Durham’s city cemeteries need $5.6 million in repairs

jwise@newsobserver.comFebruary 18, 2014 

A stone monument now identifies the long-neglected Geer Cemetery, Durham’s oldest black burial ground. The E.E. Thorpe Graduate Historical Society of N.C. Central University holds a dedication ceremony at the cemetery Sunday afternoon.

JIM WISE — jwise@newsobserver.com

  • Cemetery ceremony

    The nonprofit Friends of Geer Cemetery, with N.C. Central University’s E.E. Thorpe Graduate Student Historians Society, will hold a monument dedication ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Geer Cemetery, at the corner of Camden Avenue and Colonial Street.

    The ceremony honors preservation efforts for Durham’s oldest black burying ground, resting place of more than 1,500 people that was in use from 1877 until 1944. The 3.84-acre graveyard had become forgotten and overgrown until a Friends of Geer Cemetery organized in 2003 and began cleanup projects and pressing the city to take over maintenance, although the property’s ownership has remained unknown for decades.

    Edian Markum, founder of St. Joseph’s A.M.E. Church; Margaret Faucette, founder of White Rock Baptist Church; and Augustus Shepard, father of NCCU founder James Shepard; are among those interred at Geer Cemetery.

    Sunday’s event includes dedication of a stone monument, donated by Ron Bartholomew of Durham Marble Works, to those buried in the cemetery; and a cleanup and flower planting around the cemetry entrance .

— When you turn into Maplewood Cemetery off Kent Street, before you notice the stately monuments and sturdy oaks and magnolias you’ll probably notice the driveway is crumbling.

The loose gravel and bare clay are symbolic. According to a consultant’s assessment ( bit.ly/1bdP0aU), at both city-owned graveyards – Maplewood and Beechwood – roads, drainage, buildings and the “general physical experience” are in bad shape.

A report for the City Council’s Thursday work session estimates the cemeteries need about $5.6 million worth of rehabilitation for neglected maintenance, compliance with various building codes, including disability access, and general upgrades.

The city established Maplewood, in the West End area between Duke University Road and Morehead Avenue, in 1872, and it covers 119 acres. Beechwood, at Fayetteville Street and Cornwallis Road, dates from 1924 and covers 24 acres.

Combined, they have more than five miles of roadway and average 340 burials a year. But, according to the report, their upkeep responsibility has “fallen into a gray area” with erosion, failing retaining walls and other problems a result. The report notes that, at Maplewood, a condemned building is still standing.

The ways into and out of both cemeteries need improving, for safety and aesthetic. Both need columbarium space and more shade, seats and water for visitors; Maplewood, which has had several cases of vandalism, needs better security.

Cost estimate for Beechwood is $931,950; for Maplewood, $4.8 million. The report, by the Durham landscape architects Coulter Jewell Thames, identifies priorities and suggests a course of action.

First off, find the money.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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