Thursday, June 14, 2007
Citizens seek input on cemetery work
By SUE WATSON
Some Holly Springs residents expressed concerns about upcoming restoration projects at Hill Crest Cemetery during the June 5 board of aldermen meeting.
The topic centered around two grants, totalling a half-million dollars, to repair the historical portions of Hill Crest Cemetery, which opened in the mid-1850s. The cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but is not as yet designated as a Mississippi Landmark, a requirement for receiving the grant dollars. Any improvements at the cemetery thus fall under the supervision of the Mississippi Antiquities Act, which requires review by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
The department determines any possible impact a project will have on the historic integrity of the property and also must issue a Mississippi Landmark Permit for the work to begin.
Senate Bill 2988 of the 2003 regular session of the Mississippi Legislature authorized $300,000 for repair of the cemetery and Senate Bill 2010 of the 2004 extraordinary session authorized another $200,000 for the same. The local delegation and Holly Springs Mayor Andre’ DeBerry were instrumental in getting these grants authorized by the Legislature.
Several citizens with the organization, Preserve Holly Springs and Marshall County Inc., said they want to know what is to be done and want assurance any work is done by professionals, giving preference to local craftsmen and preservationists.
“We will be accepting a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Finance and Administration,” DeBerry said. “Then we will advertise for professional services, take bids and award the bid.”
“We just want you to use the services of professional people here in the community,” said Bruce McMillan.
“Our original idea was just to design the technology (computerized listing of graves),” DeBerry said. “The historical restoration would be done by professionals.”
“Make sure they take advantage of the knowledge in our public library,” McMillen said.
“From a research perspective, we would use the library, yes,” DeBerry said. “But the technology information needs to be on site.”
“I think we are here as a board to preserve Marshall County and Holly Springs,” injected Joe Overstreet. “One concern expressed by letter, is that in order to appropriate money, the money has to be spent on restoration, not technology. I think that’s the intent (of the legislators).”
DeBerry said there could be some misunderstanding.
“First we have to designate it as a historic cemetery and we need to demonstrate its history as a graveyard,” he said. “Second, people coming to visit need something pictorially in the form of signage. At the same time, we were able to bring in technology (computer hardware and software) to add the topography of the whole cemetery. You are right, $400,000 is not enough. We had originally submitted for $900,000 and $91,000 for Chalmers Institute. If we have local people (who can clean monuments), we want to include that.”
Bill Fitch said the preservation group wants to make sure the first project is done right.
“We expect to get follow-ups. You know where I’m coming from, and we want to be able to say we did it right. Now give us more money. The Chalmers roof is falling in,” Fitch said.
DeBerry said he thinks some people were under the impression the city was going to do the project design first.
“When do you expect a memorandum of understanding?” McMillen asked.
“Tonight,” DeBerry said.
Board attorney Ki Jones then presented a copy of the memorandum of understanding for the two Hill Crest grants.
“Mayor, how does it work?” asked alderman Tim Liddy. “Do they have to approve what you do (the outline of work to be done) first?”
“No,” he said. “You secure an architect acceptable to them and then the architect works with them.”
“We don’t want to incur expenses that won’t fit under the project,” Liddy said, explaining that the $72,000 the mayor had proposed to spend on the technology and database software and two kiosks at the cemetery may not be covered under the grants.
“Will it be put out for bid?” asked alderman Garrie Colhoun.
“It will be professional services,” DeBerry said. “We would advertise for professional services, retain them and then send out for bids (for the equipment).”
“This person will determine what we need to do?” Colhoun asked. “This person would bring their thoughts to what would be included in the project?” DeBerry said, “based on the scope of work that falls within the Department of Archives and History on what is wanted. IMS engineers did the design on the shed (kiosks) and software.”
“I am confused,” said Colhoun. “I’m concerned we got the cart before the horse.”
Jones then advised that the representative at the state Department of Finance said the city can accept professional services under the grant provisions.
“That exhibit list is not just something to sign but more to get the money,” the attorney said.
“Wouldn’t it be wise to have professional services to meet with the public who has interest?” alderman Nancy Hutchens asked.
“I’d rather they meet with us and we transfer (the information) to the public,” DeBerry said.
“I think it would be acceptable to the public if the public is a part of it,” Hutchens said.
“We need to spend this money before next session so I can go before the legislature and ask for more money,” DeBerry said.
“We don’t need to drag our feet, or to rush either,” Liddy said.
The board then motioned to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the state Department of Finance on the repair grants for Hill Crest and to adopt a similar memorandum of understanding for the Chalmers Institute for $91,000.
“Would it be wise to rescind last week’s motion to retain IMS Engineers as head of this project?” Jones asked.
The board voted to rescind the prior motion and then passed a motion to advertise for professional services on the two projects.
The terms of the memorandum of understanding between the City of Holly Springs and the Department of Finance, state treasury, include the following responsibility of the city:
The city also agrees to keep a file with all documents - contractor pay requests, professional pay requests and approval of payments for services for future audit.
The funds are to be spent on repairs of the historical portion of Hill Crest Cemetery.
Librarian Diane Schule said she thinks a computerized listing of the graves, plots and sections at Hill Crest would be very beneficial to the many people studying family genealogy.
The Marshall County Room has the publication of Marshall County Cemeteries, composed by Bobby Mitchell and others. But searching for tomb stones which carry much information about a family tree and looking through Mitchell’s book are tedious and time consuming activities, she said.
“Mitchell’s book has tiny family cemeteries, church cemeteries, and cemeteries lost in fields,” she said. “They went tromping through the poison ivy and snakes and Mitchell knows more about the cemeteries than anyone I know.”
In the section on Hill Crest, Mitchell provides a general diagram of sections A-H, an index of names by alphabetical order with birth and death dates, and under each section is listed the family plots and names of those buried.
Schule said Mitchell’s work should be available on computer.
“Libraries and computers are a match made in heaven,” she said. “A book without an index would not be useful for research. It would be wonderful to have it computerized and automated.”
Schule added that if the city does put a kiosk at Hill Crest, she would like to see one at the library also.
“If we had a work station here, it would fit in with what we have in print format,” she said.
The print format could be transferred to software, she said. Visitors could do their research in the comfort of the library, then go to the graves. The kiosk at the cemetery could be used for a second check if the visitor forgot something.
Kiosks are commonly used for historical battlegrounds and self-guided tours, Schule said. But they have to blend into the environment and not be conspicuous in terms of overall architecture. The computer at a kiosk can be either hard wired or wireless.
“Software in the library would be a plus for tourists,” she added. “We have census and marriage records, but the cemetery book is one of the most helpful.
“And if the tourist is confused when they get to the cemetery, they could use that one,” she said, adding that the library is open until 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday and from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday.
The library already has a link to the genealogy society.
“I can foresee a time where that link could be added to the software and they could do their (Hill Crest Cemetery) research from home,” Schule said. “Somebody, not me, knows how to do it. This would be a natural extension of what we already have.”
Schule said the cost of software and data entry would be the major expenses of such a project.
She expounded on the importance of cemeteries.
“We have observed from local people and visitors that the cemetery is very important to people,” she said.
Cemeteries are a subject of research and an impressive source of history, she said.
When people hear the history of the Yellow Fever Martyrs, the nuns, “people just break out in tears when they hear the stories,” she said.
The Civil War veterans are also an important source of history and the impact war has on a community. And cemeteries silently tell of disease and the loss of children.
“You can see how many children were buried there - there was no medical care - by the little lamb headstones, and you see people who lived 95 years. It is really tracking the whole history. Hill Crest is some of the most impressive real estate in Holly Springs.”
Women died at childbirth because there were no antibiotics. A man is seen to have lost several wives to childbirth and may have married three times as a result.
“So, it’s not just religious implications. There’s just a tremendous amount of history to be discovered there,” she said. “It’s teaching the past, really, in a way the old houses show how these people lived. The cemetery tells where they are buried.”
Joan Fitch added to what Schule said.
“Preserve Marshall County and Holly Springs Inc., wants to make sure the grant money is used for what the grant calls for,” she said.
Some projects that she believes are needed first include mapping the graves and putting out section and row markers so visitors can see where the section boundaries are.
And the names of individuals should be cross-indexed with the section data and plots so a person can know when they have arrived at the Yellow Fever Martyrs’ plot, the Civil War generals’ plot and the Hiram Revel’s plot, Fitch said.
“And our relatives, you know we have a whole bunch of relatives in there and some of them can’t be found,” Fitch said. “I just want to see it done correctly - spend money wisely the first time and do it right.”
Chelius Carter, who specializes in preservation of historic architecture, looked at the project from the professional side of the fence.
“Any restoration project of an archaeological site requires five components,” he said, “a field survey to determine the scope of the work; drawings to record what the existing site conditions are; program analysis to determine the actual needs as dictated by the owner, user, or committee; construction documents detailing the work to be done based on the drawings and needs list and recommendations of craftspersons; and restoration work.
“This project’s survey needs are to lock down the historical borders of the cemetery, locate on plan all markers, monuments, fences and significant historical landscape features and roads,” he said. “The restoration work itself requires trades which are not readily available off the shelf: a conservator stone-mason well versed in the proper cleaning and restoration of markers and monuments; a conservator iron worker well versed in proper cleaning and restoration of historic ironwork, particularly 19th century cast iron and solid zinc; and an arborist or landscape architect well versed in re-introduction of documented historic landscaping as found in personal accounts and photos.”
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