Chapter 6:

Development of Grounds, Facilities, and Services

Nicol was succeeded on the day of his retirement by thirty-year-old Richard F. Allison, horticulturist at Dr. and Mrs. Ogden M. Edwards' famous Walnut Hall Farm on the Newtown and Iron Works pikes. A native of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Allison had come to Transylvania University on a ministerial scholarship, but after two years he transferred to the University of Kentucky, where he graduated with a major in ornamental horticulture in 1936. He was so highly recommended for the position at the cemetery by Dr. Thomas Poe Cooper, dean of the College of Agriculture, that he was hired by the board the same day.

The first two superintendents had developed the cemetery as a carefully landscaped, parklike "city of the dead," and Allison continued in this tradition. To it he added a new dimension, planting avenues of flowering trees and shrubs and creating garden areas.

He was aided by James A. Sievewright, a native of Barre, Vermont, who had come to the cemetery in 1920 as assistant superintendent under Nicol. Allison also was assisted by his wife, Clara Hunley Allison, whom he had married in 1937 and who served the cemetery company as secretary.

His beautification of the grounds began in 1937, when he planted dogwood trees along both sides of the main drive, creating a spectacle which each spring draws thousands of visitors to the cemetery. Besides pink and white dogwoods and trees grafted to bear both colors, Allison set out ornamental cherry, crabapple, magnolia, and other flowering trees and shrubs to provide spectacular color throughout the growing season. Garden areas were with tulips, jonquils, irises, and other plants were placed in appropriate spots around the cemetery, and one plot near the northeastern boundary of the grounds now is a project of the Iris Society of Central Kentucky.

A major undertaking was the establishment in 1963 of a formal garden which takes up an entire section below the lower lake. It was inspired by the famous Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, which Allison had visited the year before. Here the entire area was laid out in flower beds, a lily pool, walks, and a bridge. Shrubs, which in some cases were as much as eleven feet across, were moved from other parts of the cemetery where they were no longer needed. Boxwood, taxus, and yew were planted, and thousands of bulbs and annual plants were set out to give a continuous array of blooms from early spring to the chrysanthemums of fall. Baskets hanging from the branches of trees contain begonias of several varieties and trailing lantanas.

To the greatest possible extent, all shrubs, flowers, and trees are produced in the cemetery's own cold frames and nursery area, permitting the cemetery to have a great number and selection of plants at a considerable savings in cost. The cemetery also provides the begonias which lot owners can have planted in front of their family monuments and markers.

Another innovation was the creation of sections accented with hedges and flower beds and containing mostly two-grave lots. These include the Garden of Memories (Section 44), the Garden of Consolation and of Peace (Section 45), the Garden of Tranquility (Section 46), and the Garden of Rest (Section 47). An increasingly mobile and transient population in Lexington helped cause a need for small lots.

The two lakes, which were part of the cemetery from its early days, gave Allison another opportunity for beautification. Besides the swans and ducks which traditionally have populated the lakes, he introduced from time to time exotic waterfowl, which, however, did not always thrive.

As the result of Allison's efforts, by the time of his retirement the Lexington Cemetery enjoyed a national reputation. It was recommended as a place to be visited in the Southeastern Tour Guide of the American Automobile Association, the Mobil Oil Company Tour Guide, the National Association of State Garden Clubs' An Invitation to Visit America's Gardens, and the prestigious Handbook of American Gardens, published by the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

Richard Allison's horticultural work was not limited to the Lexington Cemetery. At the request of Governor Bert T. Combs he laid out the floral mall in front of the State Capitol at Frankfort and a rose garden in the rear. He was a landscape consultant to Transylvania University, a member of the city's Beautification Board, and a professional cemetery designer and landscape advisor with a national reputation. He also served as president of both the Southern and the American Cemetery associations. His tenure at the cemetery was marked by an increasing use of motorized labor-saving equipment, one of the most important of which was a mechanical gravedigger, the first of its kind in Kentucky, which was acquired in November 1951.

A major improvement was the remodeling in 1958 of the main building at the cemetery entrance. Its chapel, in which no service had been held for more than fifteen years, was converted into an office, and a large fireproof addition was built to safeguard records and provide more desk and file space.

When the chapel was eliminated, three handsome stain-glass windows were removed and given to the Episcopal Bishop of Lexington, the Rt. Rev. William R. Moody, who was planning the establishment of new mission churches in suburban areas. Two of the windows had been installed in the 1890 chapel by the cemetery company in memory of Madison C. Johnson, a founder of the cemetery, and Abram T. Skillman, the first president. The third had been given in 1892 in memory of D. D. Bell, an early president, by members of his family. Permission to donate this last window, which had been made by Tiffany's, was given by Mrs. Clara Bell Walsh, a daughter. When St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church was erected on the Clay's Mill Pike in 1964, the three windows were installed there, where they remained until 1987. The congregation then moved to a new building and the windows were placed in storage.

James Sievewright, the assistant superintendent for thirty-nine years, retired April 1, 1959, and was succeeded by Robert F. Wachs, who had been an employee of the cemetery for three years.

Allison continued as superintendent until December 31, 1973, when he and his wife retired. He was active in community affairs until his unexpected death on December 5, 1984. Over the years he had served on the boards of the Salvation Army, the Audubon Society, the Central Kentucky Concert and Lecture Association, the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, the Lexington Philharmonic Society, and other organizations. He was an officer of the Second Presbyterian Church and for forty-five years was a soloist at Temple Adath Israel. On the afternoon of April 19, 1986, a memorial statue and bronze plaque were dedicated to the memory of the former superintendent. They are located, fittingly, in the garden area which he had established twenty-three years earlier.

Charles S. Bell, during his superintendency, lived in a house on West Main Street opposite the cemetery entrance, and in 1915 the trustees erected a two-story residence on that site for Nicol. When Allison, became superintendent on December 1, 1936, he lived there with his predecessor. At the time of Allison's marriage, however, Nicol moved to 349 Madison Place, and the Allisons made their home across from the cemetery until late 1976, when the property was sold to the Lexington Granite Company.

Wachs, when he became an employee of the cemetery, moved to a small house on the Leestown Pike, part of which is said to have been a tollgate house in early days, opposite the present Palumbo Lumber and Manufacturing Company. Sievewright lived in a somewhat larger residence at 1027 West Main, formerly the Price house, until his retirement, when Wachs moved there. Both these houses, on the Lexington Cemetery Company property, are believed to predate the establishment of the cemetery itself, and both have been enlarged and renovated.

At the time Robert Wachs was promoted to succeed Allison, Daniel Scalf, who had joined the office staff in 1970, was named assistant manager.  When Wachs took over management of the cemetery on January 1, 1974, he was thoroughly familiar with its operation. He had been an employee since July 1, 1956, and assistant manager for fifteen years.  Similarly, Scalf had been with the cemetery company for more than four years before he became assistant manager, and earlier he had worked part-time on the grounds. The transition was a smooth one.

Wachs continued the policies of his predecessor, both in the horticultural aspects of the cemetery and in taking advantage of technological advances in maintenance and operations and in the office. Allison had introduced the use of the mechanical gravedigger, power mowers, and similar improvements, and Wachs acquired other and more modern equipment as it became available. This equipment included grass trimmers, which made it easier to clip around the stones and monuments, and leaf blowers and vacuum collectors, which eliminated most of the tedious hard raking.

The growth of Lexington's population continued, requiring the cemetery trustees and staff to open four new sections, three of them located in the western part of the grounds. Also, to meet a demand for above-ground entombment, the company constructed its first mausoleum, containing 204 crypts. It was dedicated to Charles S. Bell, the first superintendent, at ceremonies on October 23, 1975; and, appropriately, the bell which originally hung in the tower of the office building was moved to the new structure. In earlier days it had tolled when funeral processions entered the gate.

Cremation had been increasing in popularity, and the Lexington Cemetery on August 28, 1978, opened the first crematory in Kentucky outside of Jefferson County. It also constructed in the lower level of the office structure a columbarium with 2,102 niches in which urns containing cremated remains could be placed. Previously, when bodies were sent to Louisville for cremation, the cemetery received approximately fifty-five receptacles a year for burial, while the number now had increased to more than eighty-five. These include an average of thirty each year containing the remains of persons whose bodies had been willed or donated to the University of Kentucky Medical Center for research. The crematory serves a wide area of central and southeastern Kentucky, with more than 200 cremations a year.

A third major improvement was the erection of the Lexington Mausoleum, which opened January 22, 1983. It contains 660 crypts for caskets and eighty niches as well as a small chapel in which services can be held in inclement weather.

The cemetery's policy of growing its own trees, shrubs, and flowers for replacement and beautification has been carried on. In 1976 a new greenhouse complex and storage building were erected. Also in 1976 the Lexington Cemetery, which already had gained national recognition, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Henry Clay monument, included in the listing because of its location, was also placed on the register individually. In 1987 the cemetery was one of only three sites in Kentucky selected for inclusion in The American Garden Guidebook, a new publication listing outstanding botanical gardens, parks, and arboreta in eastern North America.

Trees of many varieties had existed on the original Lexington Cemetery property in such density that many had to be cut down to clear space for the sections and lots, but Charles S. Bell had been careful to save magnificent trees of many years' growth and trees of many species. Some remain today. These trees have been popular attractions at the Lexington Cemetery since its earliest days, and special care has been given the trees, shrubs, and floral areas.

The cemetery is recognized as an arboretum and has received national acclaim in many publications. Students in horticulture and landscape architecture at the University of Kentucky and other schools visit it. An authoritative, illustrated pamphlet, A Tree Walk in the Lexington Cemetery, is available at the office; it lists forty-two trees, each of which is marked with a metal plate. Only two, bald cypresses, are of the same variety. The tour is divided into two parts, the first largely in the vicinity of the Henry Clay monument and the second more wide ranging. It includes a spectacular American linden, or basswood, on the north side of the Clay memorial, the second largest tree of its kind in the United States. This tree was recognized by the Kentucky chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture on April 8, 1988, as a living plant that was growing when the Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787.

One of the most interesting trees in the arboretum is the gingko, a species dating back to prehistoric times in the Orient and said to have been brought to Kentucky by Henry Clay. Another is the Kentucky coffeetree, the only tree bearing the name of this state and the official tree of the commonwealth.

Where there are trees, shrubs, and flowers, there are birds, and the Lexington Cemetery is widely known as a sanctuary. It is entirely reasonable to believe that the old Boswell's Woods was a paradise for birds of many, many varieties, some of which no longer are found in this area. Among them might have been the passenger pigeon, which existed in Kentucky in tremendous numbers but is now extinct. The English sparrow and the starling would not have been seen in the cemetery in the early days, for it was only later that they were introduced into this country.

A leaflet prepared by the Audubon Society of Kentucky for the cemetery list nearly 190 different varieties of birds that may be found there, some common, some occasionally seen, and some that are but rarely viewed. In late 1986, for example, a black-throated gray warbler was spotted in the cemetery and its identity verified by a number of knowledgeable people. Common in the West, the black-throated gray warbler is a very unusual visitor to this region.

Bird watchers frequent the cemetery, especially in the spring and fall months, and for decades school children have been made bird walks there. On the two lakes the ducks and geese have provided amusement for children for many generations, and parents often bring their youngsters to feed the waterfowl and the large goldfish that swim just below the surface.

The Lexington Cemetery today is much as Andrew Jackson Downing, in his mid-nineteenth-century Horticulturist, envisioned a parklike rural cemetery should be. On pleasant days amateur and professional botanists, historians, and genealogists, and many others, as well, may be seen strolling among the trees and the monuments of the quiet grounds. The cemetery is a living place.

The increased use of the cemetery necessarily created a greater amount of office work and record keeping, resulting in 1986 in major remodeling of the main building. The floor plan was revised to provide additional office space and greater privacy for patrons discussing the purchase of lots and burial arrangements. While this work was in progress a trailer placed across the driveway was used as an office.

During Allison's tenure a card-file system of recording interments was inaugurated, with all burials from the beginning in 1849 filed alphabetically, and plat cards of the individual lots were made. Not only did these enable the staff to locate information more quickly than was possible with the old record books, but they also proved to be a remarkably useful source of facts for genealogists and historians.

Since 1984 computerization of the records has been carried on, and by mid-1989 all old and current information had been recorded and made almost instantly available. A file of newspaper obituaries of persons interred in the cemetery also is being kept for the convenience of researchers.

The Kentucky General Assembly in 1984 passed a law allowing cemeteries to reclaim and sell unused parts of lots in which there had been no burials for more than a hundred years, provided no heirs of the original lot owners could be located and court approval was obtained. The Lexington Cemetery, which sought passage of this legislation, has made use of this law to recover part of the older section. The law applies primarily to Lexington and Louisville.

The officials of the Lexington Cemetery Company today remain a carefully chosen group, well prepared not only for their immediate responsibilities, but also for leadership in their profession. They have contributed in significant ways, also, to constructive activities and causes in the community. Robert Wachs, whose family moved to Lexington from Covington in 1933, graduated from the University of Kentucky with a B.S. degree in ornamental horticulture and served two years in the army before he was employed by the cemetery on July 1, 1956. He has visited cemeteries in forty-eight states and most of the outstanding floral gardens in North America. He has been active in the Kentucky, Southern, and American Cemetery associates and is a member of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta.

Daniel R. Scalf graduated from the University of Kentucky with a B.A. degree in education and taught chemistry and biology at Millersburg Military Institute for two years before joining the cemetery management staff in 1970. Scalf has been active in state, regional, and national associations, having served from 1983 to 1988 on the Southern Cemetery Association's board of directors and three terms as its secretary. He also has been vice-president and president of the Kentucky Cemetery Association and is a member of its board of directors.

Mark C. Durbin joined the office staff in 1983. A native of Lexington, he had worked part-time on the cemetery grounds while attending high school and college and became full-time grounds employee in the fall of 1981. He was graduated from the University of Kentucky with a B.A. degree in business administration. Durbin is a third-generation member of the cemetery company staff. His father, Ralph C. Durbin, has worked at the cemetery since 1956 and was a member of the Lexington Fire Department from 1958 until his retirement as battalion chief in 1987.  Mark Durbin's grandfather, R. Woodford Botkin, was an employee of the cemetery company from 1935 to 1981, when he retired after forty-three years as foreman. He died October 12, 1986, at the age of seventy-four.

The perpetual care of the cemetery and graves is guaranteed by trust funds that total over $9 million. The 1848 charter of the Lexington Cemetery Company provided that income must, "in all time to come, be applied to ornament and improve the grounds and defray incidental expenses." From the beginning the trustees set aside funds for future maintenance and in 1938, at the suggestion of Superintendent Allison, they assigned 50 percent of the income from the sale of lots and grave spaces to the trust fund.

Since the early 1980s the board has allocated 60 percent of the proceeds from the sale of lots, graves, and niches to a general trust fund. This is three times the amount required by state law. There are also special care endowment trust funds to which owners of lots and graves may contribute if they desire services in addition to the routine maintenance.