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Jacksonville Cemetery looks at expansion

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe Histroric Jacksonville Cemetery has only an estimated four to five years of plots remaining, which spurred the need recently to purchase an 11.76-acre parcel of adjacent property.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribunePossibilities for modern trends at the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery include a niche wall for cremains and an area set aside for “green” burials.

Planning is just beginning for expansion of the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery, the first addition proposed since 1983.

Features to reflect contemporary trends in burials and provide amenities are under consideration.

The city of Jacksonville, which owns and operates the cemetery, purchased an 11.76-acre parcel on the north side of the current 30-acre site in 2011. The town’s Cemetery Commission discussed expansion into the site at its meeting March 7.

“We won’t develop the whole 11 acres all at once, but pick a section and design it as we go,” said Dirk Siedlecki, chair of the commission. “A lot of the existing plots have been purchased. It’s getting to the point where we need to start looking at the addition.”

Surveying of the site will begin in the next fiscal year, said City Administrator Jeff Alvis. Estimates have projected there are about four to five years worth of burial plots left to sell in the existing cemetery.

“Next fiscal year I’ve got to get corners set,” said Alvis. “We want to get it surveyed and kind of plotted in with areas we need.”

“We talked about the fact that cremations are far more popular today than the traditional coffin burials. We need to look at other options,” said Siedlecki. Possibilities might include a niche wall where cremains in urns could be placed, and a scattering garden for cremains.

A green burial area might also be established. The burials, in natural materials that decompose, present issues with ground settling, said Siedlecki. The practice would likely be established in one section rather than for individual plots.

Another addition could be a covered pavilion. There is no covered area in the cemetery to hold services during inclement weather.

“We talked about the fact that it is a large piece of property, and the kind of things we can do to make it a little more maintenance-free,” said Siedlecki. That might include limits on curbs, fences and monuments.

Concrete curbs tends to deteriorate after a few years with moisture and freezing. As it breaks down, it becomes a hazard for mower- and weed-eater operators, said Siedelcki. Large markers and fencing become a maintenance need for the cemetery.

The city has a sexton and a helper to maintain the cemetery. The addition of more land would call for additional staffing, he said.

The possibility of getting an intern to help develop a plan for the acreage was discussed, said Siedlecki. The city has used interns on various projects, and the commission has reached out to see what options might be available.

Provisions would need to be made for roadways and walkways in planning for the site, which includes an oak savanna, numerous trees and several gullies.

“We want to take into consideration your existing cemetery. You want to blend the old into the new, and the new into the old,” said Siedlecki.

Financing of the expansion would come from sale of burial plots, said Alvis. Some religious and fraternal groups might also be interested in establishing sections in the new addition, he said.

Discussion of development will appear on upcoming commission agendas. Once the commission is ready to move forward, community meetings will be held to get input from the public, said Siedlecki. Jacksonville City Council will become involved in the process.

The first cemetery burial occurred in October 1859, although earlier burials around town were later moved to the site. Besides a city section, religious and fraternal groups also established sections.

In 1983, the last addition was made to the city section. Additions made over the years include a Jewish section in 1865, a Catholic section in 1864, Redman areas in 1873 and 1881, a Masonic Order in 1873, Oddfellows portions in 1872 and 1974, and city additions in 1933 and 1963.

Developer Chis Galpin sold the land to the city in 2011. Galpin was paid $100,000, the price he paid it for originally, although it had been appraised at $2.85 million in 2009. He also received two lots totaling 1.2 acres in the transaction.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.