Paris Beacon-News, August 1, 2005
By Jenny Barkley
Since Edgar Cemetery was established on 12 acres in 1858, the boundaries have expanded. The grounds have been maintained through the ages by caretakers who help deliver the history contained there to future generations.
The stately, aging trees that tower above the burial lots and stones are a source of the cemetery’s beauty, as well as a constant problem. As the trees die of old age or damage by nature, as pictured, they present one of – if not the – major expense for care of the old cemetery, which is the final resting place of more than 20,000 county ancestors. Another high cost is the 11 miles of roadways, including service roads, on the grounds.
Currently serving as caretaker is Bruce Quinn, who began Superintendent duties in October, 2003. Among his responsibilities is maintenance of the cemetery on a daily basis. But the job is not simple.
The growing season is the busiest time for maintenance of the cemetery located at the intersection of Young and Clay Streets. The year 2005 was marked by the removal of four dead ash trees, each estimated to be about 120 to 150 years old. Two of them towered above the watering station near the South entrance on Young Street.
This area marks the original 1888 entrance which was gated with iron before new property to the south was acquired and the current stone entrance was established on Clay Street. The earlier stone pillars were moved elsewhere in the cemetery and can be seen today, inscribed with the names of those who were instrumental at the time - president S. Elliott, P. Huston, A. Hannah, J. Eads.
Tree removal is a routine process during the summer, according to Quinn, at a cost of between $500 and $1,000 each, depending on the size of the tree and the stones around it which must be protected.
“We try to take down three to four dead trees a year and then replace them with younger hardwood trees,” said Quinn.
Through a special replanting program, a $50 donation to Edgar Cemetery allows a tree to be planted, mulched and watered.
“We always welcome donations for trees, other donations of any amount, at any time,” said Quinn. “We are not a perpetual care cemetery, thus we do not charge annually for care of grave sites. But that also limits our funding.” The cemetery is also neither county property nor supported by county tax funds.
The cemetery is self-supported by fees for lots sold, grave openings, and foundations poured. Cemetery employees pour the marker foundations to assure they are in the right place and proper depth. Then markers are placed on top by monument companies.
The cemetery association provides maintenance of the cemetery, in general. However, it is the responsibility of family members or heirs to maintain grave sites and repair stones which are damaged, vandalized or moved.
Cemetery maintenance is currently provided by hired employees and the Superintendent. It routinely includes grave openings and closings, sodding and weekly mowing of the established 65 acres. The adjacent 15 acres are planted in row crops until expansion is needed. It takes 30 hours to mow the property, and weed eating is done routinely during the growing season around trees, posts and stones.
The original plot of 12 acres for Edgar Cemetery was purchased in 1858 by a committee, according to local historian Teddy Day.
Cemetery development has continued through the years from the site of Section X on High Street, believed to be the oldest part of the cemetery with numerous unmarked pioneer graves. Many stones in this area are unreadable or missing. The next two areas to be developed reached west to include the top of the hill, the highest point in the cemetery.
A section is developed first by laying out roads, then lots, and finally trees, where they won’t be in the way of digging. A total of 1,151 spots in the newest Section 3, at the north center area of the cemetery, were established in 2003.
The Edgar Cemetery Mausoleum was built in the early 1960s, ending the establishment of small family mausoleums on the grounds.
The 13 small family mausoleums with 2 to 12 spaces in each were built in a 20-year cycle, according to cemetery board president Jim Englum, and have been secured and locked in recent years. One was damaged by a storm.
To repair such damage, Englum recommends that families establish a Cemetery Trust, which provides for repair if necessary, and floral tributes on a regular basis. Cemetery Trusts are created by the family and are administered by the cemetery. Currently 65 trusts exist in varying amounts from $300 to $15,000. Care is provided from interest, without invading the principle.
Another service offered by the cemetery office is the opportunity for genealogy searches. For a small fee, a search will provide for up to five names the location of graves, the death date and sometimes the birth year. Usually, all of the information on the tombstone is recorded, and in some cases, members of the immediate family. More recent death records include complete obituary information.
“We operate on a shoestring and manage on a tight budget,” said Englum. The Edgar Cemetery budget increased in recent years from $78,000 in 1992 to $105,000 in 2005.
Mother Nature and vandalism have marred the cemetery through the years.
Englum said the age of most of the trees and the fact that many are dying from age, Mother Nature and disease is a big concern. The primary expense is in taking them down – from $500 to $1,000 per tree.
Old-timers recall an old iron dog and iron gates that stood at the earliest entrance, inside of the current south entrance near the water stations. One man recalled pretending to ride on the dog as a youngster. One night it was stolen and never returned.
More recently, vandals damaged numerous stones, many of them old and irreplaceable. Cemetery workers lean damaged stones on their bases at their original site, if possible.
“Caring for the cemetery is a never-ending challenge,” said Englum. “We don’t have enough funds to repair all the damage … we must leave that to the families who have loved ones buried there.”
As superintendent, Quinn also oversees records, bookkeeping and financial matters for the governing board.
Donations are often received at the end of the year, and philanthropists sometimes allow for big improvements, such as the first blacktop, front fence and entrance, and the new concrete drive. One fund drew interest for 29 years before the designated work could be completed financially.