How to restore cemetery stones

It can be difficult to keep the headstone of a loved one in pristine condition. While memorial markers are sturdy, they are not impervious. Due to age, corrosion, vandalism, or weathering, headstones can become brittle over time and susceptible to damage. Fortunately, you can correct many issues and prevent further damage with headstone restoration . We examine some of the basics of this practice so you can preserve your loved one’s final resting place for years to come.

Headstone Repair Basics

Before you start the headstone restoration process, make sure to inspect the stone or material used to make the monument. Despite the durable materials like granite and marble in their makeup, headstones are still very fragile and need to be handled with care.

One thing to look out for during this initial step is delamination. Caused by the elements, delamination’s effects are broken pieces and stress cracks occurring on the headstone.

If you spot any signs of this, you should attempt to find all the broken pieces that you possibly can, no matter how small. Once the stone has been evaluated and deemed to have no serious evidence of delamination, you can proceed.

Early Stages of the Headstone Restoration Process

Most headstones are set in the ground, in a slotted base, or in concrete for additional stability. With time, the ground may shift or rodents may burrow beneath the base of the headstone. Depending on the location or how secure the cemetery is, most headstones are susceptible to vandalism and theft.

Before you start with the gravestone repair process, it’s important to clean the pieces. When cleaning a headstone , use a small brush and an approved biocide to kill and remove any moss, mold or anything else that tends to grow on the surface. Wait for the headstone to dry before taking the next steps.

Headstone Repair Involving Two Broken Pieces

Once the stone is dry, apply an epoxy that is specially formulated for headstone restoration . Next, apply a continuous line of epoxy down the center of the break, but stay away from the edges. Make sure that the epoxy is applied to all of the contact points on the headstone. After that, you are ready to clamp the two broken pieces together.

Headstone Repair for Three or More Broken Pieces

If the headstone has broken into three or more pieces, you will require a stable work table and proper alignment to epoxy them together. First, spread the pieces out on a flat surface. After that, put the pieces together so you can easily determine the easiest spot to epoxy.

Important Headstone Repair Reminders

Some preservationists believe it is better to do nothing at all than to do something potentially harmful. When considering repairing a damaged gravestone, keep the following tips in mind:

– Never attempt gravestone repair with caulking, glue, silicone, packaged concrete and other adhesives.

– Refrain from using power tools to repair a gravestone that is already brittle or fragile to the touch.

– Never attempt to clean granite with ammonia, vinegar, or lemon-based liquids. Instead, use a little dishwashing detergent, water, and a couple of clean cloths to clean and dry the headstone. Bronze and marble memorials require water, non-ionic soap, and soft cloths for adequate cleaning.

Choose Legacy Headstones for Your Customized Headstone & Receive a Gravestone Repair Warranty

The practice of headstone restoration takes time, precision and skill. If you’re not careful, a precious memorial can be damaged beyond repair. Leave it to the experts at Legacy Headstones. When you purchase one of our customized headstones, you’ll also receive a lifetime guarantee that it will withstand natural deterioration, cracking and discoloration. We offer flat , upright and premium customized headstones and a variety of memorial accessories to pair along with them. If you have any questions about our selection or would like more information, contact us today.

Basic Repairs is our section that walks you through repairs to tablet style grave markers. Broken tablets are some of the most common things found and asked about. This section will begin with simple single breaks and work up to multiple breaks that can resemble jigsaw puzzles. Many of our members have become quite skilled in this area. It did not happen overnight. It took lots of practice and patients, so don’t be overwhelmed. Because they all started out just like you with the very basics. This section will also show you these repairs being made in two different settings. In the field or outdoors, and indoors. Repair work in the field is the most common and practical setting for many reasons due to logistics and permissions. Repairs made indoors have the advantage of controlled conditions and the convenience of a workshop setting.

The basic repairs covered in this section are methods that should be taught to you in a hands on manner through a workshop or class. They can be much more complicated than we are able to express on this website. This section is designed as an introductory overview only.

Because this section touches on what we are terming as “Bonding Agents”, meaning any product or material used to join grave markers together. These will also be addressed in other sections of the website under PRO VS CON and under SOURCES…Pro VS Con Results. Please go to these sections for a more in-depth look and understanding before attempting any of these procedures.

The following is a great tutorial on repairing broken tablets, mainly marble tablets, with a focus on repairing them with an approved epoxy. We feel this is a great place to start when it comes to repairing or mending broken tablets. More on this procedure and different ways to use epoxy products that are widely accepted across the rest of the country, will be addressed below this article.

REPAIRING BROKEN HEADSTONES

By CCUS members Lloyd Collins of Polk Cemetery Savers and Mark Morton of Gravestone Guardians of Ohio

Headstones in most of the cemeteries across the country have either been set in the ground, in slotted bases, and some rare cases in concrete. Over time, the ground has shifted, rodents have burrowed under the bases, or animals, using them as scratch poles, have pushed the headstones off of vertical or broken them off at or above ground level. Vandals have also caused damage by pushing the headstones over or breaking them in pieces. Whatever the reason, some of the headstones are broken, sometimes in many pieces. These headstones are predominately of a “Tablet’ design. It is to the benefit of these headstones to be cleaned, repaired, and reset so they stand vertical. The headstone can then shed water and breathe properly.

The repair of broken headstones is a task that should not be taken lightly. This task takes patience, skill, time, and the use of the proper tools and materials. Few headstones can be repaired in a day. Most will take days and some will take weeks before the headstone can be repaired with epoxy, voids filled, engraving restored through the infill, and reset to stand straight on its’ own in the cemetery. Every broken headstone is different and although the repair methods may be the same, the series of tasks will be different. This standard will attempt to provide basic methods and define a series of tasks that will be needed to repair two types of broken tablet headstones that are in two pieces, and a tablet headstone that is broken into many pieces that may or may not be attached to a slotted base. If the base of the headstone is still in its’ slotted base, but the top is in several pieces, the top will have to be repaired first and then attached to the bottom section.

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Steven Willis (before cleaning)

One of the biggest challenges facing cemeteries today is how to properly clean and restore old headstones to their original beauty. Recommendations can run the gamut from, “Give them a good bleaching,” to wire brushing.

Others simply aren’t sure, preferring to leave the stones as they are rather than run the risk of further damage.

However, Karen Bouton, Saar Cemetery Project Coordinator and member of the South King County Genealogical Society, has spent many hours successfully restoring headstones in Saar Pioneer Cemetery with a simple, yet effective method that’s explained in her guest post below. (All photos were provided by Ms. Bouton).

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Steven Willis (after cleaning)

Thinking about cleaning an old headstone?

I thought about it too and was scared to death that I would ruin the delicate sandstone material but since so many headstones in the Saar Pioneer Cemetery were quite unreadable, I had to do something.

The biggest challenge is that these stones are in a very fragile condition and the wrong cleaning process would damage them beyond repair. After spending a lot of time browsing through the tips from the Association For Gravestone Studies (AGS) and the Chicora Foundation, I realized several stones were best left alone but that others could be successfully cleaned without further damage.

However, I did not think it necessary to clean the black lichen out of the engraved lettering as I believed cleaning it would do more damage to the lettering. Plus, the lichen makes for easier inscription reading for visiting genealogists.

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Matilda Wilson (before cleaning)

So how can these stones be restored? By using a cleaning solution found at local pool supply stores called Bio Guard ALGAL Backup Step 3.

I mixed ONE tablespoon of the chemical into a 12 ounce water squirt bottle. This one bottle alone cleaned nearly every headstone I worked on. I then used at least ten gallons of water for rinsing off EACH headstone.

Now while some cemeteries will have a water hose/pipe available, the Saar Cemetery does not. This meant I had to pack in the 10 gallons of water for each stone cleaned! However, I cannot stress enough how important it is to use this large amount of water. Once you start seeing the results, you’ll agree it’s worth it.

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Matilda Wilson (after cleaning)

STEP ONE. Carefully dust off the loose material in and around the stone with a very soft cloth. I used a cloth diaper that worked well.

STEP TWO. Pour some water onto the area you want to clean. Note: It’s best to work only on one side at a time.

STEP THREE. Shake the 12 ounce squirt bottle and spray only a few squirts into the areas being cleaned. DO NOT leave the cleaning solution on for more than 30 seconds. After the 30 seconds, pour water onto the sprayed area, then pour some more. I then gently used the cloth diaper to work the water into the stone – the key word here being gentle.

On some really tough spots I had to spray the solution a second time before gently scrubbing with a very soft bristle brush (think soft toothbrush consistency) followed by some more rinsing. Keep in mind that even after dousing a headstone with water, the solution is still active on the stone so it’s important to use as much water as possible to rinse off as much as possible.

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Mrs. Clark (before cleaning)

The stone will look cleaner at this time, but believe me, come back in a week and it will be several shades brighter. Sunshine will also help as it’s a natural cleaner.

If your cemetery has a lot of granite headstones, they won’t require as much work. Instead, a bit of water and a wipe with the clean cloth diaper will set them right. Oh why couldn’t they all have have been granite??

Resetting Ground Supported Headstones : Resetting Volume 3

Jason Church: Hello and welcome to historic Chalmette National Cemetery. My name is Jason Church. I’m a materials conservator with the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. In this video, we’re going to cover the tips and techniques needed to raise and realign ground supported grave markers such as these historic stones for veterans here at Chalmette. Before we get started, let’s take a quick moment to listen to our park ranger give us a little history of the site.

Nathan Hall: Hello, my name is Nathan Hall. I am a park ranger here at Chalmette Battle Field which is one of six units of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. All together they tell the story of life in Southern Louisiana based around the culture and the history and the ecology around the Mississippi River. This site specifically is the original site. It became a national park in 1939. It commemorates the last major battle of the War of 1812, a largely forgotten war in American History. But when you come here you learn it has a lot of significance.

We’re a mixed group of a hundred years worth of New Orleanians from French Creole to Spanish speaking Canary Islanders to Native Americans, free African-Americans, pirates and privateers and criminals, state troops from Tennessee, and the US Army and Marines all came together defeated twice as many of the best trained and equipped army in the world at the time, the British army, to give the Americans a big victory at the end of a war that hadn’t gone very well for them up to that point.

We have now over 15,000 soldiers from wars, from the Civil War up to and including Vietnam and even a few people who served in the War of 1812 and were re-interred from other places and ceremonially placed here as well.

Jason Church: Grave markers may need to be reset for a variety of reasons. Here at Chalmette we have issues with the stones sinking and leaning due to the high water table, occasional flooding, and other natural disasters. The techniques that we will cover in this video are applicable to any grave marker that is ground supported. That is to say that it has no other base and is held upright only by the pressure of the Earth.

Before we get started with our raising and realigning, we should first run the line levels and measure out for the row we are working on. When resetting in an organized cemetery such as Chalmette, it’s important not only to bring the stone up to proper height but to keep it inline with the other stones in its rows and aisles. Masonry string and a line level is used for this. Here at Chalmette the average height for the stones is 22 inches above grave. That is the height we need to set the string to.

The first thing that needs to be done is to remove a small amount of dirt from around the stone. How much needs to be removed depends on the severity of the stone’s lean. It is important to decrease any stress from the stone before trying to lift it. When moving dirt be careful not to touch the stone with the shovel at any time as this will cause damage to the fragile stone. Also it is a good idea to place a tarp or piece of plywood down to put the dirt on. This will keep the side of the cemetery looking good after the reset.

To lift the stones, we’ll use a rolling aluminum gantry with a one ton chain hoist. When using any overhead equipment a hard hat should be worn. We are using a nylon strap to lift the stone. A simple basket hitch is all that’s need to lift the stone. If the strap starts to slip, stop. Lower the stone and redo the strap. Slippage could scar the stone. When gently raising the stone, one person should stay with the stone at all times while another one works the chain hoist. Be careful that the chain or hook do not strike the stone. Once the stone is raised from the hole, it can be moved out of the way or laid flat on the ground. Here at the National Cemetery where many stones will be reset in a row, we can pull several at one time. Once you are done with the gantry it should be rolled out of the way. Hardhats can now be removed if needed.

The hole that was left once the stone is removed needs to be widened and taken deeper to allow for gravel. To check the depth of your hole as you work, subtract the total height of the stone from the amount of the stone that goes above grave. Add about 4 inches to this to allow for the gravel that will be packed under the stone. When you reach the depth that you want, tamp the soil down before adding about 4 inches of gravel. Once the gravel has been added, tamp the hole again.

The stone can now be placed back in the hole. This can be done manually or by using the gantry and strap. If you’re moving the stone manually, make sure at least 2 people are there to move the heavy stone.

Now that the stone is back in the hole and at proper height, we’ll use this post level to monitor that the stone stays plumb and level while we place gravel around it. Make sure that you do not contact the grave marker with the shovel or while tamping. It’s recommended to only tamp with a wooden 2×4 to avoid any damage to the stone. The gravel around and underneath the stone will help with drainage and to hold the stone tight, slowing future settling. When selecting gravel make sure to use a small sharp grave. This will hold the stone in place. Tumbled or round gravel should be avoided as it may help the stone to move in a freestyle situation. Once the stone has been tamped in, leaving a few inches of room to add sand, soil, or the original sod back around the stone. Once the stone is properly reset it should be cleaned.

**Over the past year, an incredible number of new followers inspired by TGC have inquired how to safely restore monuments in their own communities. Below you will find the answer to this frequently asked (and answered) question. We are hoping this makes it easier for everyone to find!

BEST PRACTICES: HOW TO RESTORE THE MONUMENTS
OF YOUR OWN FAMILY & LOVED ONES

* ALWAYS remember first and foremost to obtain permission to restore ANY monument (tombstone) that is not a direct family member.. *

The product we use is called D/2 Biological Solution (We use this on Granite, Marble, and Sandstone monuments). D/2 is what the Government uses for all of our National cemeteries including Arlington. It is safe for the monuments as well as the surrounding environment.

Rinse the stone with water before spraying D/2 on the still damp stone.

Allow it to sit for several minutes while the product begins to break down biological debris. When cleaning, always use a natural or soft nylon brush with a consistency similar to your toothbrush. NEVER use a hard bristle brush.

Periodically rinse it with water before re-applying D/2 and carefully scrubbing as needed to see your progress.

Hand dry with a clean, DRY cotton or microfiber towel. TGC typically brings his own water in 5-gallon containers because not all cemeteries have water readily available.

Finally, spray a light coat of D/2 over the entire monument and allow it to continue to work into the stone. Typically in two or three weeks time the monument will look beautiful.

** We DO NOT SELL D/2 Biological Solution. but we have included the link to our distributor in the caption below the D/2 jug.

NOTE: Enter the code TGC at checkout & receive a discount on your purchase!

Posted On: May 3rd 2021

How to restore cemetery stones

This blog post was initially published on October 27th, 2014. It has been updated for clarity and to include additional suggestions.

When a loved one’s headstone fades over time, it’s an unpleasant and upsetting reality. Of course, selecting a durable monument material like granite will prevent any fading or discoloration for a considerable length of time. However, fading is inevitable – even with the highest-quality materials and the most attentive memorial care. Obviously, the sight of a loved one’s headstone fading can be heartbreaking. Fortunately, there are several reliable techniques that can restore its original, singular beauty.

Sometimes, a headstone serves as the only enduring, tangible presence of a loved one. Also, memorials allow our relatives a way to discern their ancestry and trace their lineage. Luckily, talented monument artists can repair older headstones to restore their uniquely luminous appeal. In addition, they can enhance it with new features and upgrades if you wish. In this post, we’ll outline how to apply these improvements in order to preserve the beauty and radiance of your loved one’s monument, keeping it in pristine condition for countless grave visitations, and for many years to come.

What if My Headstone’s Lettering has Faded?

A headstone’s inscription is generally the focal point, and rightfully so. Often, this is the primary element that captures the spirit of your loved one’s legacy and distinguishes their monument from others in the cemetery. Additionally, the text is the most direct way to identify it.

Usually, the inscription includes the name, birth and death dates, and prominent life details that encapsulate their legacy. At the time of creation, headstone lettering is sharp, distinct and clearly legible. Unfortunately, this headstone inscription lettering can be sensitive. As a result, it can fade from a prolonged exposure to the elements like inclement weather, grass, pollen, and any other outdoor variables that can affect the monument.

How to Restore Headstone Text

Restoring the headstone inscription can be a remarkable improvement for text that has faded over time. Thoroughly cleaning the monument is the first step toward a brand-new luster. Navigating this process hastily and recklessly can further damage the headstone. Many common household cleaning agents with abrasive, harsh chemical formulas can erode a memorial even further.

Leaving this process to experienced craftsmen gives you the peace of mind in knowing the job will be done correctly, and the monument will last. Usually, routine cleaning effectively washes away discoloration from grass clippings or other organic debris.

As a full-service monument design company, our staff is more than capable of performing all on-site repairs to counteract any signs of aging. We take pride in our ability to refurbish your monuments without removing them and disturbing the resting site.

What if My Headstone Has Sunk into the Ground?

It may be less obvious than faded text, but monuments can also sink into the ground. Usually, the pace of this prolonged process depends on the soil conditions and the height and weight of the headstone.

Eventually, the headstone may sink to a certain point where the text is obscured, though it can take a long time. Headstones sink naturally, because as it erodes, the ground beneath it erodes, as well.

How to Repair a Sinking Headstone

The simplest (and perhaps most advisable) way to counteract a sinking headstone is to increase its height by adding a base. This will elevate the memorial above its original height.

Additionally, this supplemental stone material anchors the headstone while providing an appealing decorative touch.

How to restore cemetery stones

Adding a base raises the memorial above its initial height. This additional stone material secures the headstone, while also adding a nice embellishment. Raising the monument with a base enhances the overall appearance of the headstone.

My Headstone is Chipped, Cracked, or Broken?

While not as common as sinking or fading, headstones can also sustain visible damage. These signs of wear-and-tear could be the result of heavy ice from winter storms, falling tree limbs, natural disasters, contact with a car or any other profound impact.

Discovering a crack in a loved one’s headstone can be upsetting. However, our monument artists utilize proven techniques to repair the signs of impact and restore it to a single, intact headstone.

Restoring a Cracked Headstone

Often, damaged headstones do not require a full replacement. Instead, monument artists proficient with granite and other materials can restore them to their original condition. By using granite epoxies, we can repair the crack without leaving visible marks.

How to Add New Names or Dates to the Headstone

In addition to repairing broken headstones, monument artists can also add more details to existing monuments. This is a common choice for families who purchase a dual headstone during end-of-life planning, and must add new details later on.

Families who want to add a boat, cross or other symbol may also choose to receive a subsequent inscription in the future, as well.Without removing it from the ground, monument artists can add new symbols or lettering.

Conclusion

At St. Charles Monuments, we understand how profound a memorial can be for your family. We’re committed to ensuring that the memorial remains a worthy symbol of your loved one’s life and legacy for many years to come.

Our Services

How to restore cemetery stones

St. Charles Monuments offers many services such as engraving, memorial repairs, garden statues, and more

Safe Solutions for hard to read tombstones

When you visit a cemetery, you are likely to come across some tombstones that are weathered, worn, and difficult (or impossible) to read. For years, some methods have been thought of as acceptable means for making the stone easier to read, such as making a rubbing of the tombstone or chalking the stones. We now know that these methods are, in fact, dangerous to the stones and often do more harm than good. In some areas, tombstone rubbings have been banned because of the damage they can cause to old, brittle, and fragile stones. But never fear; there are several excellent methods for reading these old stones that are safe and effective.

Rubbing, Chalking, and Other Bad Ideas

Tombstone rubbings have been popular for centuries, and are often still touted as a fun and interesting way to keep a visual record of a tombstone. But the truth is, it is harmful to tombstones and is currently being banned and outlawed in many different areas. Rubbing is, in itself, very abrasive to stones. It will eventually wear away the carving on stones and loosen bits of the stone causing flaking and breaking. Remember, even gentle rubbings cause decay. With photography what it is today, there is no reason to do a rubbing for recording or memorialising a tombstone. Photographs can provide a much greater and more artistic visual remembrance of any stone.

Chalking is, sadly, a method that is still being promoted by people in the field as being a safe way to read hard to read tombstones. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of knowledge about this subject. Chalk is very abrasive and can damage and stain stones. Some people think that the chalk will simply wash away, but there are instances of chalk staining stones which is still visible years after the fact.

Additionally, there are those who think using flour or shaving cream are good methods for making stones more readable. Flour is harmful because it can penetrate into small pores of the stone, and when wet, the flour will swell and can cause flaking of the stone. Also, it is food for micro-organisms that can then live and grow in the stone, causing expansion and cracking. Shaving cream is dangerous because of the chemicals it is made up of which will deteroriate the stones, much like acid rain.

While no substance can last forever, there are ways to keep a headstone or grave marker looking respectable, clean and enduring for decades and even centuries to come.

Every year, at Hart Monuments , we get questions by family members who have recently visited the cemetery and noticed signs of damage or weathering of their loved one’s memorial markers.

Often, there are simple things that can be done to preserve and restore a stone, bench, plaque, or mausoleum to its proper condition. When a more drastic approach is needed, professional restoration can make even the hardest-hit memorial look fantastic.

Preparation

The first and most important step in any restoration project is to understand what needs to be done without increasing any damage to the stone or to the other memorials around it. If you have any concerns about damaging a headstone or other element of the cemetery, take a step back and consult with a restoration professional. A small amount of caution now can save a lot of work down the line. Your local cemetery usually has a list of preferred experts.

A headstone or gravemarker can be cleaned as long as care is taken. Remember, many of the original stones in American cemeteries are very fragile. Take care to first inspect the stone for cracks, flaking or physical deterioration. Many cleaning agents and procedures can do long-term damage, especially to a stone that is unstable. If you are uncertain as to whether or not a stone is in a suitable condition for cleaning, consult a professional.

Use proper cleaning products and techniques to preserve to the future stability of the headstone. So, what products are safe for cleaning? Let’s start with what to avoid. One of the first thoughts that people may have is to use bleach. Unfortunately, while it can make a stone look whiter and pristine, bleach can cause irreversible damage by eating away the surface of the stone, exposing it to even further decay. Also, bleaching will leave a residue on the grave marker that cannot be rinsed off. Some commercial cleaners such as Ivory Soap and Fantastik Spray can leave the same result. Other cleaners to avoid include Naval Jelly, muriatic acid, and Lime Away. Any acidic cleaner can do permanent damage.

Safe cleaners include “non-ionic” detergents that are safe for limestone, marble, and sandstone. These can be found online and at photo supply stores and preservation stores. Some of the brands include Triton-X 100, Igepal, and Vulpex. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully and make sure that the stone is fully wetted before applying any cleaner. Use only cotton cloth and soft bristle brushes (think soft toothbrush) to prevent lifting any stone material. As you clean the stone, scrub gently and work your way from the bottom to the top to prevent streak marks. Rinse the stone often and thoroughly with clean water. Never let any detergent dry onto the stone.

For stubborn stains and marks, ammonia can be used sparingly. Be sure to dilute the ammonia with at least four cups of water per cup of ammonia. This can be very effective on lichens. For black algae, calcium hypochlorite (found online or at a swimming pool supply store) can be effective.

Re-Setting a Headstone

Quite often, the most noticeable part of a restoration effort involves the re-setting of headstones.

Over time headstones can shift out of plumb or even fall over. Whether caused by shifting ground, harsh winds and ice or even vandalism, even the heaviest stones can move from their original positions.

To avoid doing more damage as well as personal injury, re-setting grave markers or headstones is something that should be attempted only by trained professionals. Professional restorers are familiar with the techniques as well as the local rules for each cemetery and can navigate any obstacles that may arise during the restoration process. For example, most cemeteries have strict guidelines for the length, width, and depth of the base on which each headstone sits.

A professional team or restoration experts will start the re-setting process by first removing the headstone from its current base. The stone is raised carefully so as not put undue pressure on it which might cause further damage. Once lifted from its place, the stone will be laid flat and usually transported to the restoration shop for a thorough cleaning and repair. Once the stone has been properly reconditioned and repaired, it will be re-aligned on its new base in the cemetery.

With proper care, a grave marker can be a beautiful homage to your loved ones that can last for generations.

If you have any questions about cleaning your memorial, feel free to call us for advice at one of our custom memorial showrooms: 585-589-6500 . We know the requirements of every cemetery in the Rochester metropolitan (Hart Monument) , Greece ( ROC Memorials & Monuments ) greater Batavia ( Oakley Monument ) and Albion ( Brigden Memorials ) areas, plus many in surrounding communities.