- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The ravages of time, nature and society had left their marks on two of Richmond’s most historic cemeteries. Trash and debris littered Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Jackson Ward, where cars had crashed into the brick wall lining the perimeter of the city’s first municipally owned cemetery not associated with a church.

Hollywood Cemetery near Oregon Hill was pummeled in 2003 by Hurricane Isabel, which toppled more than 100 mature trees, blocking every road and damaging many monuments. Other headstones suffered from botched repairs, while tourist buses had wrecked important ironwork.

The cemeteries, both on the National Register of Historic Places, are the burial grounds for some of Virginia’s most prominent people: U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, governors and mayors.

Now the cemeteries are benefiting from two volunteer organizations - Friends of Hollywood Cemetery and Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery - formed to promote them.

“We’re reclaiming it and making it part of the city again,” said Jeffry Burden of the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery.

Hollywood Cemetery, established in 1847, was one of the nation’s first “rural-style” cemeteries, with meandering roads throughout 135 acres overlooking the James River just west of downtown.

The center of attention is Presidents Circle, where Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler are buried. Other notables elsewhere in the cemetery include Confederate President Jefferson Davis, six Virginia governors, 22 Confederate generals and two Supreme Court justices.

A survey by Pennsylvania consultant Robert Mosko in 2007 estimated that a full restoration of the cemetery and its monuments could cost $7 million.

Though Hollywood remains an active cemetery, income from about 200 burials a year produces only about half of the cemetery’s $1 million to $1.5 million operating budget, with about $75,000 allocated to restoration and preservation, said cemetery director David Gilliam. The rest of the operating budget comes from investment income.

Friends of Hollywood, which was created to help raise funds, has a goal of $1.5 million to $2 million, said Mary Hoge Anderson, a Friends board member. The Friends group is set up under a different nonprofit status than the cemetery, which allows it to receive funds the cemetery can’t.

The project already has received $50,000 from the Roller-Bottimore Foundation and $20,000 from the Marietta M. & Samuel Tate Morgan Jr. Foundation, both of Richmond, and restoration work has begun within Presidents Circle.

Where a falling tree had shattered the marble cross for Mary Heath Davenport Newton in Presidents Circle, a replacement stone once again is identical to the cross of Elise Williams Atkinson beside it.

A new headstone has been created to replace a damaged one for Eliza Maury Withers, whose father, Matthew Fontaine Maury, is portrayed on Monument Avenue as the “Pathfinder of the Seas.”

Other remaining projects include repairs to the ornamental cast-iron fence, only a third of which remains intact across from Presidents Circle after it was destroyed by tour buses.

“The cemetery is similar to a historic structure that you want to preserve,” Miss Anderson said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Shockoe Hill Cemetery may be one of the most overlooked cemeteries in the city.

The city-owned cemetery, where Chief Justice John Marshall is buried, opened in 1822 on 12.7 acres in North Richmond as the cemetery at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Church Hill neared capacity.

As burials at Shockoe Hill became less frequent - just three in the past 28 years - the cemetery fell into a state of disarray. A few family plots remain, but otherwise the cemetery is full.

Friends of Shockoe Hill group organizer Doug Welsh said that when the John Marshall Foundation celebrated Marshall’s 250th birthday at his grave site in 2005, “the cemetery didn’t look like we wanted.”

“It was not being maintained,” he said.

Upkeep of Shockoe Hill rests with the city, but the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery organizes groups of volunteers to take on maintenance duties.

Across Hospital Street lies Hebrew Cemetery, a private cemetery affiliated with Congregation Beth Ahabah. Hebrew and Shockoe Hill cemeteries form the largest parcel of land in Jackson Ward, said William B. Thalhimer III, chairman of the Hebrew Cemetery committee.

The two organizations work in conjunction to beautify their cemeteries in an effort to become a park environment for all of Jackson Ward, Mr. Thalhimer said.

O. Wayne Edwards, cemeteries manager for the city, said the city and the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery have a good working relationship as they share the goal of increasing public awareness of the cemetery.

“It’s great what they’re doing. We furnished the records and whatever help they need. They call me, and we get it done,” Mr. Edwards said.

Ultimately, the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery sees the cemetery becoming a place that attracts genealogical groups, historical groups and families that want to visit their ancestors or reclaim burial sites.

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