Cedar Hill plan complete

Published 7:37 pm Saturday, July 24, 2010

A new preservation plan for Cedar Hill Cemetery recommends forming a nonprofit group to aid in raising money and applying for grants to repair and maintain the historic grounds.

Other high priorities include repairing heavily damaged grave markers, restoring the terrace steps at the entrance to the cemetery and redefining the roads that crisscross the land.

Having a plan in place is an important first step, members of the committee that helped form the plan say.

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“I think my biggest concern was getting the driveways in better shape,” said Robert Baker III of R.W. Baker & Sons Funeral Home & Crematory. “Grass has grown in the middle of the driveways. People are driving over graves because they really don’t know where the driveways are.”

The plan was prepared using a $10,000 grant from the Department of Historic Resources, with a local match donated by the Nansemond River Garden Club. A requirement of the grant was that an outside consultant assist in the preparation of the document, a task for which John Milner Associates of Charlottesville, a historic preservation specialist firm, was retained.

A technical review committee included city staff, as well as people from several local businesses that have interest in the cemetery and nonprofit organizations that have been investing time and money into the cemetery for years.

“Everybody’s heart is in the right place,” said Lee Hart, a past commander of the Tom Smith Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “We’re all concerned about one of Suffolk’s greatest historic treasures.”

Cedar Hill Cemetery, located just off North Main Street, is the final resting place of much of Suffolk’s history. It includes several war monuments, ornate gravestones with a story all their own, and thousands of marked and unmarked graves of some of Suffolk’s and Virginia’s most prominent citizens.

However, a long history of vandals, careless contractors and natural elements has taken its toll. Many grave markers are broken or sinking into the ground. The roads are not clearly defined and are marred with sinkholes. The terrace steps, a focal point of the cemetery near the main entrance, are cracked, crumbling and recently off-limits.

Nonprofit organizations — the Tom Smith Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Suffolk chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Nansemond River Garden Club and the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society — have done plenty of volunteer work in the cemetery through the years.

The committee’s plan helped solidify what is already being done, Hart said.

“I think we all came together on a lot of things,” he said. “The bottom line is that most all of it is what we already knew.”

First-priority recommendations include forming the “Friends of Cedar Hill Cemetery” group as soon as possible to collect donations and apply for grants to fund the work.

“Money is a big problem right now,” said Susan Carraway, president of the Suffolk chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Other first priorities are establishing the road widths, repairing badly damaged markers, forming a maintenance plan, restoring the terrace steps and removing weeds.

Secondary priorities include repairing secondary roads, planting new cedar trees, completing a signage system for visitor information and adding amenities such as benches and trash receptacles.

Tertiary priorities include creating maps and a website to guide visitors and genealogy researchers, creating an information kiosk at the bottom of the terrace steps and continuing cedar tree plantings.

“The Friends of Cedar Hill would be a good thing,” Hart said, “if it is managed properly so that every single penny can go towards an actual repair and not use it frivolously. We’ve got to define what we’re going to do and do it.”

Baker said he has already seen some improvements based on the recommendations. A new contractor has been hired to cut the grass, and some weeds have been removed.

“I think they’ve done a better job this time with their contractor,” Baker said. “That was something that had been identified a while back … that needed to be done. They weren’t caring for what was in the cemetery. They were just there to do a job.”

Carraway added that she hopes the groups will continue working together for the good of the cemetery, just as they have for years.

“I do hope to be able to work with everybody,” she said. “For the most part, everyone does have the same goals in improving the cemetery.”