No money for cemetery, owner says

Published 6:56 pm Saturday, December 5, 2009

The condition of the Rosemont Cemetery in downtown Suffolk hasn’t changed much since a city codes official went out to investigate poor conditions at the cemetery.

City spokeswoman Debbie George said an inspector reported the grass had been cut, and the owner had been asked to remove “a small amount of trash and fallen tree branches,” George said.

“They did note the condition of the graves, but that’s not something they would handle,” George said.

Community activist Quinton Franklin said there had been no improvement in the condition of the cemetery since the News-Herald reported on it three weeks ago. However, he did receive plenty of phone calls from people who supported his mission to clean up the cemetery.

“After the holidays I am planning to start meeting with the people that have called me, do a group meeting to develop a plan of action,” Franklin said.

Serious problems at the cemetery include sinking gravestones, unmarked graves and cement vaults with holes in them, exposing caskets inside to the elements.

The cemetery is owned by Nansemond Development Company, according to Albert Jones, who said he is a stockholder of the company. Jones says the company does not have enough money to make the needed repairs to the cemetery, which the company acquired in the 1960s.

“We’ve been catching hell ever since about the cemetery,” Jones said.

Jones explained the Nansemond Development Company once owned most of the Rosemont area, and it still has a handful of rental properties in the area. However, Jones claimed, the income on the rental properties is not enough to support ongoing maintenance or repairs at the cemetery.

“We don’t have the money to refurbish the cemetery,” Jones said.

Funeral homes that conducted burials in the Rosemont Cemetery in years past did not collect extra fees for a perpetual care fund, Jones said. Many of those establishments are no longer in business.

Jones said the company does cursory maintenance on the property, things such as cutting the grass, but he said that Nansemond Development expects surviving relatives to help maintain the graves and monuments. He also said there is no surviving record of who is buried in the unmarked graves.

“I tried some time back for them to start coming to the plate to keep the graves and all repaired,” Jones said. “Three persons showed up (to a meeting). We will be glad to work with persons who have properties out there, if they’re willing to work with us.”

Jones said many families who have relatives buried at the cemetery have not helped with its upkeep.

“They have not kept their lots up,” Jones said. “The first and second generation of people, they will do it, but after those folks die out, they are left abandoned. We don’t have the resources to do it.”