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12/29/2002 BILL YOUNG: Adopt a Cemetery, Help Preserve Past

Two years ago, I wrote several articles about the problems facing historic cemeteries. I don't know how many readers believed me when I stated that most old cemeteries are not protected from destruction by either the future or current land owner.

For the moment, I am talking about the old abandoned cemeteries. However, some of the cemeteries still used for burials occasionally will eventually face the same problem .

I want to re-list some of the cemetery problems that I wrote about in the past so that more persons might become aware of them. First, we need to understand that Texas is the No. 1 state in the union pertaining to land ownership rights. In other words, this means that whoever owns the land can basically do whatever they want with the land as long as they own it. There are exceptions to this, especially regarding environmental issues such as water quality, illegal dumping and wetlands, but an old neglected cemetery is not currently covered by any good protective law.

The following is a list of some things that have happened to cemeteries .

(A) A fairly large cemetery was covered up by a lake in East Texas without any of the graves being relocated.

(B) 1,700 tombstones were removed by a county commissioners crew so they could mow the cemetery with a tractor and bush-hog mower rather than hand mowers .

(C) 16 tombstones were removed and thrown into a river by the land owner so he could plow the little area even though he had several hundred acres. I worked for the archeological company that removed these graves to another location prior to the construction of a large lake. This cemetery would have been in the shore line and eventually, the water might have washed the burials out of the soil.

(D) Another reported cemetery in the same vicinity as the 16-grave one above also had the tombstones removed by the same land owner. This cemetery was never relocated and we can only hope that the individual who originally reported it may have confused it with the other one. If not, the area he mentioned as possibly being the location is also in a shoreline situation.

(E) A three-grave cemetery complete with tombstones was totally bulldozed for a residential/commercial venture near Lewisville.

(F) The looting of several cemeteries, including one in this county, for burial objects.

(G) Almost everyone has heard about Freedman's Cemetery near downtown Dallas. When Lemmon Avenue was built many years ago, several graves were discovered in the street right-of-way. They were removed but, at the last accounting, I am not sure if anyone can say for sure where they were re-interred. Then, in the past 10 years, the Texas Department of Transportation decided to expand Central Expressway. They were told that a small black unused cemetery was located in and under a City of Dallas playground on the west side of Central Expressway. The original estimate was that the cemetery might contain approximately 150 graves. Over 1,750 graves were eventually uncovered by the archeologists with the highway department. All graves that might be affected by the road construction were removed and relocated in a new safe area.

There are others that I could list but I think the above group should give everyone a general idea just how serious the problem is. There are at least two cemetery groups that have been trying to get some new laws passed protecting cemeteries here in Texas. To date, they haven't had any success.

Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma all have passed new laws in the past 10 years protecting any type of cemetery, but in our great state failure has been the rule.

On the positive side, we can now file a report that shows where a cemetery is located and who the current owner is. We do not have to have permission to file these papers but I am hoping that here in Navarro County, all land owners who happen to have a cemetery on their land, will give us permission to go to the cemetery and officially record each one.

Just recently two land owners have made the decision to help preserve cemeteries on their land. Mr. and Mrs. Leland Cook have cleaned and fenced the William Love Cemetery on their ranch near Richland Creek. Needless to say, this is the same William Love who had Love Bridge named for him.

Jerry Jackson recently opened up a residential development on Richland-Chambers Reservoir that contains the Johnston Cemetery. Jackson has set this small tract of land aside preserving the cemetery.

The Navarro County Historical Commission is soliciting the aid of anyone interested is preserving one or more cemeteries. The cost per cemetery is $25 dollars, which is the fee charged by the Texas Historical Commission to record the cemetery. Once a cemetery is recorded at both the State of Texas and Navarro County, the deed showing where this cemetery is located goes with the land record forever.

It will not keep some insensitive person from bulldozing a cemetery but it will record the fact that a cemetery was located at a specific spot on a ranch.

If anyone is interested in adopting a cemetery, contact Bruce McManus at (903) 875-0988 or myself at (903) 874-6882 during the day, or at night at (903) 874-7967.

To date, there are 173 known cemeteries here in Navarro County and only one, Spring Hill, has any form of protection status.

It is our hope that over the next few years, protection papers can be filed on most if not all of the cemeteries in the county. Included in the 173 cemeteries are a number that are currently still accepting burials.

At this time, we are more concerned about the cemeteries that have not been used in a many years. Keep in mind at some point in the future, each cemetery being used today will be closed because there isn't any more space available and no one is willing to devote time and money for maintenance .

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Originally published in the Corsicana Daily Sun
Dec 28, 2002

Reprinted with permission of the Corsicana Daily Sun
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