ENOCH: Volunteers work to preserve local cemetery, more should be done

Reeves Memorial Park, Winchester’s second black cemetery, which was abandoned and turned into an impenetrable jungle over the years, is finally getting some attention.

The city’s first black burial ground — Daniel Grove Cemetery, incorporated in 1887 — is located on Muddy Creek Road within the city limits. By the 1980s, it was abandoned and had become overrun with trees, shrubs and weeds.

In the 1990s, Ed Burtner, who was then city manager, and Marie Gainey-Benton led efforts to reclaim the cemetery. The city began a multi-year cleanup of the 10-acre grounds, first removing accumulated trash dumped over the years, followed by removal of trees and brush. The city continues to maintain the cemetery and to keep the grass mowed — an accomplishment in which our community can take pride.

Reeves Memorial Park began as a commercial venture of Luther W. Reeves and was essentially in competition with Daniel Grove. In July 1939, he purchased approximately five acres across the road from Daniel Grove (on Old Muddy Creek Road). Reeves quickly had his cemetery laid out and recorded the first interment that September.

The following year, the Clark County Fiscal Court sold the county’s pauper’s graveyard to Reeves for $50. This tract, about 1.5 acres, adjoined Reeves’ property on the north.

Reeves operated his cemetery until 1953, when he sold the business to H.K. Walling, including what had been the pauper’s graveyard. Walling kept the cemetery going for a few years — the last burial he recorded was in 1956 — then apparently abandoned the property.

After Walling closed his business, the black community continued burials there for several decades. The last gravestone found is dated 1987.

Finally, the grounds became too overgrown for burials. After that time, Reeves Cemetery deteriorated further, until even visiting the grounds became impossible.

Its condition was a disgrace.

The property, presently held by an out-of-state owner, is located in the county near the city limits.

In 2009, the city cemetery board obtained a small grant to begin cleanup operations, and Public Works made some progress removing vegetation.

In 2016, Janice and Randy Martin, who live nearby, observed a number of veterans’ graves at Reeves. Janice and Randy are both retired military. After obtaining permission from the property owner, they recruited a number of volunteers from VFW Post 2728 and Right Angle 233 Masonic Lodge to begin clearing the cemetery. They have been working diligently without pay for five years.

Volunteers have cleared small trees and brush from an area of one to two acres that includes all of the gravestones found to date. Randy Martin keeps the area mowed.

There is still a large area of weeds and brush left to clear, mature trees to remove and illegal dumps to clean up. Volunteer work has slowed down considerably during the coronavirus pandemic. However, our community cannot rely on volunteers to finish this job and keep the cemetery in satisfactory condition forever. There are 362 burials that have been identified so far in Reeves Memorial Park, including the graves of 31 veterans marked with military headstones plus an unknown number of burials in the pauper’s graveyard.

Graveyards are sacred places. It is irresponsible to allow a cemetery to be operated as a for-profit business and then abandon it to be desecrated by the elements.

Kentucky state laws provide protection for our cemeteries and remedies for their violation, for example:

• Disturbance of graves or headstones is punishable as a Class D felony, and

• Legal owners of cemeteries, regardless of size, (excluding family graveyards) are responsible for maintaining cemeteries in such a manner so as to keep the cemetery free of growth of weeds, free from accumulated debris, displaced tombstones, or other signs and indication of vandalism or gross neglect.

This long-forgotten African-American cemetery needs to be restored and maintained to a high standard to honor our deceased, including the veterans of five foreign wars.

Harry Enoch, retired biochemist and history enthusiast, has been writing for the Sun since 2005.  He can be reached at henoch1945@gmail.com.