A little-known cemetery overlooks Concord Boulevard in northeast Inver Grove Heights.
Established just after the Civil War, Union Cemetery is the final resting place of many of the area’s notable early residents, including Dr. Percival Barton, surgeon and cousin of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton .
Now the city, which owns the 1.3-acre property, is trying to figure out how to manage it, including whether to make necessary repairs or sell the remaining parcels. Authorities recently decided to look at the cost of a ground survey, possibly with ground-penetrating radar, to determine which plots, if any, are vacant.
“It’s not that the cemetery hasn’t been maintained, it’s just that over time some of these headstones have fallen under the ground,” said Judy Wonick, the city’s administrative support specialist. .
The cemetery records were scattered, and Wonick spent nearly two years compiling them and scouring the cemetery to map headstones.
“What started out as a chore…turned out to be such a joy for me,” she said.
There were originally 512 plots, and Wonick said he identified the owners of about 500 using receipts, burial certificates and other city records.
“My home office was filled with cemetery papers,” said Wonick, whose great-grandmother, grandparents and parents are buried there.
Twelve people are on a waiting list to buy plots, a city memo said, though prices have not been listed in the city’s fee schedule since 2009, when a plot cost $60.
“Lost in Time”
Matt Carter, executive director of the Dakota County Historical Society, counted 14 cemeteries in the county older than Union Cemetery.
Citing a 1981 article in the historical society’s “Over the Years” publication, he said the cemetery location was chosen because it was on high ground and had sandy soil instead. of clay. Plots were $25 to $50, he said. Some could contain up to six burials.
Several cities in the metro area, including Anoka, Eden Prairie, Bloomington and Minneapolis, have cemeteries, said Ron Gjerde, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Cemeteries.
However, most city-owned cemeteries don’t start out that way, he said, but are the result of negotiations that end with the city taking over.
The Union Cemetery became city property in 1965, according to a memo from the town of Inver Grove Heights, and the association that once supported it disbanded soon after.
Most cemeteries are “good with records,” Gjerde said, so doing a ground survey isn’t a common decision, but it can be helpful at the Union Cemetery. “They probably want to err on the side of caution,” he said.
The standard of care for cemeteries includes mowing grass and raking leaves, but the owner is not expected to cut grass around graves or reset sunken headstones, Gjerde said.
Inver Grove Heights officials said the city maintains the cemetery and regularly mows the lawn, but the weather has taken its toll.
Local historian Lois Glewwe said the city “never paid much attention” to the cemetery.
“It’s kind of like a little best-kept, hidden secret,” she said, noting that it’s not easy to visit because the only access is through Fleming Field, the airport in South St. Paul.
Glewwe included the cemetery in local bus tours she organized until four years ago and said there were at least 100 identifiable headstones. Others, she says, “just got lost in time.”
The “scary graveyard”
Jim Tatro, who grew up in the area, remembers visiting the cemetery with friends when he was young.
“All the kids in town knew about this creepy cemetery,” he said.
In 2013, the cemetery was full of weeds and littered with trash – and Tatro decided to clean it up.
“I went through I don’t know how many pairs of gloves and three episodes of poison ivy. And then towards the end, I was bitten by a tick…and I ended up in the hospital”, did he declare.
He said his best friend, Robert Moser, is buried there, along with probably 25 other people he knew.
Tatro’s cleanup project involved digging up hundreds of buckthorn and lilac bushes, rediscovering and digging up sunken headstones, planting grass and clearing debris, he said, out of respect for those buried there.
“I thought they deserved more respect than that – and especially my friend,” he said.
He noted that in addition to many veterans interred at Union Cemetery, Timothy Boche, a Simley High School student and accomplished athlete who is remembered on a plaque at Inver Grove Heights School, is also buried there.
Tatro said the cleaning made a noticeable difference – he even saw a few burials while he tidied up.
“Once people saw how beautiful this cemetery was, they decided to use these plots,” he said.
Amy Looze, the city’s spokeswoman, said the additional survey of the cemetery could help guide maintenance of broken fences and gates and determine what might lie underground in a part of the cemetery without stones. tombstones.
“We want to make sure we don’t disturb anyone’s final resting place,” she said.
An earlier version of this story misspelled Judy Wonick’s name twice and incorrectly attributed a quote to city spokeswoman Amy Looze. The speaker was Wonick, the town’s administrative support specialist.