Disappointing preservation plans

What makes a good preservation plan for a historic cemetery?

I can point to several examples:

  • the report prepared by Michael Trinkley, Debi Hacker, and Sarah Fick in 1999 for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the City of Petersburg, titled “The African American Cemeteries of Petersburg, Virginia: Continuity and Change“;
  • the preservation plan prepared by Clio Associates in 2015 for Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, Louisiana;
  • the preservation plan prepared by Historic Preservation Northwest in 2018 for Brookside Cemetery in Dayton, Oregon;
  • the preservation plan prepared by Martha Lyon, Fannin-Lehner Preservation Consultants, and Structures North Consulting Engineers in 2021 for the Broad Street Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts.

Each of these is comprehensive, draws on a range of professional expertise and federal guidance, seeks to balance complex considerations, and was shaped by direct engagement with the respective communities. The City of Austin, Texas, demonstrated how to fold such preservation assessments and recommendations into an effective master cemetery plan in its award-winning “Historic Cemeteries Master Plan” prepared in 2015.

The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission makes the following recommendations for those seeking to develop historic cemetery preservation plans:

The preservation plan should establish the period of significance for the site and the projected method for protecting and preserving the contributing resources at the site. These could range from historic buildings to elements of the landscape such as paths, walls, and vegetation.

Conservation of damaged grave markers plays a role here, assessed with an eye toward preservation priorities and linked to the assortment of contributing resources referenced above. In short,

The complete preservation plan must establish a summary history that identifies the historic resources and growth of the site over time and the critical elements that need to be restored or rehabilitated to return the site to the most appropriate level of usage within a given time period.

The state of Georgia outlines similar expectations for cemetery preservation plans here.

Much of this is drawn from the United States Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes (1996), which directs attention to the differing approaches and goals of: preservation (where existing forms and materials will be sustained); rehabilitation (where features will be repaired or altered to make their use compatible with the landscape’s historical value); restoration (where landscape features will be returned to their original form), and reconstruction (where landscape features no longer extant will be restored).

All of this is to say that the draft preservation plans just released in June 2021 by the Enrichmond Foundation here for Evergreen and East End cemeteries fall far short of these models. In fact, Enrichmond’s preservation plans are actually just rough gestures toward “conservation” plans for treatment of particular sets of grave markers within the cemeteries. These plans are very brief — only about 11 pages of text each plus appendices. And while they provide assessments and recommendations for the conservation of grave markers within sample areas at each cemetery, the plans do little to explain the connection between those sample areas and the surrounding cemetery acreage. Perhaps most concerning, the plans make no mention of the previously released master plan for Evergreen Cemetery released in 2020, which calls for new construction onsite. These fragile and significant cemeteries cry out for a more coherent, informed, and community-driven approach.

Enrichmond has requested comments on these draft plans here by July 6, 2021, though I can’t figure out how to add my own comments via the interface.

Those interested in learning more about the community’s response to the plans can go here or read this.