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Tuesday July 25th 2017

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Pillars will be rebuilt, new ones added; Thanks to “Pillars of the Community”

By Sue Hunter Weir

It’s taken about 15 years but the restoration of the Cemetery’s historic fence is very close to completion. In April 2002, the Corcoran Neighborhood Organizations used $5,000 of their Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) funds to contract with McDonald & Mack, an architectural firm specializing in historic restoration, to review the conditions of the cemetery grounds and structures and to make recommendations about repairs and long-term maintenance.

They found that the fence, especially the steel pickets and gates, was in need of some attention. The limestone pillars were in somewhat better shape but still needed a significant amount of work. The concrete bases under many the pillars have started to crumble as the ground beneath them has settled and some of the patching of the mortar between the stones was not always done well or with the correct materials.

Given the size and complexity of the project work on the fence needed to be phased in over a period of several years. Work on the steel pickets began in 2010 with the Cedar Avenue and Lake Street gates and those sections of the fence that were in the worst shape were given first priority.

Fundraising for the restoration had started a year earlier in 2009. Funds came from the city and state and from donations from private citizens and descendants of those buried in the cemetery. Hundreds of people “adopted” one or more of the steel pickets in the fence. The State Historic Preservation Office provided funding through their State-Grant-in-Aid program and the Minnesota Historical Cultural Heritage Grant Program. The city provided money through the Capitol Long Range Improvement Program.

On February 13, 2017, our State Representative Karen Clark introduced House Resolution 1073, part of the state’s bonding bill. The bill asked for $1,029,000 to finish the work that had begun several years earlier. Senator Jeff Hayden introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Several members of the House and the Senate signed on as co-authors. Although the bonding bill has been a sticking point at the State Legislature for the past several years, funding for the Cemetery received wide support from both sides of the aisle. Compared with many other projects the amount of money that we need is relatively modest and the restoration means that the fence will be standing and in good repair many, many years from now.

This next and final phase of the restoration involves taking the pillars apart, reassembling them using the correct adhesive, and capping them with acrylic to prevent water from seeping down into the pillars and eating them out from the inside. The crumbling bases will be rebuilt.

In 1928-29 when the fence was originally installed, only the west and south sides of the cemetery received decorative fencing. Whether that was by design or the result of not having enough money to complete the job is not known. The east and north sides got what we jokingly refer to as “historic” chain link (it really is). Aesthetics on the 21st Avenue edge were less important when the nearest neighbor was the trolley-car barn but now there are apartments that look out over that side of the cemetery. The chain-link fencing on the 21st Avenue (Aldi’s) side of the Cemetery will be replaced with decorative fencing that is compatible with the steel and limestone fencing on the south and north sides.

Although the lion’s share of the money has come from state and city sources, the importance of the contributions from people in the community cannot be overstated. Community support is a critical piece of funding requests. Funders want to know, and rightly so, who cares about a project. Resources are limited and there are many worthy projects in need of financial support.

Whether you came to a concert, have watched a movie in the Cemetery, have gone on a tour, adopted a picket or just strolled through the gates, your interest helped us raise the money that we need. A hundred years from now the fence will be standing. That’s what historic preservation looks like.

Where do we go from here? We will continue fundraising although on a much smaller scale. Friends of the Cemetery’s website needs to be upgraded and many of the markers and headstones are in need of expert help. So grab your blanket or lawn chair and join us at sundown on August 26th to watch Vincent Price in “The Last Man on Earth.” Thank you! Special thanks to Karen Clark and Jeff Hayden.

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