Expansion has evolved over 175 years

Published 12:37 am Sunday, July 22, 2012

Vicksburg’s largest resting place is on the move.

The newest portion of Cedar Hill Cemetery has only about “20 to 30 lots available” after beginning sales only two years ago, sexton Venable Moore said, and another section is expected to be ready for purchase by year’s end.

The 155-acre cemetery fronting Sky Farm Avenue and, since 1963, split by Lovers Lane has grown precipitously since its initial plotting in 1837, only 12 years after the city was incorporated.

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“Division N,” the westernmost portion of the cemetery west of Lovers Lane, which comprises 29 acres bought in 1999 from J.T. and Mary Louise Jemmerson for $62,840, is the current work in progress.

As time, weather and manpower allow, workers from the public works department use city equipment to move and contour dirt. Nearly complete, Moore said, are 11 of the 29 acres. He said that space can accommodate 1,500 single lots and 49 people already have been buried in the section.

The next area, adjoining the 11 acres, should be available in December, he said, and will have room for about 3,000 single lots that range in price from $240 for a single lot to $2,800 for one that can accommodate 16.

Moore said he will not know how many plots will be available on the remaining 18 acres until plans for that section are developed.

Work on the cemetery expansion began in full about seven or eight years ago, interim public works director Garnet Van Norman said.

“We work on it as we can,” he said, adding there is no specific budget for the expansion.

“When money and time become available, we work on it,” he said. “The last major project we did was last year when we put in an access road from Sky Farm Avenue to the new section. That cost us $75,000.”

Retired public works director Bubba Rainer said the city purchased the property because the cemetery was running short of space. He said the estimated cost of hiring a contractor to develop the expansion influenced the decision to work on the property in-house.

“The city hired an engineer to draw up plans, and they gave us an estimate,” he said. “We (city officials) sat down and talked about the cost, and we decided it was just too expensive to hire a contractor to do the whole thing. We decided to do the work as we could.”

The first project was resolving drainage and erosion problems in the new section before work could begin on the expansion, he said.

“There was a ravine about 15 to 20 feet deep running through the property,” Rainer said, “and it was causing slide problems.”

About six years ago, city landscape director Jeff Richardson said, a slide near the cemetery office, which sits on a hill overlooking the expansion, became a problem.

“We built weirs, levees, and put broken rock in the ditches to control the drainage,” he said.

“Walter Bliss, who was the street superintendent then, did the work,” Rainer said. “Once the drainage was fixed, silt from the runoff gradually filled in the low spots.”

City Cemetery’s section east of Lovers Lane covers 111 acres. It is divided into sections, called divisions, and is the final resting place for black and white residents and 5,000 Confederate soldiers in Soldiers’ Rest.

The city’s records on the cemetery’s growth are incomplete, but public works records show the city in 1963 bought 15 acres on the west side of Lovers Lane to form Division M, which is south of the area currently being expanded.

Additionally, a 2½-acre section called Division J, was opened in the northeast part of the cemetery, near Soldiers’ Rest, in 2006. Moore said that section has 77 single and 270 double lots available.

The number of people buried at Cedar Hill is between 20,000 and 25,000, though no exact figures can be found.

Since 1967, the city has maintained a record of burials, and that data can be found in the genealogy section on the city’s website, Vicksburg.org. Interments in Warren County’s largest burial ground are updated monthly, said city Information Technology director Billy Gordon. The site also includes a record of tombstones.

The cemetery’s budget totaled $329,305 this fiscal year, and covers operations and maintenance.

Some of its maintenance is done at no charge.

Bobby Flanagan, a retired Vicksburg police officer, has been walking through the cemetery and helping maintain it daily for 11 years, pulling down vines, removing limbs, pointing out serious problems to Moore and placing flags on veterans’ graves.

“He keeps the poison ivy under control and does a lot of other things to keep the cemetery up,” Moore said. “He’s been doing it without pay for years.”

“I do it because a lot of people I’ve known are here, and they raised me,” said Flanagan, 81.

He’s also learned about the city’s past. Walking through Division A, the first developed section of the cemetery, Flanagan pointed out several markers of the graves of children who died in the late 1870s.

“Those are yellow fever victims,” he said, referring to the 1878 epidemic. “There are a lot of yellow fever victims buried here in this section.”

“A lot of people come to this cemetery, and not all of them have family here,” said Flanagan. “They just come to look. There’s a lot of history here.”