffman against Jean Payne Boisneuff. The Land is of prime quality, well improved, lies on the Potomack, adjoining the town of Berlin and is of great value.

The land passed through several owners and was eventually purchased by Joseph Waltman on January 8, 1835. His purchase consisted of 162 2/3 acres which included the cemetery. Joseph Waltman was a wealthy bachelor whose family had established themselves across the river in the Lovettsville area. His father, Jacob Waltman, owned the river ferry for many years. They were prominent members of the New Jerusalem Lutheran Church in Lovettsville. In his will (dated June 11, 1879), Mr. Waltman directed William W. Wenner (his trustee and also his brother-in-law) that the specified cemetery be “held for burial” until the incorporation of an Evangelical Lutheran Church or congregation in Berlin.

The cemetery property was transferred from the estate of Joseph Waltman (deceased) to the Bethany Lutheran Church when it incorporated in 1892. Anticipating that the church would be built on cemetery property, it became known as the Old Lutheran Cemetery. However, the church decided to build several blocks away, closer to the center of town. Interestingly, according to Jacob Holdcraft, who recorded the names on all the tombstones in 1959, “only one Lutheran is buried there.”

The deed was actually transferred to the church in 1914. By that time the new Park Heights Cemetery was opening in Brunswick and few burials took place in the old cemetery after that. On March 27, 1947, the cemetery was deeded to the City of Brunswick by the Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church. A survey of the cemetery by Joseph Brown (of Middletown) confirmed the metes and bounds of the original deed, and a confirmatory deed was written on April 25, 1996.


Rehabilitating the Cemetery

The last burial in Old Berlin Cemetery was in the 1940’s. What followed was a period of neglect for many years. Tombstones were knocked over, broken or removed, especially in the lower end of the Cemetery, where local kids created a baseball playing field. Although the City performed basic maintenance, vegetation became overgrown, fencing deteriorated and shrubs were removed. A 150-year-old sycamore tree needed care. Tire tracks were left by vehicles driving across the sacred ground. The Cemetery appeared as not much more than a vacant abandoned lot.

Around 2010, neighborhood residents starting showing an interest in rehabilitating the Cemetery. In 2015, at the urging of citizens, the City applied for a grant from Preservation Maryland to fund a planning study and received $3,000. Mr. Howard Wellman, a professional conservator of cemetery stones, was recommended for this work by the Maryland Historical Trust. Wellman inventoried all the existing gravestones and made preservation recommendations in a 2015 report. The following year, Mayor Jeffrey Snoots created the Old Berlin Cemetery Restoration Committee.

Wellman was hired to upright and repair leaning, fallen, and broken tombstones. He transcribed all the names and was able to reconnect stones of family members buried together. Several more headstones, footstones, and bases were discovered by probing the Cemetery grounds. Wellman and the Committee created a special area in the Cemetery for stone markers that had been moved long ago, so-called "orphan stones," to recognize those whose original burial locations are unknown.  A detailed description of work by Howard Wellman Conservation is in the Conservation Treatment Report.

Landscaping of the grounds began. Landscape designer Karin Birch said of her work, “The intention is to transform a neglected, nearly vacant space into a thoughtful and respectful place that invokes the history of the cemetery and honors its remaining artifacts, as well as invites people to walk, meditate and reflect in this space … The plantings will be designed to add understated beauty and dignity as well as movement and life, attracting birds and butterflies as a reprieve to contemplating loss.”

The City received additional funding of $17,500 from the Maryland Heritage Area Authority (MHAA) Capital program in 2019, which was matched by an equal amount from the City. This funded additional tombstone repairs and placements, landscaping and benches, and two monuments, one giving a brief history of the cemetery and the other an entrance monument designating the site as "Old Berlin Cemetery."  

Official Website of the City of Brunswick, Maryland
City Hall | 1 West Potomac St. | Brunswick, MD 21716 | (301) 834-7500 | Hours 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. | CityHall@BrunswickMD.gov
Photos for website contributed by Vaughn Ripley, Jerry Knight, Dave Kersey, Sean Hoyden, and Brunswick Crossing