Winfield: City might clean up old cemetery

Published 11:30 am Monday, May 14, 2012

The City of Vicksburg might step in to maintain a family cemetery overrun by weeds and growth and sandwiched between developments and Interstate 20, Mayor Paul Winfield said.

“I’m going to talk with our legal department and talk with (Buildings and Inspection Director) Victor-Gray Lewis about it,” he said. “I think there may be a way we can step in under the law.”

The one-acre Tate Family Cemetery, just south of South Frontage Road and east of Cypress Centre Boulevard, has had a murky outlook because no one knows who owns the property, said Sherry Fisher, a retired teacher whose grandfathers are buried at the spot.

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“Nobody knows who owns it, nobody knows who is responsible for it,” she said.

Fisher, 70, who grew up in the area known as Jonestown before the interstate came through, said she at one time paid someone to maintain the cemetery, but ran into objections from relatives of some of the people buried there, “so I stopped. I was trying to do a good deed.”

Jeannie Brown, 65, who also grew up in Jonestown and has relatives buried at the cemetery, said family members of those buried in the cemetery met in about 2003 to discuss maintaining the cemetery.

“We met at Mount Pisgah Church, a group of us, but nothing happened after that,” she said.

Brown said the families thought the issue would be resolved when Vicksburg developer James Hamilton, who was developing the Cypress Centre property, agreed to maintain the property. Hamilton died in 2009.

Bill Bost, Hamilton’s attorney, said Hamilton cleaned and maintained the cemetery, adding, “He did what he agreed to do. The cemetery was in better shape than when he found it.”

He said, however, that Hamilton’s agreement ended with his death.

Winfield said he plans to discuss the cemetery at a meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, but did not say when.

Winfield said he believes either state law or the city’s ordinances provide the authority for the city to go in and clean the property twice a year. Both allow the city to clean private property and charge the property owner if the property is determined to be a threat to health and safety.

Getting reimbursed for clearing the cemetery, Winfield said, is the problem.

“We would have to find the people who are responsible for the cemetery,” he said. “And that could be difficult. We’ll have to look into it.”

According to maps in the city’s mapping department, a small portion of the cemetery was in the right of way when South Frontage Road was built, requiring 37 to 44 graves to be moved to Cedar Hill Cemetery in the early 1970s.