The Grading of Cemeteries

Date Published: 
August, 1908
Original Author: 
O.C. Simonds
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Convention

The above subject is selected in place of the one named by your committee, which included only burial sections, because the grade of one part is necessarily based upon and has to be considered in connection with the grading of other parts. The question of grading is one to which heed should be given very early in the development of a cemetery. It should indeed have great influence in the selection of a site. An ideal site, as far as the grade is concerned, would be one having a gentle undulation. If there are depressions or valleys whose central lines have grades between three and six percent and whose side slopes are not steeper than eight or ten percent, it will not be necessary to do much grading. If the land is level, the drives should be depressed in order to give a pleasing variation to the surface and good storm-water drainage. If the land is very hilly, the problem becomes more difficult. In any case before commencing the grading of sections, the location and grade of the drives should be determined. These, as you have already learned from previous meetings, should have gentle grades; that is, grades not exceeding six percent and should be placed so that every lot will be within 150 feet of the drive. Sometimes the topography will cause a variation from the above requirements. Where possible a drive should be located so that the land on either side will be above it. If two valleys lie within from 100 to 250 feet of each other and are separated by a rolling piece of ground, it may be advisable to place the drives in these valleys. The existence of certain trees may shift the location, or the existence of a lake or stream may determine that a drive shall be in a given place. At the very outset, when one starts in to do grading, he should bear in mind the fact that when the work is completed, the best soil should lie near the surface. It is sometimes necessary to raise a grade several feet and in this case good surface soil should first be removed, so that it will not be buried and thus become useless. The fixing of the location and grade of the drives determines the boundary of the various sections. The finished grade of the section at this boundary should always be flat and but little above the surface of the drive. Mr. Strauch, who was a most excellent grader, used to say that a drive should appear as though it had been a continuation of the surface on either side and had merely had the sods removed, leaving a clean-cut edge of lawn, with this edge not over an inch and a half in thickness. The line of grade may change quickly after leaving the edge of the road, and curve to a lower or higher level. When it curves to a lower level, the surface near the drive will be convex and when it curves to a higher level, the surface will be concave. Such a concave surface may be continued parallel to the drive and form a shallow channel to carry off the water from rains or melting snows. Care should be taken not to make this concavity too pronounced. As the grade ascends towards the center of the section, the curve should gradually approach a straight line and then change so as to form a convex surface. There are two dangers, one that the grade will be too much curved and so gives a weak appearance and the other that the grade will appear too straight. The position of the true line of curvature in a given case is almost as limited as is that of a straight line joining two given points. It may be shown in a general way by contour maps and cross sections, but the finishing touches must be determined on the ground, by the eye and the skill which produces a beautiful and satisfactory result is certainly allied to that of the sculptor. Mr. Strauch used to say that he did not use a line in producing the grades at Spring Grove. "The land" he would say, "must look right when the grade is finished and the only way to determine that is by using the eyesight."

It has been stated that the good soil should be saved to be placed at the surface of the land. Usually the very first operation will be to scrape all such soil from the surface of the drive and put it in piles, conveniently near. Places for these piles of good earth should be selected where the grade is not to be changed, and from which they can be easily spread over the adjacent section. Then the soil should be removed from the land where the grade is to be raised or lowered and distributed in piles along the areas that are not to be changed. This will uncover land that is too high, as well as that which is too low. After the good soil is piled up as above directed, the high land will be plowed and then scraped or hauled to the land that is too low. In making the fills, it must be remembered that the disturbed earth will settle, the settlement sometimes amounting to twenty percent of the depth of the fill. It is sometimes advisable to do the rough grading in the fall and then allow the land to remain until spring, when most of the settlement will have taken place and the finishing work can be done.

The men who do the grading will know whether to use scoop-scrapers, wheelers, dump carts, or wagons. A most useful tool is one which is sometimes called the "Maywood Scraper." It is simple in construction, being made of boards put together so as to form a surface approximately two by three feet. Handles are attached so that the boards can be held in a. vertical position, or moved forward or back. The lower edge is protected by a steel plate, at each end of which there is a gudgeon fitted into an iron, which is attached to the tongue. By pulling the handles back, the scraper cuts into and removes a layer of earth and by pushing the handles forward, the earth thus removed is deposited in a layer, which is thin or thick according to the position of the tool. A chain connecting the tongue and the handles prevent the latter from moving too far back having brought the sub-grade to a satisfactory shape, the piles of good soil should then be spread evenly over the area by means of scrapers. The surface as left by the scrapers can be still further improved with a smoother, a tool made of three planks fastened together with their edges overlapping like the clap, boards on a house. The final touches will be put on by hand raking just before seeding. Care should be taken not to disturb the ground when it is wet, especially if it contains any clay. When the grading of a section is completed, the delicacy of its lines should make it a very pleasing object to look at. They should be as graceful as the lines of a good horse, or the lines used by nature in shaping our rolling prairies, or the lines defining the margin of a leaf. After using great care and skill to produce an attractive surface, this surface should not be spoiled by allowing the owner of one lot to raise its grade above that of his neighbors’ lots. The lots should be staked out with reference to the grades, the larger lots being along the outer part of the section, where there would be the greatest inclination and where a part of its area might he covered with planting. If, however, there is a conspicuous knob in the center, or any other part of the section, it may be best to use it for one large lot.

A complete treatment of the subject of grading would include as well something about planting. The trees and shrubs have a grade, which should emphasize the grade of the land. We should not destroy the effect of a valley by planting things which will fill it up. It should, instead, be deepened by raising the height of the summits on either side with foliage.

In conclusion, let me ask the superintendents to look out of the car windows on their way home, and note the hills and valleys and the contours of the fields, as the most instructive lessons in grading must be given to the eye rather than the ear. Downing called the beauty which you will see "Nature's Smiles" and if you can put such smiles into your cemeteries you will be acting on the modern principle of making cemeteries cheerful places.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Convention
Held at Kansas City, MO
August 11, 12 and 13, 1908