Cedar Hill Cemetery revenues decline as cremations rise

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot
Caretaker Dave Woodring is shown at the mausoleum of Ambassador Henry Fletcher at Cedar Hill Cemetery.

An estimated 10,000 people have been buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in the last 150 years, and the board of managers wants to make sure it can be the final resting place of generations to come.

The nonprofit cemetery is in good financial shape now, but costs are increasing and revenues are decreasing as Cedar Hill is affected by a nationwide change in what happens when people pass away.

"We're trying to be proactive and make people aware of what needs to be done," said H. Martin "Marty" Zimmerman Jr. of Harold M. Zimmerman and Son Funeral Home, who retired after 35 years on the board, including terms as secretary and president.

The annual budget for the cemetery is around $100,000, and there are several major projects on the horizon.

"As we enter our 151st year, the board is currently looking strategically at short- and long-term options to keep Cedar Hill Cemetery an attractive landmark and a viable organization in the Greencastle-Antrim community for years to come," Jeff Shank, board president, said.

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Looking back

John and Elizabeth Rowe gave the Cedar Hill Cemetery Association the original deed for 31 acres just west of Greencastle 1870. The acreage was located south of what is now Route 16. In 1928, additional land was purchased on the north side of "the Mercersburg road," according to an undated newspaper clipping.

In 1929, numerous shrubs were planted, driveways plotted and the old one-room schoolhouse known as Cedar Hill was removed, according to Shank.

Frank L. Carbaugh American Legion Post 373 donated $1,100 for a limestone rostrum at the cemetery. The monument was dedicated in 1932 to “the memory of men and women of this community who have served their country in time of war.” The rostrum was restored in 2018, and a flagpole illuminated with solar lights was installed in front of it in 2019 with donations from local veterans organizations, businesses and individuals.

The Memorial Day ceremony at Cedar Hill Cemetery ends with a 21-gun salute by local veterans.

The rostrum is the site of the annual Memorial Day ceremony co-sponsored by Frank L. Carbaugh American Legion Post 373 and Harry D. Zeigler VFW Post 6319.

Masons Curtis Bowers and his father, Larry Bowers, did restoration work on the stage at Cedar Hill Cemetery in 2018. The rostrum was dedicated in 1932 to 'the memory of men and women of this community who have served their country in time of war.'

Henry Appenzellar, who died in December 1870, was the first person buried in the cemetery, and Mrs. Howard Kennedy, who died in the 1950s, was the 5,000th.

Zimmerman and Shank put today's number around 10,000, but exact figures are not available.

A "Who's Who of Greencastle" can be found at Cedar Hill, Shank said, noting longtime Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuman and John L. Grove, local industrialist and a founder of Grove Manufacturing and JLG Industries.

John Allison, the founder of Greencastle, was originally interred at Moss Spring in 1795, but was later relocated to Cedar Hill.

The grave of Greencastle's founder John Allison was moved from Moss Spring to Cedar Hill Cemetery.

One of the most impressive structures at the cemetery is the Fletcher mausoleum. Greencastle's native son Henry Prather Fletcher rode with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War and served 51 years under eight presidents (from Theodore Roosevelt to Harry S. Truman) as a United States ambassador to Chile, Mexico, Belgium and Italy, according to Bonnie Shockey of Allison-Antrim Museum. He also held various diplomatic positions to Cuba, Portugal and China.

A wreath is displayed at the official Old Home Week opening ceremony on Center Square and afterward is taken to Cedar Hill Cemetery and placed on the grave of Philip Baer, founder of the triennial celebration.

After the official Old Home Week opening ceremony in 2019, Old Home Week President Andy Everetts and Treasurer Carol Christophel, a former OHW president, place a wreath on the grave of OHW founder Philip Baer in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Today's numbers

"The financial assets and reserves of CHC are supported by the sale of cemetery plots, interments and donations, but with more people opting for cremations, fewer traditional burial arrangements, rising costs of maintenance and having less developed land to use for burials, CHC’s resources are dwindling," Shank said.

The major source of revenue is burial plots, which sell for $750 each and accommodate one grave, Shank explained.

Burials and consequently lot sales are declining as more people opt for cremation, according to Zimmerman. Cremation is less expensive and because people move more often than in the past, cremation allows them to take a loved one's ashes along.

Families also like to scatter ashes, although that is not allowed at the cemetery.

Cremation also means a ceremony does not need to be held right away, a situation which has been seen often during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There has been a big change in the funeral industry in the U.S. in the last 10 years, and a 70% cremation rate is predicted by 2030, according to Zimmerman.

This area is now at 55%, and Cedar Hill saw its income from lot sales and burials drop by 30% from 2018 to 2019, he said.

The average number of burials at Cedar Hill from 2009 to 2019 was 48 a year, with a high of 61 and a low of 37. Zimmerman said 2019 "was in the low end" with 38.

Upkeep takes work

There is a great deal of day-to-day work that goes into maintaining the cemetery, according to caretaker Dave Woodring, who worked at Green Hill Cemetery in Waynesboro from 1988 to 2005, when he started working at Cedar Hill. Woodring is full time and has a part-time helper.

In warm weather, it takes about five days to mow the entire property if there are no interruptions such as funerals or rain. There are leaves to be collected and mulched in the fall and snow to be plowed in the winter.

Graves must be "opened and closed" — dug and then filled in — for burials, and there is ongoing maintenance on concrete foundations so tombstones do not sink.

Cedar Hill is a perpetual care cemetery, so graves are tended forever, Zimmerman said.

The flagpole at Cedar Hill Cemetery was replaced and illuminated with solar lighting in 2019.

Into the future

In addition to routine maintenance, the board is looking at several capital expenses.

The concrete block maintenance building was constructed in the 1960s on the south side of the cemetery. The dirt-floored building does not have water or electric. More space is needed for equipment storage and operations, and the board wants to erect a new building on the north side, where there are utilities.

"Roads need repaired, and the dump truck is 32 years old and on borrowed time," Zimmerman added.

This newspaper clipping about the 5,000th burial at Cedar Hill Cemetery is from the 1950s.

How to help

"We're trying to be proactive and keep this a nice place," Shank said.

Contributions can be mailed to Cedar Hill Cemetery, P.O. Box 351, Greencastle, PA 17225. The cemetery is a 501c(13) non-profit organization and donations are tax deductible.

Volunteers also are needed to serve on the board and help make decisions, Zimmerman said.

The board currently includes Les Edwards, Andy Everetts, Nathan Nardi, Troy Shew and Shank. Anyone interested can call the cemetery at 717-262-3561.