Historic Oak Hill Cemetery caretaker’s home to soon disappear
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
A building on the National Register of Historic Places at Oak Hill Cemetery will soon become a ghost of the past.
Built around 1920, the caretaker’s house, at 1705 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, is slated for demolition in the coming weeks. The home is considered a contributing structure to the Oak Hill Cemetery Historic District.
Representatives of the cemetery appeared before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission earlier this month to discuss the demolition application.
Jane and Carl Thoresen, who serve as Oak Hill’s historian and superintendent, said the caretaker’s home had become a rental property in the 1990s and was boarded up in 2012.
“We just don’t have the money,” Carl Thoresen said of the costs to make repairs to the home.
Located along Mount Vernon Road and 15th Street SE, the cemetery was established in 1854 and is the final resting place for Cedar Rapids pioneers such as Judge George Greene and Sampson Bever.
The Cedar Rapids architectural firm of Josselyn & Taylor designed the stone front entrance and decorative iron gate, and members of the Historic Preservation Commission suggested that the firm also may have designed some of the cemetery’s buildings.
Commission chairwoman Amanda McKnight Grafton said grants and other resources may be available to restore the cemetery’s barn, which features a cupola along the roof ridge.
Jane Thoresen said there was no information on the origin of the barn, thought to have been built in the 1890s, which has also fallen into disrepair, as has the cemetery’s storage shed.
The cemetery board has no interest in keeping any of the buildings, she said, adding that efforts at fundraising have not been successful.
“People want their charitable dollars to help the living, not the dead,” Thoresen said.
The commission voted to allow the demolition to proceed, with the stipulation that the group be notified before the shed and barn are to be demolished. Members Bob Grafton and Tim Oberbroeckling voted against releasing the house for demolition.
“It bothers me to see a building sit and let it decompose,” Oberbroeckling said, calling the process “demolition by neglect.”
Buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places are not protected from demolition. In 2011, the former People’s Church, at Sixth Street and Third Avenue SE, become the first building in Cedar Rapids listed on the National Register of Historic Places to be demolished, without having been damaged by fire or natural disaster. A new office building was constructed in its place.
Linda Langston, one of three Oak Hill Cemetery board members, along with C. John Linge and Greg Seyfer, said in an email that the deterioration of the caretaker’s home has been discussed for quite some time.
“Our challenge has been and continues to be funding,” Langston wrote, noting that only the interest on the perpetual care fund can be accessed to use. “We are a very small board and sad to say with the main focus being finding funding to do general upkeep. Trees have been a major problem. Many are old and during storms get damaged. Tree removal is very expensive and we are usually behind.”
Langston noted that Oak Hill Cemetery has about $800,000 in its perpetual care fund, which generates about $25,000 to $38,000 in interest annually. Depending on the year, the cemetery generally needs about $30,000 to $40,000 for upkeep and salaries.
“Often the board members have added funding out of their own pocket,” she said. “John (Linge,) like his father before him has been very generous with Cedar Memorial support of materials and people support.”