City secures grant for cemetery

July 5, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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One of Newcastle’s best kept secrets is hidden along 129th Avenue Southeast. Travel down the road nestled between the Newcastle Library and Valley Medical Center, and you will eventually come upon an important relic of the city’s past.

There is arguably no greater symbol of the city’s rich coal mining history than the Newcastle Historic Cemetery, which serves as the resting place for many of the miners.

The 2.2-acre cemetery was established in the late 1880s. King County designated it a historical landmark in 1982, and the city of Newcastle took ownership of the site in 2001.

Compared to other cemeteries its age, the Newcastle burial ground is in relatively good shape, said Mayor Rich Crispo, the Newcastle Historical Society treasurer. That’s not to say that the cemetery has not seen better days, though.

“Over the years, there has been a lot of vandalism and there have been a lot of things that have gone missing,” he said.

Situated on a short hill, shrouded by trees and greenery, the site requires maintenance. The Newcastle Weed Warriors group has removed extensive amounts of ivy in and around the cemetery since 2008, and hosts spring cleanups of the site.

The city recently received a King County cultural services agency 4Culture grant, which will help facilitate the creation of a preservation plan for the cemetery.

Newcastle will use the $9,850 award to create a document that will guide all future maintenance and rehabilitation plans for the cemetery.

“We are excited about the next steps for restoring and enhancing the cemetery,” said Weed Warriors President Grace Stiller, who prepared the grant application.

The document will likely set guidelines for how to take care of the monuments themselves, and possibly outline plans for getting a more accurate read of who is in the cemetery with use of ground-penetrating radar, Crispo said.

“Once the plan gets done, then we’ll go back in for another grant to actually execute the elements of the plan, and that will be the next step,” he said.

If the plan is done well, King County expects to use it as a model of preservation for all of the area’s older cemeteries, Crispo said.

The cemetery is now locked behind a fence, where vandals cannot get to it, but people who have family buried there do have access to it. The city does open it to the public during holidays and community events, such as Newcastle Days.

“If you really are interested in history, cemeteries are a great teller of the tale,” Crispo said. “If you’re really going to look at history, you’ve got to look at all the aspects of it. The living, the dying and the births.”

Crispo has spent a lot of time in the cemetery, viewing the gravestones, cleaning the area and just getting “a feel” of the history that the site exudes.

“Cemeteries always have a feeling,” he said. “I’ve been to many cemeteries and just like going to church, you walk into church and you get a feeling. I just go and try to visualize what it was like all those years ago.”

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