History is etched onto every tombstone and monument at the Waxahachie City Cemetery. These markers record the lives and times of people who lent a hand in building the community. The city is hoping to discover more of that history through its cemetery mapping project that is about to get underway.
The city cemetery is the resting place for many of city’s early settlers and land and cotton barons from years gone by. The cemetery started in the mid 1800s as a private cemetery. The first recorded burial was of Silas Kilaugh in 1852.
“It was (first) a community cemetery and I think that it was on the Emory Rogers Property. I believed that he allowed burials there for the early settlers. ,” Director of Parks and Recreation John Smith said. “From a private cemetery it went to a church cemetery run by the Methodist church and then to the city.”
Smith said the city took over the operations and care of the cemetery from the Methodist church in the 1920s. The cemetery is the final resting place for Waxahachie’s first doctor and pharmacist. Confederate, World I, World War II and Vietnam soldiers are also buried there as well.
The mapping project will take place in the southern portion of the cemetery near the hike and bike trail. It has been rumored that this section possibly contains unmarked graves of pioneers, slaves, early city residents and paupers. The project is under the direction of Texas Cemetery Restoration and is scheduled to start by early February.
“There is a lot of open space in the southern portion of the cemetery that looks as if it was part of the old cemetery, but there is a very limited number of marked graves,” Owner of Texas Cemetery Restoration J.R. Brenner said. “The project will entail bringing in an archeologist and something called 'ground-penetrating radar' to locate any unmarked graves that might be in that section.”
Brenner said the marked graves in that area are probably from the early 1900s. In the last 80 to 90 years there has been no use of that area due to the fear of disturbing an unmarked grave.
The process of determining where these unmarked graves are starts with using a technology called ground-penetrating radar. Ground-penetrating radar sends out electromagnetic waves about 15 feet into the ground. When it reflects back it can show disturbances in the soil from other soil in the area. These disturbances could show the edge of graves, grave pits and remains of coffins such as hinges and nails.
Before the radar is used a grid is established to efficiently collect data at the site. The survey of the 3.26 acres site is estimate to take around four days to complete. An archeologist will work with Brenner during data collecting. Once collected the data is then placed into a 3D model on a computer and the archeologist will help to which sites are burials.
Brenner said after the data interpretation is done, which will take a few weeks to complete; they will go back out to the cemetery and use a survey tool called a “total station” to create a map.
Smith said the city has older maps designating burials in that area. If the maps the city has and the survey lines up, the city will look into placing a monument to mark and recognize those areas.
“We didn’t know what was there so we stayed away from it for the fear of disturbing a grave. If we defiantly can tell that we are not going to disturb a grave by digging in a certain area we can open that up to new lots,” Smith said. “It will give us the opportunity to pin point were our pioneers are truly buried. If we can find some open space it give the opportunity to some of our citizens to burred amongst our history.”
Smith added that he is looking forward to what this project holds for the city.
The cost of the project is around $12,000 and is being funded through the cemetery maintenance fund. Texas Cemetery Restoration previous work has includes a mapping project for the Pleasant Grove Cemetery. They have done restoration work for Pilgrim, Dresden, Grandview, Grange Hall and Womack White Cemeteries.
For more information about Texas Cemetery Restoration go to its website at www.texascemeteryrestoration.com. The city cemetery is located at 300 S. Hawkins St. the cemetery is a across the street from the Paul Richards Baseball Park.