A ‘really special place’: Arlington leaders begin preparing historic cemetery to sell new plots

A change in state law allows the city of Arlington to begin selling plots in Arlington Cemetery, which houses the city’s first mayors and postmasters.

By Kailey Broussard, KERA NewsApril 15, 2024 9:56 am, ,

From KERA News:

On a sunny day in early April, Karen Reich walks Parkdale and Arlington cemeteries to snap pictures and collect information on the interred.

Reich volunteers for Findagrave.com, which claims to house the largest gravesite collection. Despite growing up in town, she did not know about Arlington Cemetery. She was floored to see the familiar names like Ditto and Collins among the grave markers.

“These are names of all of the movers and shakers. These are the major intersections, the major streets, the schools,” Reich said.

The cemetery – one of the oldest in Arlington – is hard to differentiate from Parkdale Cemetery. No border separates the two, though the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission recently installed street signs and QR codes to help people find the city’s founders.

Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

Headstones with the last name Collins at Arlington Cemetery.

However, the historic burial place may soon gain new attention, as Arlington city leaders look to sell new plots for the first time since the municipal government took possession of the property as an abandoned cemetery in 1995.

State law previously prohibited owners of abandoned cemeteries from selling new plots. However, a change to state law in September opened a path for cities that meet certain requirements to begin selling plots. Arlington city leaders and state legislators successfully pushed for the passage of H.B. 2371 after hearing from living notable figures who would like to be buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Sarah Stubblefield, strategic initiatives manager, said the city is moving quickly to give residents the chance to purchase plots.

Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

Eric Burkle checks for clearance as he drives the ground penetrating radar between headstones March 20, 2024, at Arlington Cemetery.

“We have people who are trying to plan for that part of their life,” she said. “They’re really interested in being a part of the history that’s here and I can’t blame them, honestly, for that. I think it’s a really special place as well.”

The company Terracon surveyed the cemetery in March through two methods: a magnetometer survey, as well as a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) investigation. Both will identify occupied graves and spaces for potential new plots.

Stubblefield said the survey results should be available by the end of April.

From there, the city will identify plots that can be sold; develop an ordinance and fee schedule; identify owners of open plots; conduct a plot abandonment and appeals period; and find a cemetery operator.

Officials have discussed ways to distinguish Arlington Cemetery from Parkdale Cemetery. The ordinance would create cemetery policies surrounding maintenance, record-keeping, improvements and abandonments.

Stubblefield said the city plans to continue working with the volunteers who have spent years picking up trash, identifying people interred and finding ways to improve the cemetery.

“(Arlington Cemetery) has a long history of the community taking care and being the primary stewards,” she said. “Now, we’re kind of taking that back over and we’re partnering with all of those people to be able to maintain it and keep operating it.”

Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

Daughters of the American Revolution helped install new signs at the historic Arlington Cemetery.

Community involvement

Several individuals and groups have looked after the cemetery since it was established on the farmland of William McNatt, an early settler. Today, the city’s parks and recreation department maintains the property using funding from gas well revenue.

Arlington Cemetery might not be the most well-known local landmark, but it has a passionate following, Stubblefield said.

“Not everyone knows that this part of the cemetery is here because it’s connected to the Parkdale Cemetery, but the groups and the people that do, they really love it,” she said. “They know the history that’s here and they’ve really impressed to maintain it and to love it and preserve it.”

Members of the Lucretia Council Cochran Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) have conducted grave restorations for veterans, as well as former mayors and postmasters.

Kristina Rumans, the chapter’s historic preservation chair, said the city has done a good job keeping up the cemetery, but the gravestones needed some extra help. Chapter members received training on gravesite restoration to clean the graves of the 180-200 veterans interred in the old cemetery. The chapter also cleans up litter as well as debris.

Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

Cameron Wood watches as the ground penetrating radar is driven between headstones March 20, 2024, at Arlington Cemetery.

“By coming out here and cleaning the veterans’ tombstones for sure shows your respect for what they did for our freedom in this country and our ability to be able to do what we do today,” Rumans said.

The local DAR chapter has also donated the flagpole that sits in the front of the property. In 1994, the Tarrant County Historical Commission dedicated a state historical marker at the cemetery.

Karen Reich regularly visits both cemeteries. She has almost finished walking all 17 acres of Parkdale Cemetery. On sunny days, she logs new information on Find a Grave. On bad weather days, she links families’ entries on the website.

“I don’t want them to get forgotten,” Reich said.

Both Rumans and Reich said they’re excited the city is preparing to sell new plots.

“It wouldn’t be a bad place to be. If I could be here, I would,” Rumans said.

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