- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) - For days on end, Dustin Oliver sat in the office of Davenport’s Oakdale Memorial Gardens, reading files and jotting down information to build a case that the cemetery should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Oliver, 33, of Bettendorf, isn’t a member of the nonprofit corporation that operates the cemetery, nor does he work there, the Quad-City Times (https://bit.ly/1SrdTBs ) reported.

He’s just a total history buff and has an interest in Oakdale, so he pored through lists of burials written on index cards, deciphered board minutes written with pencil in fading cursive script and, finally, wrote a 100-page-plus nomination form, all on a volunteer basis.

Last month, his research paid off personally and for the cemetery when the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs notified the cemetery board that the 78-acre site had been accepted to the National Register, a listing maintained by the U.S. Park Service.

“It’s definitely an honor for us and all the families involved in Oakdale,” said Darrell Iossi, the volunteer general manager and president of Oakdale.

“Dustin has done a lot of hard work, as has Deb (Williams, the office manager and treasurer of the board),” he said.

In addition to the honor, being on the National Register allows applications to be made for grants and other financial help with restoration projects.

Many of the cemetery’s monuments are “very, very old and in need of repair, and there are no descendants,” Iossi said. Getting grants to do restoration would be “absolutely helpful,” he said. “Every dollar adds up.”

The Iowa State Historic Preservation Office had special kudos for Oliver’s nomination work because “cemeteries as a class are not ordinarily considered eligible for the National Register under the four criteria for the program,” spokesman Jeff Morgan said.

“To qualify, (cemeteries) have to … prove that they derive their primary significance from graves of persons of transcendent importance, from age, from distinctive design features or from association with historic events.

“In essence, the preparer of such a nomination has to take extra steps and go ‘above and beyond’ to make their case for eligibility.”

“The Oakdale nomination was complex, and (the office) believes the preparer did an outstanding job researching and writing it.”

Areas of significance for Oakdale include its architecture, landscape architecture and ethnic heritage, including European and African-American, during the years from 1855, when the first burials occurred, to 1965, the 50-year cutoff date from which something is considered historic.

In the architecture category, Oakdale contains thousands of markers, monuments and mausoleums in the Gothic Revival, Romanesque and Classic Revival styles.

In the area of landscape architecture, the design of the original 40 acres was drawn by landscape designer George F. de la Roche of Washington, D.C., and included rolling hills, paved roadways, grass alleys and a lake.

As for its heritage, a large number of European descendants buried there were significant both locally and statewide.

In fact, the list reads like a who’s who of Davenport. They include about half of the mayors, the first doctor, members of Congress, Civil War veterans, original Scott County pioneers (who were here before Dec. 31, 1840) master architects, merchants, lumber barons and children from the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home.

Significant individuals include Phebe Sudlow, the first female public school superintendent in the United States, and Leon Bix Beiderbecke, the Davenport-born jazz great.

And, as has been revealed in the past several years through research by high school students in Nebraska, Oakdale contains the graves of at least 11 former slaves who escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

For that reason, the cemetery is also listed on the Network to Freedom, a registry for sites associated with the Underground Railroad.

Oakdale is “an outstanding listing (for the National Register) because it has many different areas of significance that very few other properties have,” Morgan said.

Oliver first became interested in Oakdale when he participated in a cemetery walk sometime after moving to the Quad-Cities from Texas in 2002.

His in-depth research for the nomination began in January 2014, after he was laid off from his job at an auto dealership and was required to do volunteer work as part of his requirement to receive public assistance, he said. He has since gotten a job at Best Buy in Moline, where he works as the team leader in the mobile department.

After receiving permission from the cemetery board to proceed and a letter of support from the Davenport Historic Preservation Commission, he submitted his nomination to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, where applications begin their journey. The application was 29 pages long.

After answering questions, particularly the citing of sources for his information, and including requested photos, the application became 107 pages.

The work was a consuming labor of love for Oliver. One of the most moving moments during his research occurred when he held in his hands the cemetery’s 1856 articles of incorporation, with the original wax seal.


Information from: Quad-City Times, https://www.qctimes.com

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