Cemetery to grow before it’s full

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 22, 2010

It’s not clear when, but an additional 30 acres of grave spaces should become available before existing space in Cedar Hill, the city’s only public cemetery, is all filled.

Once established and added to the existing 100 acres, the new section will have plots available for decades to come, said Bubba Rainer, director of public works.

About 130 single graves and about 100 family plots remain available for sale in the cemetery officially created in 1837 when Vicksburg was 12 years old. The city is now 185 years old and the cemetery at the northern end of Mission 66 still has two to three burials a week, often more. Many of the ongoing burials are in family plots already purchased, but it became clear more than a decade ago that the cemetery was filling up and would run out of space unless more land was obtained.

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“We’ll develop new areas in stages,” Rainer said Friday. “As we have the opportunity we’ll be adding rows.”

The new section was purchased in 1999 from the former owner of A.J. Martin Marble Works. It is west of the main cemetery area, the only direction where land was available because other directions border housing and the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The city has taken a go-slow approach to save money and allow the hilly terrain to settle after modification. The new tract has undergone brush and tree clearing along with grading, filling and other earth-moving over the past few years. Rainer said lowlands have been filled in gradually and a low spot that’s currently filled with water will eventually be level ground.

“We’re not intending to have a pond out there,” he said, although a lake with swans was an early feature of Vicksburg’s public cemetery.

After the city purchased the new section, an engineering firm estimated it would cost more than a million dollars to level and prepare it for grave sites.

Instead, former streets supervisor Walter Bliss, who retired in December, created a series of weirs or embankments to trap silt and eroded dirt, allowing “mother nature” to do a lot of the filling in of low spots in the western section, Rainer said.

In August 2008, Bliss estimated the city would save nearly 90 percent by doing the work a little at a time with its own workers and equipment.

“Walter developed quite a bit of that section and created a nice area out there,” Rainer said.

City Sexton Venable Moore and other cemetery workers also moved dirt and continue to fill in and grade the area.

The northwest section includes an area measuring about 60 by 600 feet that was prepared for burials beginning in the summer of 2008. Moore has marked off full- and half-family plots there, the corners marked by small pink tags. Three recent burials have taken place there.

The single-grave plots are available in the older section of the cemetery at the northeast corner, Moore said.

In part due to Cedar Hill’s age, no accurate figures exist on how many people are buried there, but with modern records and tombstone studies from earlier periods, it’s estimated to be more than 11,500.

A section known as “Soldiers’ Rest” is the final resting place of about 5,000 Confederate soldiers. Another section has been set aside for the Sisters of Mercy, with many nuns who served in education and medicine in Vicksburg since the Civil War resting there.

The cemetery is fenced and visitors enter by several gates off Sky Farm Avenue and Lovers Lane.

Some tombstone records can be accessed on the city’s Web site.

Contact Pamela Hitchins at phitchins@vicksburgpost.com