By Cindy Hadish/Homegrown Iowan
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Finish work on stone columns and what remained of the historic stone wall at Oak Hill Cemetery became more challenging when it was discovered that none of the field stones had been saved for the project.
The 120-foot-long wall, cited as a contributing historic structure in the cemetery’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, was removed in March to make way for a sidewalk that now stretches alongside the cemetery at 1705 Mount Vernon Rd. SE.
A 19-foot section of stone toward the cemetery gates also was removed, along with towering pine trees that survived the city’s devastating 2020 hurricane-strength derecho windstorm.
The historic stone wall at Oak Hill Cemetery is shown in October 2022 in Cedar Rapids. The stone wall was removed in March 2023. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
The removals were part of the city’s Mount Vernon Road project, which also includes roadway, water, sanitary sewer, traffic signal replacements, median improvements and streetscaping at a total cost of about $6.8 million.
Linda Langston, one of two Oak Hill Cemetery board members, said the bid sheet for the demolition of the stone wall included saving the field stones, along with the capstones of the wall.
Langston said she had been traveling and didn’t realize the field stone had not been saved, so the $49,000 bill was paid to Kenway Excavating of Walford, which conducted the work.
A representative of Kenway said the capstones were saved, but disagreed that saving the field stone was included in the contract. The exact disposition of the field stone was unclear.
A sidewalk, shown Dec. 7, 2023, now stretches alongside Oak Hill Cemetery, where the historic stone wall stood for more than a century. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
Relocating the wall was not financially feasible for the cemetery, Langston has said.
Tim Bader Masonry of Monticello, hired to do the finish work on the “stub” of the stone wall, completed the project this week.
“Tim had to haul in water, and hand scrubbed the old mortar off,” Langston said, noting that water and electricity are not available at the cemetery, which was established in 1854.
Bader, a fifth-generation mason who was hired after the wall had been demolished and removed, cited the absence of the field stone as another obstacle.
Tim Bader shows where a portion of the stone wall had to be removed at 15th Street SE to make up for the missing field stone. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
In order to finish off the wall stub leading to the cemetery gates, Bader said he had to remove an 8- to 10-foot portion of the stone wall along the cemetery’s driveway at 15th Street SE. That portion also needed repair, he said, but it hadn’t been in the plans to shorten the wall until it was discovered that the other field stone was gone.
“Wherever they went, they said they were unretrievable,” he said of the stones from the demolished wall that were needed for the finish work. “I had to rob Peter to save Paul.”
As that work was performed, Bader noticed the ornate iron gates at the cemetery entrance were pulling away from the stone columns, with pins broken and the gates straining the columns.
The original ornate iron gate is anchored in the stone columns at Oak Hill Cemetery. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
“That’s a lot of weight hanging there,” he said.
The architectural firm of Josselyn and Taylor had drawn the plans for the cemetery entrance, which was announced in 1908 and built in memory of Oak Hill Cemetery board member Lawson Daniels, who died in 1906, followed just three days later by board secretary Charles Weare.
Langston initially thought the historic gates might be replaced by something more functional, but this week said the plans were evolving.
A plaque remains at the entrance of Oak Hill Cemetery noting the gift from the family of Lawson Daniels.(photo/Cindy Hadish)
“I think we’ll try to figure out a way to mount the old gates to take the pressure off the stone pillars,” she said, citing new posts that could be installed to support the gates, alongside the field stone columns. “So we keep the gates, but we don’t risk the structural integrity of the pillars.”
Langston said the cemetery will request funding from the city for the gate project, which was not included in the initial plans.
The historic gate is shown at Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 7, 2023. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
Bader said he was glad the original gates will be retained.
“I think this stuff is cool,” he said, pointing to the historic iron gates, now closed and chained. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”