Every day, members of the Historic Oakland Foundation strive to fulfill the Foundation’s mission to preserve, restore, enhance and share Oakland Cemetery. Due to Covid, day-to-day interactions between staff members have been limited and often virtual, but in the past months, a lot improvement in the Original Six Acres has required a collective approach from the preservation restoration, and operations department (PRO) team and the gardens department, or GRO team. Together the teams worked with the family to safely restore and enhance the lot, and now we can share the story.
We define lot improvement at Oakland Cemetery as work conducted on a small section of the cemetery at the request and funding of a family, individuals, or an organization associated with the lot, like a sorority or a Free Mason Lodge. Unlike our ongoing, multi-year, and costly phased restoration projects (like the current East Hill project) lot improvements provide an opportunity to revive a neglected area without having to fundraise. They also allow us to engage with individuals who have family stories and gain insight into the lot and its residents’ histories.
With Oakland Cemetery’s growth in popularity, HOF has also seen an uptick in lot improvement with the PRO and GRO teams completing around six each year. The scale of the work is sometimes as simple as cleaning a few headstones or, in the case of the Hallman/Hemphill lot, it can include full monument restoration, installation of new stone features, and a full landscaping plan including irrigation and the planting of shrubs, perennial flowers, and new turf.
Discussion with members of the Hallman/Hemphill family began in the spring of 2020. The family was interested in sprucing up their lot and chose HOF to conduct the work after seeing some examples of our work on-site. While families are free to look outside of the Foundation for improvement work, our grounds staff have expert knowledge in handling sensitive materials, insight on complementary design, and access to the cemetery’s resources. While conducting a survey of the lot, we found sunken marble edging that surrounded the lot, loose marble coping stones, a misplaced broken headstone, and the familiar out-of-line and discolored headstones.
While there was no landscaping to contend with before tackling the stonework, the PRO team consulted with the gardens team to make sure that our monument work did not interfere with the plantings. We collaborated to ensure that we allowed enough space between monuments and walls for the use of trimmers, mowers, and other landscape equipment. We made sure to consider overall ground and sod height to better secure and highlight the marble edging. The two teams also worked together on scheduling and sequencing so that all could complete the multi-staged project on time.
This lot improvement also included some new stonework in the form of more coping. Copings are the large rectangular pieces you see capping the top of the walls. Sometimes they differ in material from the wall itself and occasionally have engravings of the family name. The family wished to continue the stretch of coping along the northern part of the lot to encompass the rest of the family’s owned area. Using marble from the same quarry in Tate, Georgia as the original coping and using matching text font for the Hallman family name engraving, we were able to install the in-kind coping and reset the original stones using a soft lime mortar. Next, we reset the headstones and marble edging using gravel and dirt and cleaned the necessary stones with D2 cleaner.
One of the most exciting aspects of this lot improvement was the repair of a broken headstone that had been lying on the lot for years. It was very difficult to read the inscription, but with the help of the slanted light from the sun, we could make out the name “Young.” This corresponded with a burial adjacent to the Hemphill/Hallman lot. After some digging, we found the rest of the headstone and were able to successfully repair and re-install it. Because of its age and fragility, the gardens team did not plant any shrubs near it. When plants are planted near headstones, they can trap moisture against the stone, leading to deterioration, especially of marble. With the hardscape complete we then turned the lot over to the gardens Team.
To be able to complete any landscaping job in the cemetery, water must be within a reasonable distance of the lot. There was no functional water source near Mr. Hallman’s family lot, so we worked with our irrigation contractor to find a way to bring water into that part of the cemetery, which had been without any for decades. There happened to be another lot near the Hemphill/Hallman lot that also needed water for its new landscape. That family offered to share the cost of installation with Mr. Hallman. The water sources were installed in the fall of 2020 and are now supplying both families’ lots.
There was no existing historic plant material or evidence of any on the lot, just centipede turf. Mr. Hallman wanted a formal planting of boxwood shrubs to run along three sides of the two combined lots and wanted to use flowering plants that were favorites of his grandmother. A plan was drawn and approved, and the boxwoods were planted in the late winter of 2021 (see the image at the top of the page). The flowering perennials will be planted in March, and new sod will be the icing on the cake, going down in early summer. I guess you could say that Historic Oakland Foundation actually brings new life back into the cemetery!
If you are interested in having us talk with you about needs for your own family’s lot, please reach out to us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.