Location, Construction and Drainage of Roads in Cemeteries

Date Published: 
September, 1892
Original Author: 
Matthew P. Brazill
Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 6th Annual Convention

The subject of cemetery roads has been discussed in three papers read at the conventions held at Brooklyn, Boston and Detroit by some of our most experienced members, and hundreds of books have been written by engineers from time to time, on roads generally. Still the subject is open for discussion as a matter of primary importance.
We may view it from different standpoints and try to throw new light on the subject according to our various experiences, but we have all to be governed by those well established principles laid down and in use by our predecessors. This paper, though not intended to enlighten our experienced members, is offered as an addition to the records of our Association, to assist the young and new members on entering into our profession, to guide them in the location, construction and surface drainage of roads in cemeteries. It is the result of personal experience and practice, as also an endorsement of the papers already written for the Association mentioned above, and which I would recommend to our young members to read carefully, as they contain many useful hints which are the result of long experience, and prepared by very competent gentlemen.

In the location of roads, the cemetery superintendent has two schools to study from, the landscape engineer and the real estate man. The first is a sentimental character, with more or less of romance in his makeup, who seeks out the most beautiful and romantic routes, with a view of producing the best landscape effects; while the latter is a close observer, studying how he is to lay out his ground so as to get the most money out of it.

For the location of roads, the study of the landscaper is his principal model, but always bearing in mind the influence of this location on the value of lots. We sometimes find a serious mistake made in having too many roads. In this, a great deal of ground is wasted and a great deal of unnecessary expense incurred in construction and maintenance, and the whole plan is unsightly and un-picturesque. The fewer roads the better, consistent with the proper development of the grounds.

As this is not the place to discuss the art of landscaping, we will suppose our superintendent is already familiar with that beautiful study before he attempts to lay out cemetery roads, otherwise he is very apt to blunder in the locations, and ought employ some gentleman of experience to do this work for him, as so much depends on the harmony of the two. In flat or level grounds, locations are easier than in rolling or undulating grounds.
We will commence our locations from the entrance. This road should be straight for a few hundred feet, as conveniences will permit, and not less than forty feet wide, and in large and much frequented cemeteries, where a large number of funerals is the rule, fifty feet wide will be an improvement.  A wide road at the entrance, a well-kept lawn on either side with groups of flowers or shrubs and a background of ornamental trees has a very imposing effect. This is the frontispiece to the cemetery, making what is called, a first good impression. After leaving this main avenue the roads should deflect in graceful curves, dividing the grounds into sections, three or four hundred feet wide at their widest points. Smaller sections are a mistake. Short, sharp curves should never be used except to connect two large curves. Regular curves should also be avoided, as they remind us of the railroad and are too mathematical for rural purposes. What the engineer terms a compound curve is generally used in parks and cemeteries. We must also avoid the too frequent changing of direction, as it gives a zigzag and confusing impression. Sometimes a short curve or change is necessary, when we want to produce some agreeable surprise, for effect, in the landscape. But as a general rule the long graceful curve is the best for appearance, and makes the best border for lots.

In studying curves, let us take those that nature furnishes us with, such as the leaves of trees and flowers, the undulation of natural hills, and we have grace and beauty and variety. As we are to produce rural effects, let us study rural models. Valley roads look well, as the ground slopes upward on either side, which is very desirable for lots, and looking down on them from the crest of the hill, the effect is picturesque. There is economy in occupying these all up with roads, though it may not be al ways best for the landscape. To layout roads, having decided where your road is to be located, drive a stake at every one or two hundred feet apart, on the line of the intended route. Having satisfied yourself that these stakes mark the principal points you want to pass through, complete your line with stakes driven twenty or twenty-five feet apart. Look up and down your line from both ends until you are satisfied you have the curve laid down that you intended, and that the stakes are placed at equal distances, for this is important, otherwise the eye will be deceived by irregular distances. The centre line being now complete, measure half the width of the road to the right and left from the stakes, for the sides. You will generally find that some of these side stakes are out of curve. This is caused by not getting the correct right angle distance from the point of tangent, hook along your side lines as you did along your centre line, and by changing a few stakes the curve will be easily adjusted. Some parties recommend the laying out of one side line first. This is a mistake. Engineers layout the centre line first, and they are the best authority. It is easier to study and form a conception of one line than of two. Get one right and the others must follow as parallels. It is impossible to formulate rules to meet all the little difficulties that may arise in locations. But the foregoing general rules may be followed with safety.

With regard to laying out roads with instruments; this may apply in laying out regular curves, such as railroads, etc., but they are practically of no use in laying out cemetery roads. A trained eye and a metallic tapeline are very essential in this work.


Having located your road, the next step is the grading and construction. The grade of a road is controlled entirely by the surrounding grounds. If the ground is level the grade must follow the surrounding surface with sufficient clay removed to make room for the material of which the road is to be made. The crown or center of the road, when finished, should be on the same level as the surrounding lawn, with an incline on the sides to form water tables or gutters. Flat roads do not look well. A slight roll or curve in the cross section looks best even in walks. Again, flat roads retain the water which collects in little pools, and tend to wear out the road quickly.

In flat, or nearly flat grades, about one or two in a hundred feet, the incline in the cross section should be one-third of an inch to a foot; while in steep grades of about four feet to a hundred, the cross-section should be half an inch to a foot. This increase in the curve of the cross-section is necessary in order to throw the water from heavy rains to the sides, which would otherwise run down the center of the road, making what are called ruts, which soon destroy the surface coating. The reverse of this rule is the practice in street paving and for very good reasons.

In rolling grounds where steep grades are frequent, the grade cannot follow the rule as in flat lawns. After deciding on an easy and judicious grade, the surrounding grounds must be graded down to conform to the roadway, with gracefully sloping borders on either side. Abrupt terraces must be avoided where possible, if lots are to be sold on the road front. If only used for landscape effect or for vaults, then abrupt terraces are ornamental. Abrupt terraces with angular edges are not to be recommended, but rather a gracefully curved slope. As nearly all cemetery grading is done by cemetery men and teams, it will not be necessary to go into the computation of quantities for grading. Sometimes the sub-grade, or clay surface, is shaped to the same curve as the finished roadway is to have. This is perhaps the most economical plan. Again the sub-grade is made flat, and the curved surface is formed by making the stonework higher in the centre and decreasing to the sides.  It is well before putting on the road material, to roll the sub-grade, so as to get it as compact as possible to receive the stone, filling in any hollows or irregularities which usually show on the surface after the rolling. This also gets the sub-grade in uniform condition. Some difference of opinion exists as to the weight of rollers. Those in general use now, for making streets, are not our five-tons and hauled by four horses; steam rollers are considered too heavy except in special cases. Steam rollers can be made any size or weight. I have seen some this season, at the Chicago World's Fair grounds, for rolling walks, and they were not larger than an ordinary sized baby buggy. Experienced men agree that it is better to roll a road frequently, or for an extra length of time, with a light roller, than roll it a few times with a very heavy one.

There are so many kinds of material that enter into the construction of roads, that it is impossible to mention them all here. The principal mode of construction most used in cemeteries, is generally known as the Telford plan. This has been well treated by Mr. Trangs, in his paper read at the convention held at Boston in 1890. There are various ways of treating this plan in the construction of roads; according to the means and necessities of the cemetery. The ordinary mode is to lay a rough paving of stone, from six to ten inches deep, breaking off the rough corners with a hammer, and filling in the holes on the surface with spalls or broken stone until you produce a tolerably even surface. This is the Telford foundation. In first-class roads it is customary to put different layers of broken stone, varying from four inches to a fine crushed stone about the size of ordinary gravel, and rolling each layer well as it is put on. Some of the driving roads in the northern part of New York City were made in this way. This may be too expensive, and is certainly not necessary in cemeteries.

A modified form of the Telford macadam plan will be found to serve all the requirements for cemeteries. A Telford foundation, a coat of macadam from two to three inches in size, about four or six inches thick, and a top dressing of sandy loam and gravel well rolled. Gravel makes the best top dressing. It is to a road what varnish is to a carriage. It gives a fine finish and preserves the undercoating. The whole construction of roads might be expressed in a few words. Secure a good foundation, it is as necessary to a road as a footing course is to a wall and fills a similar office. Take good care of your top dressing by renewing, rolling and sprinkling, and the work is done.

The necessity for heavy material is twofold in some climates. First, to carry heavy traffic and resist wear and tear on thoroughfares or principal roads; and second, to resist the upheavals caused by thawing frost in the early spring. Higher roads might serve the purpose in cemeteries with little traffic, and not much subject to upheavals of frost in spring.


As the nature of the soil has a great deal to do with the system of drainage to be adopted, it will be subject to changes according to location and circumstances. In sandy and gravelly soils the drainage is simple and inexpensive. The gravel beds acting as an outlet for surface water, while in clay soils it is more difficult and expensive, as the surface water has to be carried away through a regulated system of pipes and inlets. In gravel soil, a system of open catch-basins might be adopted, as described by Mr. Lovering, in his paper read at the Detroit convention, and in use at Mt. Auburn, Boston. In clay soil a graduated system of drain pipe must be laid, connecting with inlets at various distances apart, according to the roadway, and the greatest rainfall of the district. Engineers use formulas for calculating the size of pipes used in drainage in proportion to the average rainfall, and the grade and area of the surrounding surface, but this rule cannot be adopted in cemeteries, as it usually gives a result too small for cemetery purposes. Cemetery pipes have to carry a good deal of debris, such as cut grass, leaves, etc., consequently, due allowance must be made for this. The smallest pipe used should not be less than nine inches, gradually increasing the size according to the distance from the outlet. It is better to err on the side of large pipes, than to have the system choked by using them too small. The difference in price is very little, compared with the labor and annoyance attendant on cleaning away and relaying a blocked system which invariably results from using small pipes.  We have to deal with clay soil here in St. Louis, and a proper drainage system requires a special study. This may apply to other parts of the country. We must always adopt short lines, if possible, if we can get convenient outlets, as pipe laying is expensive and we must be economical consistent with an effective system. The location and size of inlets and the use of pipes and roads depends principally on the grade. In flat grades, they might be dispensed with, or at least, used at long intervals, while in steep grades they are necessary from one to two hundred feet apart. Inlets are usually built of brick or stone, with cement mortar. Sometimes iron castings are made to serve the purpose, but the simplest and most inexpensive I have seen is made of vitrified drain pipe, and which is known in the trade as a "reducer." It is made bell-shaped, and can be made any size to suit circumstances The pipes used here are from twelve to eighteen inches on the inside of the flange, reducing to six or nine inches at the smaller end to connect with the regular line of pipe by means of a T joint or a curve. It is simply an inverted pipe with the flange side turned upward, carrying an iron gratin g that fits inside of the flange. The objection to this inlet is that it has to be placed in a recess off the gutter, to prevent it being broken by heavy carriages, though it will stand some rough usage, and bear considerable weight. Small sizes are useful in draining walks. Some cemeteries use brick inlets with stone caps.  The best design of this class is in use at Spring Grove, Cincinnati. These classes of inlets are too conspicuous and are more objectionable than the ordinary grating. Gratings should be made strong enough to stand ordinary traffic of carriages, say three-fourths of an inch thick and at least two inches apart, to prevent them from being choked up with debris.

Gutters are used a good deal in some cemeteries for surface drainage. Some few use them on all their roads, as they think they are ornamental by marking and preserving the alignment of the roads, and protecting the borders from careless drivers, while preventing washes on steep grades. While I admit the use of them in steep grades, they might be dispensed with on flat grades, as a neatly trimmed grass border or lawn road looks more rural and natural than the artificial gutter. They are usually paved with cobble stone in gravel districts, while in clay districts, where limestone, etc., are generally used, they are paved with thin stone from two to four inches thick, and eight to twelve inches long. Where the stone is carefully dressed, and the paving well done in graceful lines, it is not objectionable, but rather agreeable; but a rough gutter, badly paved, has a very bad effect, and at first sight you wish you never saw it. Another objection to gutters is the expense in construction and keeping them free from weeds. The latter objection is removed if the paving is done on coal cinders and the joints granted with cement. Some recommend salt or lime, but I have found this to fail very often, especially so in wet weather, besides it is expensive if it has to be used over a large area, or for any length of time. Granitoid gutters are now most in use in our parks, and will be soon introduced into cemeteries. 

Gutters in cemeteries and parks are paved from eighteen to twenty-four inches wide on a bed of sand or cinders twelve inches deep, they usually have a dish of two or three inches, according to width. Where cinders can be obtained, they are the best for paving as they do not encourage vegetation as sand does. The cinders at the bottom of the trench might be coarse, but the cinders to receive the paving must be screened from four to six inches in depth.


A word on hitching posts, as they are a part of the furniture of a roadway; a few of our cemeteries are fortunate enough in having a very select class of patrons, and can afford to dispense with hitching posts altogether. This is best unfortunately the great majority of our cemeteries find them a necessity, and make the mistake of having too many of them and too large in size, which makes them disagreeably conspicuous. The simplest and most appropriate I have seen are in use at Graceland, Chicago. They are made of two-inch gas pipe, about two feet six inches high, with a ring for hitching, on top. The post is leaded into a stone about twelve inches cube, and covered under the surface. Another is a dressed block of stone about twelve inches cube with a ring attached. This can be moved from one part of the road to another and away from the borders.

When at Chicago last year, I asked one of our old experienced members what he thought of the hitching posts used at Graceland, and he answered that he did not notice any. This is just the desirable result. Hitching posts should be as inconspicuous as possible.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 6th Annual Convention
Baltimore, MD
September 27, 28 and 29, 1892