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Saving Our Cemetery, One Boxwood At a Time

By Sara Henderson
Oakland was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and the work that has been done to restore the grounds has been based on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation Projects, which was published the same year. It was written to provide guidance to those working on historic structures, but it did not address the landscape as part of the cultural heritage of a site. These standards were revised in 1992 to include all resource types, including the landscape, and renamed the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. These new standards also identified four possible treatments: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction. The Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes illustrates how to apply these four treatments to cultural landscapes in a way that meets the Standards.
Many of Oakland’s historic plantings have been lost to time so extensive preservation is all but impossible, however we do have some pieces of our historic fabric remaining and we cherish them. However the desire to protect and preserve them must occasionally be balanced with other factors, including the fact that Oakland is still an active cemetery. Rehabilitation allows us to accept change when required to meet modern needs, but we always strive to find a compromise that allows for both a family’s needs and preservation of our historic landscape fabric. This is a story of one such situation.
In early February our Sexton, Sam Reed, came to me to let me know that it was going to be necessary to remove several shrubs in order for a family to make use of all the grave sites on their lot. This was going to completely change the historic fabric of this lot but was understandable and an appropriate use of a family lot. I visited the site and determined that the Burford hollies had roots growing under several monuments and could not be saved, however the extremely large and very healthy boxwood could likely be moved to a new location.
The family’s need was not immediate and they graciously agreed to give us time to try. So began the great boxwood move. It clearly wasn’t going to be easy but we had a team that was determined to succeed regardless of the challenges.
Most machinery was out of the question due to the knee-high retaining wall hat surrounded the lot and our narrow walkways. The boxwood’s weight was a major factor as well. The plant is almost 6’ high and about 8’ wide so the weight was significant. These conditions were discussed, several plans were considered and work began the following Saturday, February 8. This was a regularly scheduled 2nd Saturday workday and we had a group of volunteers coming from Community Bucket, a local group that promotes community service. They, Tom Fullilove and Cooper Sanchez worked all morning but, after three hours of digging, the boxwood was still firmly rooted, including a section of roots that were under the family marker.
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It seemed like we were attempting the impossible, however Tom was determined and after several more hours of digging on his own the root ball was free, just in time for a blanket of snow and ice.
The few days of forced inaction gave us time to consider our next step and it was clear moving it wasn’t going to be easy. Our Director of Restoration, Dustin Hornsby and his crew took over at this point. Dustin is experienced at gently lifting large markers on our lots and he applied the same techniques to this project. Scaffolding was erected, strong boards were placed under the root ball and the boxwood was carefully hoisted.
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A Bobcat was positioned nearby, however the boxwood weighed more than expected and tipped the Bobcat. We rented a second, larger Bobcat the next day and the boxwood was finally on the way to its new home.
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Finding a new home had been challenging as well. We wanted a site where it could settle in and look like it belonged but it also needed to provide similar conditions to the original site and be in an area with working water so we could keep it watered throughout the summer. We think we found an excellent spot and you will see it on the right after you enter the front gate. It’s looking a bit rough right now but we’re committed to giving it the support it needs to reestablish. It will be next spring before we can be sure we succeeded, but we’re very hopeful.
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In the meantime, we’re very appreciative of everyone who helped get us this far. They worked tirelessly at what often seemed an impossible task and they succeeded. You can move mountains, or even a boxwood, when you’ve got such an outstanding team.

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