A project to add new entryways and a perimeter fence to Greenwood Cemetery came with an added perk for a group of volunteers interested in its history.
They are using survey documents prepared for the city of Waco project to help them map every grave in the cemetery and create a database and interactive digital map they eventually plan to make available through the city website.
Senior parks planner Tom Balk said because he is working on the project, it is not uncommon for him to get calls from family members hoping for directions to a grave. Sometimes he happens to know, but those instances are few and far between.
“That information is lost to history, currently,” Balk said. “We don’t have paper records of who’s buried where.”
Bill Buckner, founder of the McLennan County Cemetery Interest Group, approached Eric Pena with the city’s information technology department about using the survey documents prepared for the fence and entryway project.
“We have a lot of tools at our disposal. There’s a lot we can do with digital mapping and apps,” Pena said. “We worked together with him, and with the group.”
The city project is tentatively slated to start in March and wrap up by June. It will add steel arches bearing the cemetery’s name at each of its three entrances, a fence around its perimeter and updated signage to help visitors navigate.
In the meantime, the volunteers have been at work. They work in pairs to map out the graves on an app, inputting information engraved on grave markers, the condition of the marker and any other relevant information.
Apala Wilson said she and a group of about a dozen volunteers divided the cemetery into 21 segments to organize their work. In the past year, they have successfully mapped one segment.
“We could use more (volunteers),” Wilson said. “You have to become a volunteer through the library system and become an approved volunteer.”
She started mapping graves about 15 years ago because of her love of genealogy.
“You look at a stone, and you know there’s a story,” Wilson said. “There’s a person there. You want to remember those that lived before you, and this is just kind of a way to honor them. It’s history, so we want to preserve it.”
She said she is used to mapping graves with long spreadsheets and hand-drawn sketches.
“Now with this program, it’s really fantastic,” Wilson said. “After we finish this one, we’re going to wish all of our cemeteries were in a similar database.”
A patchwork of associations, estates and funeral homes have owned pieces of Greenwood Cemetery over the years, complicating maintenance efforts and overdue updates.
“Throughout history, over 100 years or so, ownership got convoluted and confusing and care began to suffer,” Balk said.
By the time the city gained the authority and necessary permissions, one of its first orders of business was to remove a fence in 2016 that segregated black and white sections.
The seven bids submitted for the upcoming perimeter fence and entryway project were opened Thursday. The low bid, from HCS Inc., came in at $296,830, and the high bid, from K. Tillman Construction LLC, came in at $731,444.
Those totals include an alternate request for a third ornamental archway over the entryway facing Business Highway 77, which will serve as a utility entrance.
“In its current configuration, most people are going to be accessing from the downtown side of the cemetery, but its greatest visibility may be from Business 77,” Balk said. “We’re able to get all three, which is a great value to the community and does greater aesthetic justice to the cemetery.”