Pelham Cemetery
Historical Marker
Pelham, Navarro County, Texas


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Dedication of Pelham’s new Texas Historical Cemetery marker

By Bill Young

This past Saturday, a dedication for a new Texas Historical Cemetery marker was held at the Pelham Cemetery. This is the second cemetery in Navarro County to receive this new type of marker. To be eligible for one of these markers, the cemetery must first be recognized by the Texas Historical Commission as a Texas Historical Cemetery. The first criterion for this designation states there must be graves of at least 50 years of age within the cemetery. Then they require a short history about the cemetery and some of the people buried there. The state also wants a copy of any pertinent deeds showing how and who owns the land where the cemetery is located and if it is held privately or publicly. Good directions on how to find the cemetery must be attached and they prefer a Ground Positioning System (GPS) reading near the gate or in the center of the cemetery. Then they want to know if there are any other historical markers within the cemetery, not tombstones but THC markers. Next on the list is how the surrounding land is utilized such as urban or rural and is the cemetery more or less level or sloping. The next item is the access to the cemetery, direct public access on a county road or if it is inside someone’s property.

Identifiable cultural heritage is the next item and generally speaking most of the larger cemeteries have multiple heritages. Then they want to know about the landscaping, i.e., trees, shrubs, grass and flowers. The next item pertains to how and if the cemetery is fenced and what type of fencing is present. The next question deals with the age of the cemetery such as the oldest marked graves, also if there are any unmarked graves and if the cemetery is active or is no longer active. Remember just because a cemetery is no longer used for burials, it is not abandoned! Some people think this is the case but as long as there is a single burial in the cemetery, it is still in use as a cemetery and can not be used for anything else. The next item deals with the condition of the cemetery. Is it currently being mowed and is there evidence of tombstones being repaired? Have stones been vandalized or stolen? Are there missing features and unmarked grave depressions? What type of material has been used for tombstones such as granite, limestone, metal or wood? Then what type of entrance, arch or litch gate, inside fences around family plots, curbing serving the same purpose, walkways, benches, grave decorations other than tombstones, segregated burial such as families, organizations, race, religion, nationality, babies, paupers or a fraternal order. Added features also should be noted such as urns, flag poles, grave houses, false crypts, mausoleums/vaults, tabernacles, structures, obelisk stones, wells or original statuary plus other items.

One of the last things on the list is the question which asks if there are any war veterans from any war buried there. The government issue military stones are easily recognized by the shape without ever having to read the front of the stones. Then the state wants at least a half page of history with an attached bibliography. Last year they required at least three to four pages of written history with end notes and bibliography but this requirement was changed. There are several maps which must be attached to the application showing where the cemetery is located along with several black and white photographs of stones or items within the cemetery. A site plan has to be included and we are also attaching a complete list of the tombstones with the application although this is not required. Put all of the above in a package and add a $25 money order or check for the processing and mail it to Austin. The application also must be signed by the current county historical chairman.

All of the above gets your cemetery designated which is the first requirement for a historical marker. To get a marker, four or five pages of history must be written, double spaced, with a full citation bibliography in Word, not Word Perfect, and e-mailed to the Texas Historical Commission with a $100 filing fee. After they have reviewed the marker application, they will either ask for more information or they will approve what has been sent. If approved, they will then ask for $1,500 which is the cost of the foundry fee to produce the marker. And you can only send applications for markers into the state between Nov. 1 and Jan. 15. Even after the marker is received and placed at the location, the marker is the property of the State of Texas. This helps when it comes to a theft or vandalism problem.

With all of the above in mind, the people of Pelham should be congratulated on getting their new marker. The process was started back in 2005 and they finally made it. Two individuals, Darlene Holloway and Catherine Porter, were responsible for getting the funding and seeing the process through. The people of Pelham and their relatives who have moved away have for many years worked to keep their cultural heritage alive. They moved a two-story school up to the highway and turned the facility into a museum with photographs, documents and artifacts related to the history of Pelham. The museum operates two days each week and the organization has fund-raisers and dinners to help with the funding of the museum and the cemetery.

On a different note. Recently I have been asked by several different people in different parts of the county to get involved in how their particular cemetery is being operated. I am not allowed to do this but I will say to any organization and especially to those who have a 501 C-3 exemption, whatever is in your bylaws is the way your organization needs to be run. A group does not want to jeopardize their 501 C-3 status with the Internal Revenue Service. The Texas Historical Commission requires each county historical commission to send to them a copy of their bylaws along with all of the members of the commission and in what capacity each serves. For whatever the reason, many organizations which have funds seem to have some problems. And if the problems get out of hand, eventually most of the organizations fall apart. Cemeteries and the organizations which run them must always keep in mind what is going to happen to their cemetery after they have passed away. If sufficient funding is not set aside to see to the maintenance and preferably more or less perpetual maintenance, the cemetery will eventually fall into disrepair. My partner Bruce McManus and I can list a number of these lost cemeteries both here in our county and the surrounding areas.

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