published Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Expansion to extend life of Chattanooga National Cemetery

Jennifer Eiv, employee for Spanish Springs Construction, guides a concrete top into place after hand painting the matching top number on the inner wall of a crypt in "field GG" Friday at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Jennifer Eiv, employee for Spanish Springs Construction, guides a concrete top into place after hand painting the matching top number on the inner wall of a crypt in "field GG" Friday at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Photo by Tim Barber.

FAST FACTS

Opened in 1863 to bury casualties of the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga.

Final resting place for more than 44,000 veterans.

Includes graves from both sides of the Civil War and of prisoners of war from World Wars I and II.

Source: National Parks Service

Dirt piles and new crypts at Chattanooga National Cemetery signal decades more use for the local treasure.

Though it previously was scheduled to close in 2015, work that began two years ago and is scheduled to finish this year will extend the life of the cemetery to at least 2046.

And local veterans groups and political leaders are working to add 20-25 more acres to the site.

Cemetery Director Deborah Kendrick said the first phase of the current expansion, a section next to the Holtzclaw Avenue entrance, added 1,280 graves. Fewer than 600 of those crypts are open.

That work started in 2010.

A much larger addition, the flat portion of land at the corner of Bailey and Holtzclaw avenues, will add 4,471 graves. That portion of construction is budgeted for $3 million, Kendrick said.

A wall for cremated remains, called a columbarium, will offer 1,618 niches for remains at a budgeted cost of $1 million.

The wall could be ready for services as early as August, Kendrick said.

Rows of crypts ready for installation at the cemetery mean workers will be able to conduct more stable and efficient burials.

The concrete crypts are 3 feet by 7 feet, 8 inches. They are buried under 2 feet of dirt. When a grave is needed, workers can simply remove the dirt, open the crypt lid and perform the interment.

Previous burials required digging a new grave once the cemetery was notified of the service. Weak dirt walls could collapse between graves, requiring more maintenance than with the new crypts, according to Chattanooga Times Free Press archives.

  • photo
    Derek May, employee for Spanish Springs Construction, uses a dozer to move earth at the Chattanooga National Cemetery Friday to make room for approximately 4,500 concrete crypts. "They will be covered with two-feet of dirt until they are needed," May said from his seat on his dozer.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Though the work will add decades to the usefulness of the popular site, local veterans groups continue battling to add more space to the Civil War-era cemetery.

Noah Long, past chairman of the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council, said the council and local politicians have pushed to add 20 to 25 acres of land to the site's southern border.

Groups have received commitments from Chattanooga and Hamilton County government officials that if any neighboring properties are seized for delinquent taxes, they can be held for possible cemetery expansion, Long said.

Negotiations are ongoing to obtain the nearby railroad right-of-way land that borders the cemetery, he added.

Long applauded work by the cemetery officials to add to the site's use through the internal crypt work.

But he noted that careful planning is key to keeping the site beautiful.

Placing crypts on the periphery of the cemetery preserves its circular design, he said.

"We don't want to do to our cemetery what they did to Nashville," Long said. "I mean, there is a grave on every square inch of that property."

Additional land that would further lengthen the cemetery's use could benefit veterans of current conflicts.

"This is for those serving now," Long said.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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