The THC provides information on grant resources and opportunities.
The challenges of fundraising and maintenance costs for cemeteries are problematic across the state -- and nation. Traditionally, many cemeteries were maintained by family and community members who met annually to maintain the cemetery by hand. They asked family members for donations for repairs. As populations moved away from the community, and children and grandchildren lived farther away, family and community care diminished. The task often was passed on to local mowing crews. Unfortunately, hired mowers (who often are not part of the descendant community) are not always careful with their work and can cause extensive damage to the historic headstones, footstones, and curbing as well as rutting to the roads and grounds.
When it comes to fundraising, many cemetery organizations have relied on activities such as hosting a bake sale, rummage sale, or silent auction; seeking funding from local preservation, heritage, military, or fraternal organizations; or requesting donations from area businesses, including funeral homes and monument companies. Unfortunately, annual BBQs and fish-frys do not always raise enough funds to cover the cost of mowing and other maintenance anymore, and bank accounts are earning extremely low interest rates.
As a preservation community, we are going to have to do more and think outside the box. The following are examples of efforts that may help:
- Conduct extensive genealogical research to identify descendants of families buried in the cemetery. Conduct a broad letter-writing campaign to all descendants. Be sure to outline challenges, goals, continuing issues, and foreseeable needs for the cemetery. Invite all descendants to attend meetings to better understand the challenges and ask for their participation in hands-on efforts.
- Host community events such as history or nature tours. An event like this will also increase awareness of the cemeteries needs. Please see the Cemetery Program's Disaster Preparedness webpage, specifically the Webinar 4 recording and the Webinar 4 Resource List.
- Bring more school-aged children into the cemetery. The younger people in our communities have lost their connections with their ancestors, their stories, places, and graves. We will need their help to move forward.
- Add younger members to your cemetery board. Let their modern sense of fundraising lead to new ways to help the cemetery.
- Reduce the need to spend funding on mowing. This action will be different across the state but spreading wildflower seeds or lower-growing grass seeds may help. Contact your local agricultural extension office, Master Naturalist (scroll down to the map to find a chapter near you), or the Native Plant Society of Texas for recommendations of native plants.
- Reduce the cultural expectations of a manicured cemetery setting. With an aging population of caretakers, mowing is becoming a heavier burden and an unrealistic path forward. Historically, many cemeteries were prairie cemeteries and as such were never intended to look perfectly manicured like modern perpetual care cemeteries.
- You may also ask if the county can help by asking your local county commissioner to request assistance from the commissioner’s court under sec. 713.028 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. Counties may be able to remove brush piles, make minor repairs to gravel roads, and possibly provide workers who are equipped in tree-trimming and other difficult jobs. Note: This is an option, not a mandate. County assistance may be provided at the discretion of the county commissioners, but they are not required to do so.
- Cemeteries located in Certified Local Government CLG communities may be eligible for grant funds through the CLG grant program. Projects that include physical work in the cemetery such as fence repair or construction, stabilizing periphery walls, headstone repair or stabilization, or restoration of historic buildings or structures require that the cemetery be listed in or contributing to a listing the National Register of Historic Places. Other projects do not have the same requirement and include such activities as historic context studies, preparation of a National Register nomination, descendant community research, mapping and inventory of gravestones and other cemetery features, as well as educational publications and activities. Please note that maintenance and other cemetery care is not covered by CLG grants.
- The THC awards grants from the Texas Preservation Trust Fund (TPTF). We suggest you review the Guidelines and Requirements for Eligibility to learn which projects may be applicable. Please also note that the majority of TPTF grants require that the project or property must have, or be determined eligible for, one of the following historic designations to qualify for funding: National Register of Historic Places, Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, State Antiquities Landmark, or Held-in-Trust Collection. We have found that it is difficult for many cemeteries to meet these requirements, meaning many cemeteries may not qualify for the funding. The exception to the requirement is that projects submitted under the Heritage Education category do not require that the cemetery be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.