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Historic City Cemeteries Can Once Again Rest In Peace

Release date: 
June 14, 2011
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EDITORS: A photo to accompany this story is in the FEMA library at cemetery damage. If you would like additional photos, please call the News Desk.

State-federal disaster assistance program helps with archeology and repair costs

RALEIGH, N.C.  – When a tornado smashed through downtown Raleigh on April 16, three city-owned historic cemeteries were in its destructive path.

The damaged cemeteries included Mount Hope Cemetery at 120 Prospect St., the Raleigh City Cemetery at 17 East St., and the O’Rorke Catholic Cemetery at 1101 Pender St.

Surveys and photographs show that the tornado uprooted 48 huge old trees which fell onto and toppled or broke more than 100 headstones and monuments, some more than a century old. Giant limbs flattened wrought iron fencing and ploughed holes and furrows in pathways.

The city’s eligible costs for repair and restoration of the historic cemeteries can be reimbursed by the Public Assistance program implemented as part of the presidential disaster declaration.  Under the cost-share program, 75 percent comes from Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the state paying the remaining 25 percent nonfederal share.

As part of the process, FEMA’s Environmental Planning and Historical Preservation Team is involved in helping maintain the historical integrity of the work.

“Cleanup and restoration will likely take months,” said FEMA historic preservation specialist Sara Sanders. “The first step will be a thorough archaeological examination and sifting of the soil from root balls of the fallen trees to determine what artifacts and relics may have been disturbed.” 

To establish the scope of the archaeology studies in the cemeteries, FEMA’s historical preservation team worked with the City of Raleigh, the City of Raleigh Historical Cemeteries Advisory Board, North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office and the Raleigh City Cemeteries Preservation Group. FEMA has coordinated a proposal for a locally contracted archaeological assessment of the damaged cemeteries, which must be completed before careful removal of the trees and other storm debris can start.

After cleanup is done, the dozens of damaged gravesite monuments will be repaired and erected again. The state’s historical preservation office is giving a grant to the city to assess damage to the monuments. Restoration of ornamental fencing and landscaped grounds will finish the recovery process of these historic hallowed grounds.

“The city and state agencies’ recovery process for the cemetery projects is damage assessment, using contractors where appropriate, followed by creation of Project Worksheets with FEMA help, and finally doing or contracting the restoration work,” Sanders said.

The 35-acre Mount Hope Cemetery is a historically African-American cemetery founded in 1872, when the black section of City Cemetery was declared full. It is owned by the City of Raleigh and operated by the city parks department. Mount Hope is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Raleigh City Cemetery, located on eight acres at East and Hargett Streets is the oldest public cemetery in Raleigh, established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1798. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places. The buried include founding fathers of Raleigh, legislators, African-Americans, both free and slave, and stone masons from England and Scotland who helped build the State Capitol building. Its iron fence once surrounded the State Capitol grounds to keep out stray livestock.

O’Rorke Catholic Cemetery is the oldest remaining Catholic historic site in Raleigh.  It was donated in 1858 as a Catholic cemetery by layman...

Last Updated: 
July 8, 2017 - 10:49
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