WASHINGTON COUNTY – According to Find a Grave, the largest online burial resource, there are 17 city and town-operated, 10 private and 12 historic cemeteries within the borders of Washington County.
The modern cemeteries, specifically St. George, Hurricane, Washington City and Santa Clara, encompass the majority of graves in the area, though thousands are buried in historic cemeteries. The largest of these is Grafton, a former cotton farming town near Zion National Park. The remains of 80 pioneers and Native Americans lie there, along with what is left of the town’s buildings. Grafton is now a popular tourist site and was used in the filming of the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
In the mountains above Springdale lies the Hilltop Cemetery, home to numerous pioneer graves from 1862 to 1957. It is recognized as an attraction by the Washington County Historical Society. Additional historic burial sites include Hebron, a cattle-driven settlement near Enterprise and the Pioneer Memorial Cemetery in Virgin.
The Ivins City Cemetery was constructed in 1983 and can accommodate 600 burial plots. Though cemetery records show 208 people are currently interred there, Ivins Parks and Recreation director Benny Sorensen said that the majority of the empty plots have already been reserved, prompting city officials to launch an expansion.
Preparation of the new area began earlier this month and is expected to finish within the next few weeks. Though grass and fencing to match the rest of the cemetery will not be installed until late 2012, burials will be allowed as soon as the work is complete. The expansion can accommodate a maximum of 250 plots.
“We also have the property for an additional 320 graves, making a total of 1,100,” Sorensen said. “We expect our current location will meet the city’s needs for another 20 years.”
During the Ivins road improvements of late 2011 and early 2012, curbs, gutters and sidewalks were also added to the cemetery grounds, as well as better street parking and access for funeral vehicles.
This month workers at the Enterprise City Cemetery completed the Veterans’ Memorial, a small, secluded area in the middle of the cemetery property. The flags of the United States, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and the POW/MIA flag surround a collection of benches where visitors are encouraged to take a moment to remember the soldiers buried there. The project was a joint effort between the city and local chapters of the American Legion and the Boy Scouts of America.
“(The memorial) is a fitting and inspiring addition to a very sacred place in our city,” said Enterprise mayor Lee Bracken.
Enterprise also recently acquired a small trackhoe to aid with the digging of graves. Its compact size and maneuverability are a benefit as more graves and headstones are added to the cemetery, as well as reducing impact on the environment. Mayor Bracken said the equipment was a long-awaited and very needed purchase.
Over the next two to three years, the City of St. George is expected to add several improvements to Tonaquint Cemetery, the largest of which is a cremation facility. Along with a memorial garden, a number of walls will be built to house ash remains.
Marc Mortensen, manager of support services for the city, said that an increasing number of Washington County residents are choosing cremation over a traditional burial and he believes the walls will be a much-appreciated service.
The historic St. George Cemetery will also receive an upgraded irrigation system later this year.
In the future
Washington City Leisure Services director Barry Blake said that the city cemetery will require more plots within the next two years, though it is undecided whether the current property can accommodate the improvement or if an entirely new one will be built.
The St. George Cemetery has room for 10,000 graves and is approximately 75 percent full, with few plots still available. When it has reached capacity, burials will be transferred to Tonaquint Cemetery, which can accommodate 6,000 graves. Multiple expansions are also possible; Mortensen estimated that Tonaquint can cover the city’s burial needs for the next 50 years.
But of the city and town-operated cemeteries in Washington County, few are approaching their limits and even fewer are seeking to expand in the near future, a remarkable fact considering that many were established as early as the 1800s. The purchase of excess land and periodic expansions have prevented space issues, and very few cities have had to refuse a burial due to overcrowding.
As Southern Utah’s population continues to increase, cities and towns will continue to expand and improve their cemeteries to ensure that residents are given the best final resting place possible.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.