WHERE IS CEMETERY’S OWNER?: City might be forced to care for grave sites left in unfortunate conditions

Published 12:10 am Saturday, June 13, 2015

OVERGROWN: A tombstone sits surrounded by brush, the Holiday Inn hotel in view at top, inside the Tate Family Cemetery which sits along South Frontage Road.

OVERGROWN: A tombstone sits surrounded by brush, the Holiday Inn hotel in view at top, inside the Tate Family Cemetery which sits along South Frontage Road.

An overgrown family cemetery sandwiched between commercial developments on South Frontage Road and Interstate 20 could possibly become city property.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Wednesday he has asked City Attorney Nancy Thomas and Community Development Director Victor Grey-Lewis to see if there is some way the city can acquire the 1-acre Tate Family Cemetery at the corner of South Frontage Road and Cypress Centre Boulevard that has been overgrown with weeds and brush for several years and keep it clean.

The 110-year-old cemetery, which is private property, is on the south side of South Frontage Road in front of El Sombrero restaurant and east of the Holiday Inn.

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Under state law, a city can go on private property and clear it if the site is declared a menace to health and safety, but it must notify the property owner of its intentions and hold a hearing.

That’s a problem with the cemetery. No one knows who now owns it.

According to Warren County tax records, the cemetery, listed as “Cemetery-Jonestown or Tate,” was started in 1905, when the area was known as the Jonestown community. The records do not show an owner and provide no contact information.

“Because no owner is listed on the tax records and there is no mailing address, we don’t know who to contact,” Thomas said. “We have no one we can notify.”

“The only names available are people on the deed who were alive in 1905,” Flaggs said. “This is 2015. Right now, I don’t know of anybody walking around here who was living in 1905.”

Thomas said the only option the city may have is to put a legal advertisement in the paper and hope some one shows up for the hearing.

Flaggs approves of issuing a public notice that the city intends to clear the property.

“When you start talking about a cemetery, you’re talking about every plot, every family, and there’s an heir,” he said. “I think there’s a way to get to it with a public notice, and when they come forward, we can hold them accountable for the property.”

And if no one steps forward, he said, the city will file to acquire the property under eminent domain, a process that allows government to take over private property and convert it to public use.

“Once we acquire that property we can begin to clear it,” he said. “We can always revert it back to the property owner in the future if one comes forward.”

“We need to do it because it is an eyesore, it is a blight to this community, and I think we need to step in and do what we need to do,” he said. “I think there’s a way to do it.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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