READSBORO, Vt. (WCAX) In the southeast corner of Bennington County lies Readsboro, a once-booming railroad town. The trains are gone, along with the population. At the turn of the 20th century, there were 1,200 people; it's now hovering around 700.
Forrest Hicks is the town's history detective. He's finding out about the souls buried at the town's four cemeteries.
"They're interesting," he said. "A lot of these stones if you look close at them, were children, young children."
A poignant reminder of the hardships of life back then.
"And the mother put, 'Mother Misses You, Dear,'" Forrest read.
Reporter Joe Carroll: It humanizes it, doesn't it?
Forrest Hicks: Yeah, yeah, really.
Time and the elements have taken a toll on the headstones. Some are barely readable.
"You can read them after we clean them," Forrest said.
Forrest's real title is Readsboro Cemetery Commissioner. The 78-year-old has taken on a project to rehabilitate the cemeteries.
Generations ago, the headstones were buried just below the frost line. Forrest and his son, Joel, along with Tommy Maroni, are straightening and adding a foundation to each stone.
Joe Carroll: Why do you do this?
Forrest Hicks: We do this because the cemeteries were in bad shape... The high is seeing the work get done.
Al Scaia is Forrest's friend.
"This is the largest restoration project in the whole state of Vermont. It is. And thanks to Forrest who really stuck with it," Scaia said.
It's been a four-year project. The town gives them $15,000 a year for the repairs.
"A lot more to go, yeah," Forrest noted.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The crew is now working at the Heartwellville Cemetery which is celebrating its 200 anniversary this year. It's the last one to be fixed up.
Joe Carroll: How much do you get paid to do this?
Forrest Hicks: I get paid zero. Yeah.
No money but a big reward.
"He calls it really preserving the history of Readsboro and it really is true," Scaia said.
Giving new life to these historic cemeteries.
"People do appreciate it and believe in it," Forrest said.