This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, April 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.

Preservation Planning for Historic Cemetery Landscapes by Martha Lyon


Why should stewards of historic cemetery landscapes develop and follow a preservation plan?  This session will review the advantages to preservation planning and outline a method for doing so, through illustrations of many recent successful planning efforts.

Preservation plans have, in the past, proven to be excellent – even essential – tools for managing historic cemetery landscapes.  The reasons for this are three-fold.  First, not all cemetery landscapes are the same.  Many times they have evolved in phases, with different sections – designed in different styles – added little by little.  Part of planning involves understanding what styles exist and taking steps to ensure that these styles are retained.  Second, historic cemetery landscapes have complex and sometimes overwhelming needs.  Perimeter fences deteriorate; roads and paths erode; tombs and gravestone copings topple; old trees lose limbs; monuments overturn.  Planning provides a step-by-step approach to correcting these problems, incrementally, over time.  Third, preservation costs money, and financing typically comes in small amounts, through an array of sources.  The preservation plan can outline a strategy for fundraising.

What are the components of a preservation plan?  A clearly defined program is a must, spelling out the cemetery’s existing and future needs.  Program elements can range from small items, such as placing “welcome” signs, to larger efforts, such as tree re-planting plans for the entire landscape.  An understanding of the cemetery’s history is equally important.  Historic maps, plans, photographs, and written histories document the physical changes made over time, and provide a picture of how the landscape evolved.  This picture helps determine what features in the landscape are historic and should be preserved; missing and should be reconstructed; newly added and should be altered or altogether removed.   An accurately-scaled map of the cemetery, including all landscape features, is also critical, as it provides a visual means for recording all planning decisions.

Once the program is defined, the history researched and the map created, landscape assessment is conducted, followed by treatment recommendations.  Each landscape feature, including natural features (landform, trees, water), functional features (entrances, accessibility, circulation, signs), and constructed features (metalwork, gravestones, monuments, tombs, retaining walls), is studied and its condition established, and recommendations are made for preservation treatment.  To understand what treatments need to happen first, the recommendations are placed in order of priority, and a cost is assigned to each.  Finally, the plan includes a management guide – a season-by-season approach to caring for the landscape over time.  This guide addresses the tending of trees, turf and groundcovers, historic metalwork and structures, grave markers, and even control of invasive plant species.

Who prepares a preservation plan and how is such a plan financed?  Depending on the type of features within the cemetery, different professionals are needed.  Typically, a preservation landscape architect will manage the process, working with stone conservators, metals specialists, structural and sometimes civil engineers.  Archaeologists participate when subsurface study, such as in the case of unmarked burials, is needed.  Financial support can come in the form of private donations, trust funds, grants, municipal appropriations, and in-kind contributions. When complete, a preservation plan becomes an essential tool for protecting a historic cemetery landscape and managing it over the long term.

Speaker Bio

Martha H. Lyon, ASLA, CLARB is managing principal of Martha Lyon Landscape Architecture, LLC, based in Northampton, Massachusetts.   The firm specializes in the planning, design and preservation of historic and cultural landscapes, with significant projects including Valley Cemetery (Manchester, NH), Winthrop Street Cemetery (Provincetown, MA), Chapel Cemetery (Phillips Andover Academy, Andover, MA), and the fifteen burial sites of Scituate, MA.  Currently she is directing preservation efforts at Riverview Cemetery (Groveland, MA), the Longmeadow Cemetery (Longmeadow, MA), Fort Allen Park (Portland, ME) and Congress Park (Saratoga Springs, NY).  A licensed practitioner, Martha holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and is an adjunct faculty member at the same institution.  She has written and lectured extensively on the subject of American landscape history, and is a contributing writer to the Warren Manning Retrospective, an upcoming publication (2015) of the Library of the American Landscape History.


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