City to take over maintenance of Meadow Lane African American Cemetery

After trying to get the city of Danville to take over maintenance of the Meadow Lane African American Cemetery, located in west Danville at the end of Kilby Lane, it looks like efforts from the Central Kentucky African American Cemetery Association, LLC, are paying off.

The city commission voted unanimously on Monday evening to take over ownership and perpetual maintenance of the cemetery following a discussion agenda item. Commissioners Denise Terry and James “J.H.” Atkins were not present at the meeting.

The next step will include City Attorney Stephen Dexter preparing a deed and “more than likely” checking the title by the next city commission meeting for final action, Dexter said.

Bill Stocker, vice president of the CKAACA, presented the request for the city to acquire the cemetery at the meeting and shared some of the history of the cemetery.

He said it is the oldest identifiable African American cemetery in Boyle County and dates back to around the 1830s, making it older than both Bellevue and Hilldale cemeteries.

“Among its dozens of known burials, there’s one of few documented internments of an enslaved man that we discovered, as well as a possibility of at least 24 more enslaved persons,” he said.

There are also many unmarked graves and some graves of Black men who served in the Civil War. According to the Meadow Lane African American Cemetery Facebook group page, the cemetery was originally a slave cemetery for the Lawson Moore plantation.

The remains of a brick house located along the bypass in Danville, across from Stuart Powell Ford, was the Moore mansion, and “Most of the folks that are buried in this cemetery built that house, brick by brick,” Stocker said.

“Many of the unidentified enslaved persons that are buried there built the houses and mansions in this community and the county, yet over the past years they have been forgotten,” he said. “Meadow Lane Cemetery is important to the history and culture of the African American community, and as such, it is also significant to others that have an interest in local history.”

Stocker said the city taking ownership of the cemetery would allow for perpetual maintenance, keeping it from becoming overgrown. In 1992, a group first went into the cemetery and cleaned it up, but it kept becoming overgrown and different groups had to keep cleaning it up. In January 2019, the CKAACA took ownership of the cemetery so it could receive the care it needed.

Now that the city will be taking over, Stocker said it’s “wonderful” because he’s 70 years old, “and the other members are also older,” and there will come a time when they will no longer be physically able to maintain the property.

“I’ve been mowing it by myself, and there’s going to come a time when I can’t do that anymore,” he said.

In the summer of 2019 Stocker also placed crosses on graves marked with field stones. He made the crosses out of materials purchased by the Danville-Boyle County African American Historical Society. Stocker said sometimes stones were placed at graves instead of headstones because families couldn’t afford headstones.

“Sadly, we’ll never know who is buried in graves marked with a rock only,” Stocker said. “Placing crosses at the graves was done out of respect to the people buried in the cemetery as we felt that they deserved more recognition than just a rock.”

A couple of times in the past few years since the CKAACA has owned the cemetery, Stocker has approached the podium during the public comment portion of city commission meetings asking the city to take over maintenance. However, he said he didn’t realize at first that for action to take place, there needed to be an agenda item and formal presentation. About two months ago, he learned if he filled out an agenda form, things could start happening.

In terms of past ownership of the land, the CKAACA has been able to trace it back to Alexander Steed, who was a slave owner who owned  property in west Danville. In his will, he passed on 73 acres to his daughter, and once she and her husband died it was passed on again, and so on.

“Now, the cemetery was not noted in any deeds until 1907,” Stocker said. “In 1902, some Black gentlemen here in Danville, four of them, bought five acres, and the cemetery was in that five acres.”

When the Black men sold the land about five or six years later, they requested that the cemetery not be transferred along with the five acres. Rather, it was to be kept as a cemetery.

The cemetery itself is about half of an acre. When Commissioner Kevin Caudill asked City Engineer Josh Morgan if the city staff could take on maintenance of the property, Morgan said he has visited the property, and the city could include the property in its annual mowing contract. The city mows a couple of nearby pieces of land already.

“It wouldn’t be a big burden to add it to our maintenance contracts,” Morgan said.

City Manager Earl Coffey said in an email that the request for the city to take ownership of the cemetery came at least a year and a half ago, from memory.

“The question at the time was related to ownership and the need for the CKAACA to confirm ownership of the site,” Coffey said in the email. “This is now done, which was the big reason for the delay in its acceptance by the City.”

He said the city’s objective going forward will be “to ensure the cemetery is preserved in good condition with regular care and maintenance, likely under the City’s maintenance contract.”

“The site is historic, and the attention and care is important for its preservation,” Coffey said.