Historic Cemetery Planning
Cedar Hill Cemetery
Commonwealth developed a cemetery conservation plan for Cedar Hill, the oldest municipal cemetery in Suffolk. A planned cemetery, Cedar Hill was established in 1802 when it was a part of the property surrounding Union Church, a nondenominational chapel that served diverse religions within the area. The chapel was open to people of varying races and its grounds were used as a communal burying ground for Caucasians, African-Americans, and indigenous Indians, and also provided burial space for both Union and Confederate soldiers after the Civil War. In recent years, Cedar Hill has suffered from neglect due to reduced funds, including monument deterioration and the incremental loss of a large grid of planted cedar trees of which the cemetery was named. The City of Suffolk and the Nansemond Garden Club commissioned Commonwealth to develop a conservation plan to address preservation and management issues based on a unified vision. The plan summarizes the physical history of the site; provides assessments of the conditions of monuments, structures, internal drives, and existing historic vegetation; and provides recommendations for treatment, including monument and marker conservation, erosion control, vegetation management, and circulation renovation, as well as a phasing plan, cost estimate, and a list of funding sources for preservation.
City of Austin Historic Cemeteries
Commonwealth served as principal investigator for this preservation master plan for five historic cemeteries managed by the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department. The department is entrusted by families and descendants to care for these sacred places, but funding pressures have limited care to mowing and trash pickup, leaving historic markers, including many unique works of art and craft, to deteriorate. In addition, recent droughts led to loss of historic trees within the cemeteries, changing their character dramatically. In 2013, the city procured this plan to guide the care and management of these precious historic resources. Together with city staff, key stakeholders, and public participants, Commonwealth worked diligently to craft a thoughtful approach based on public engagement that reached a diverse array of community members. The resulting plan is a comprehensive review of the history of each cemetery, its existing conditions, and recommendations for care of its historic resources, as well as concept design plans for improvements, including access, planting, and historical interpretation. The plan has received national attention, having been featured in several magazine articles and won awards, including the American Planning Association’s National Planning Achievement Award for Urban Design, Gold Level, for 2017.
Historic Municipal Cemeteries
New Braunfels, Texas
Commonwealth developed preservation plans for the City of New Braunfels’ two oldest cemeteries: New Braunfels and Comal. Braunfels Cemetery, located at the eastern edge of the Texas Hill Country, is one of the oldest towns settled by Germans in Texas in the mid-nineteenth century and these cemeteries contain some of the oldest burials in the area. Of particular note is the mass grave of over three hundred victims of the local 1846 cholera outbreak, located in the New Braunfels Cemetery, and the grave site of Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer, considered the father of Texas botany, located in Comal Cemetery. Commonwealth and consulting historians, Dan Utley and Cynthia Beeman, developed a preservation plan that presents detailed site histories for each cemetery; provides existing conditions evaluations, including monument and markers and historic vegetation; and includes concept designs for site improvements. Commonwealth developed recommendations for maintaining and conserving markers and historic vegetation, as well as for fund-raising, capital improvement project phasing, perpetual care management, emergency protocol, and other issues. Using the master plan as the primary guiding tool, the City of New Braunfels and its local stakeholders are able to better strategize and organize cemetery preservation efforts.
Vicksburg National Cemetery
Commonwealth developed a cultural landscape report and treatment recommendations for one of the nation’s oldest national cemeteries. Established in 1867, Vicksburg National Cemetery has the largest number of Civil War interments and is also the final resting place for veterans from other wars, including the Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. To support informed management and preservation of the national cemetery, including protection and enhancement of its integrity, the National Park Service engaged Commonwealth to prepare a cultural landscape report. The report provides management guidelines based on an assessment of the character-defining features of the cultural landscape and specific treatment recommendations to ensure the preservation of these significant resources. Key recommendations focused on drainage and erosion control, particularly affecting the designed earthen terraces on which the graves were regularly arrayed. Recommendations also addressed turf and lawn maintenance, tree management, preservation of monuments and markers, maintenance of walls and stairs, and interpretation of the history of the cemetery to the public.