Seligman cemetery may change hands

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lack of resources to maintain grounds primary reason

The Seligman Cemetery Association recently attended a city council meeting to ask the city to take over ownership and operations of the Seligman Cemetery, which dates back to the Civil War era.

John Deans, board member and treasurer on the Seligman Cemetery Association, said the reason is because there is not enough manpower or funds to continue the upkeep and maintenance of the grounds, which includes between two and three acres on one plot, and about three acres on another empty plot that was donated for future use.

Deans, who works in Bentonville, Ark., has been on the association's board for 20 years and currently serves as treasurer, but says the responsibility has become too much for the few members left to manage.

"Before, we had a bunch of old-timers on the board and I would just kind of help when them when they needed help," he said. "They've all died now, so we're trying to manage things and with escalating costs. It's hard to do. We have a secretary and treasurer and a board who keeps tracks of the graves and general upkeep of the grounds.

"All of us on there are getting old and crippled and there's no interest from anyone else so it's hard for us to maintain it. That's when I discussed it with [Brian Nichols], the city clerk of Seligman, about the city taking control of the cemetery and the maintenance. Since it is called the Seligman cemetery and is within the city limits, it seems like they should have it."

Deans said he gave the city some paperwork and it is going to have its attorney review the proposal and see if it's feasible for the city to take ownership of the property and maintenance. Deans believes the cemetery, which has about 700 graves, many field stones with no names, dates back to Civil War times, if not before, based on records of persons buried there.

"We have an old Seligman history book that was made in 1981, when [the city] was 100 years old," Deans said. "[The cemetery] was originally a family cemetery, called the Frost Cemetery. Then, some land was given by the family and it was renamed the Seligman Cemetery. This was all before my time, but sometime around 1970, there were more changes made, and the Seligman Cemetery Association was formed around that time.

"There are two or three Civil War veterans buried in there. And, the Mountain Maid Jean Wallace -- she could foretell the future -- she's buried in our cemetery. She was from the Roaring River area."

Wallace had a homestead in Roaring River at the time CCC workers camped there, who looked out for her bringing food and supplies, and asked her for help finding lost articles or foretelling the future.

Expenses are the main issue which led the association to ask the city for help. Dean said the association recently had to come up with $1,000 to remove a tree because they were afraid it might fall over on the houses adjacent to the cemetery.

"Just the costs of grounds and upkeep is the main thing," he said. "The cemetery has no indebtedness. It's just a matter of our operating expenses. We have three sources of income: we sell the grave lots, take up donations on Memorial Day and we have some CDs at the bank that we get the interest off of. We have our association meeting the first week of next month, so we'll do some discussion then to see if anybody's got any other ideas but there doesn't seem to be anything else."

Deans said it takes about four to five hours to mow and weed-eat each week, and they just do not have the volunteers or funds to do what needs to be done to maintain the property. Even though there would be added expense and responsibility to maintain the cemetery, the city was open to the idea of taking ownership of the property.

"They seemed pretty receptive to it, but it will depend on what the attorney's going to say," Deans said.

Standing the way of a city takeover are two things: a property line discrepancy, on which property taxes have not been paid since 2010, and a deed issue.

"There was a question about the boundary lines, and there's an angle of one corner of the cemetery that there's a trailer on, and the question is, is that corner part of our property line?" Deans said. "An alderman looked at the platte, and the boundaries include that corner, but the person who owns the trailer said it's his. If they don't own it and the cemetery does, no property taxes will be owed because we're a tax-exempt entity."

The other issue is how to transfer ownership. The current name on the deed is Chester Browning, who has been deceased for 20 years, Deans said.

"That's one of the questions the city attorney will have to find an answer to," he said. "This is something that's been handed down from person to person and I don't know how it all began. I've been associated with the older members, and they did what they could and we did what we could.

"But, it's a different time. I hope the city can take it over, which it's going to be an added expense on the city, too. I know sometimes there are grants available, and the city has done a good job of finding available money to use.

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