Work returning Cedar Hill Cemetery to pre-Isabel condition nearing completion

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

The headstone of an infant buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in 1918, lost under mounds of dirt from a tree uprooted during Hurricane Isabel, will soon be back in its rightful place.

The lone tombstone of Margaret Whitley, 1812-1890, toppled by a falling tree during Isabel, is standing once again.

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Cedar Hill is finally beginning to recover from the devastation left in Isabel’s wake, almost a year after the hurricane left her mark on Suffolk.

Suffolk Monument Co. is about halfway through repairing or replacing the gravestones damaged by the 160 cedar trees downed during last September’s hurricane.

Lee Hart, who is handling the repairs for Suffolk Monument, carefully uses a measuring tape and level to insure that the concrete footer he created for the headstone’s base is even. Then he uses the hydraulic lift to lower the heavy slab of granite onto it.

Were it not for the city’s investment, Hart said he doubts many of the older markers would ever have been set back up.

&uot;Many of these people buried here probably don’t have any family left here to take care of something like this,&uot; said Hart, who is going into his second month working at Cedar Hill. He expects the project will be complete in another month or so.

Typically, a cemetery’s perpetual care fund only covers routine maintenance – grass mowing, maybe filling an occasional sinkhole caused by heavy rains, Hart said.

&uot;I doubt Margaret Whitley’s would have ever been set up,&uot; he said.

Randy Maust, owner of Suffolk Monument agreed.

&uot;We are just trying to get the cemetery back the way it was before the hurricane,&uot; he said. &uot;I know if it was my family, I would want somebody to look out for them.

&uot;And this is art work,&uot; he continued. &uot;These older monuments are handcarved. They are really priceless.&uot;

To date, Hart, occasionally assisted by other Suffolk Monument employees, has repaired and uprighted up to 40 monuments. Some of the damage was minor and easily repaired – small crosses broken by the weight of a falling tree, which can be trimmed to a smaller size and sealed back onto its proper location.

But others, particularly larger ones near the roots of uprooted trees, were flipped several feet from their original site.

Before work could begin, the city had to remove the trees’ root systems and stumps and build the surrounding ground back up to its original level. Then, Hart would have to lay a cement foundation for the gravestone’s base and headstone to be placed upon.

All total, the city is spending $25,000 to $30,000 on repairing hurricane damage at the cemetery, said Cheryl Davenport, the city’s grounds maintenance superintendent. City crews removed all the debris, which saved a significant amount of money, she said.

Next week, the fence company will be coming in to make repairs to the iron and chain link fence that encircles the cemetery.

&uot;Then everything will be finished,&uot; she said.