Maintaining a 150-Year-Old Landmark

Date Published: 
March, 1999
Original Author: 
Daniel R. Scalf
President and General Manager, Lexington Cemetery Company, Lexington, Kentucky.
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, March 1999


The Lexington Cemetery Company in Lexington, Kentucky, was chartered by the state legislature on February 5, 1848, and the first burial was made October 2, 1849. Since that time, the cemetery has grown from the original 40 acres known as Boswell's Wood Lot to a 170-acre landmark noted for its beautiful grounds, lakes, formal flower gardens and arboretum. This combination of elements requires an intense maintenance schedule year round. While every cemetery is different, many of you-particularly operators of historic cemeteries-may find it useful to compare your basic maintenance needs and solutions with those at Lexington.

Lexington Cemetery is a not-for-profit traditional cemetery with over 60,000 interments and almost that many monuments and markers. The majority of the memorials project above the turf and require trimming each and every time the grass is mowed. The grounds are heavily wooded, producing an abundance of leaves each fall, not to mention the need to trim limbs and remove damaged wood following storms. I hope you are starting to get a picture of the potential maintenance problems that can arise in the operation of an old historical cemetery.

The primary grounds management situations we address are grass mowing and trimming, leaf removal, tree care and shrub trimming. For each of these tasks there are two keys to ensuring proper maintenance: The first and foremost is skilled, well trained personnel, and the second is good, properly maintained equipment.

Grass Mowing and Trimming
Grass mowing is a continuous operation for approximately six months in Kentucky, from March through October. We use full-time, experienced employees as our mower operators. This assures us of workers who take pride in their work and take care of the equipment assigned to them. We do use seasonal staff as trimmer operators.

Each mower operator is responsible for the general care of his or her mower, i.e., changing the oil, greasing all moving parts, keeping the air filters clean and sharpening the blades. We have a mechanic on staff who takes care of repairs when needed. It is extremely important that each operator advise the mechanic of a problem as soon as it is detected to enable him to make minor repairs before a more serious problem occurs.

We have approximately 130 acres under our regular mowing schedule. The schedule is such that we are able to completely mow the cemetery every eight to 10 days. The remaining 40 acres-the cemetery's undeveloped area-are mowed about every 20 days using a large tractor-drawn mower.

We cover the grounds using four regular mower operators and four trimmer operators. In our older sections, we use mowers that have a 60-inch cutting width, while in our newer sections, which have more open areas, we use 72-inch cutting mowers. These mowers have enabled us to keep the same number of employees assigned to mowing even though we have increased the number of developed acres over the years. Two to three weeks prior to Memorial Day, we work 10- to 11-hour days so the grounds will be well manicured for the Memorial Day weekend.

Note that these same employees also are involved in funeral services. Therefore, each employee devotes an average of six to 12 hours per week to making burials. Our mowing schedule begins in spring and continues until leaves start to fall in mid to late October, when we turn our attention to leaf removal.


Leaf Removal
The removal of leaves is our next most labor-intensive operation. Can you imagine raking 130 acres of leaves? You are saying, "Surely you don't rake your leaves?" And you're right, we don't. However, there was a time when every leaf that fell was raked by hand and picked up manually as well. Thankfully, someone invented blowers and vacuums.

Experience tells us that all the leaves do not fall in the space of a few days but rather over several weeks. We start leaf removal as soon as they begin to drop and normally finish just in time for Christmas, when families start placing their wreaths and other holiday remembrances.

We have seven employees using blowers to blow all the leaves to the driveways. Next, a crew of three picks up the leaves using a large vacuum, which shreds and shoots them into a covered dump wagon. The leaves are dumped at the rear of the cemetery in one of our undeveloped areas, where they are allowed to compost. We are trying to turn the leaves with a backhoe (however, not very efficiently) to speed the composting process. This compost then can be used in cemetery landscaping projects. Some areas require a minor amount of hand raking. This is completed by the first of January. In all, we remove an estimated 121,000 bushels of leaves annually.

Tree Care
Tree care is another area requiring a lot of attention. The cemetery is home to thousands of mature trees, so we employee three men who can climb large trees and do the necessary trimming and removal when required.

Proper trimming techniques are very important for the overall health of trees. The timely removal of dead wood is a must to allow for proper healing and reduce the invasion of disease-causing organisms. Each year approximately 100 trees need some type of pruning and another 30 to 40 need to be removed.

Improperly pruning limbs can create areas of disease introduction, leading to the decay and destruction of the tree. Training employees in proper pruning is essential if we are to have well maintained trees. Much of our staff training in this area is done on the job by our more experienced employees. In addition, we use seminars presented by the extension service and the Kentucky Association of Arborists for further training.

Again, good equipment is a major factor in obtaining good results from these employees. We do not hesitate to replace chainsaws when they become irreparable. We have our own brush chipper, which makes cleanup faster and also provides chips that can be used for mulch.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of proper safety equipment and training for all employees and especially those working in this area. These employees must know proper climbing techniques and the safe use of chainsaws and the brush chipper. In addition, we require each person to use personal protective clothing and equipment, including helmets, face shields, hearing protection, approved gloves and special chaps to cover their legs. The type of equipment they use presents many hazards, so they must be trained to use it correctly.

Shrub Trimming
Another maintenance challenge at Lexington is our approximately two miles of taxus shrub hedge, which requires annual trimming. In addition, many of the family lots in the cemetery are landscaped with shrubs, making it necessary to prune several thousand more shrubs of various types. This work normally is done in late August and September. Typically our weather turns dry during this time, allowing a brief break from mowing and thereby freeing employees to help with our trimming.

* * *

In addition to these major maintenance jobs, we have many smaller tasks we must complete throughout the year (see "By the Numbers"). All of these activities are a challenge to perform. We sometimes wonder if we will ever get them done, but somehow we always seem to complete the job on time. I guess you could say it's just a year in the life of a cemeterian.

It is fun and rewarding to stand back and see the accomplishments of a good crew of grounds employees who take pride in their work. It could not be accomplished without the entire crew working together as a team. The bottom line is having a family come into the office and comment, "Oh, how beautiful the cemetery looks." That makes it all worthwhile!

Daniel R. Scalf is president and general manager of Lexington Cemetery Company in Lexington, Kentucky.


Copyright 1999 ICFA.

Individual written contributions and advertisements appearing in International Cemetery & Funeral Management do not necessarily reflect either the opinion or the endorsement of the International Cemetery and Funeral Association.