LINDSBORG — As his father was brought to be buried in Smoky Hill Cemetery, Cameron Carlson was dismayed by the neglect that could be seen around the grounds.
"There were tree branches down; trees weren't even trimmed and the roads — it was nothing but grass. You could hardly see where the roads were," Carlson recalled.
Carlson learned the cemetery was being cared for by a man in his 90s who was no longer able to shoulder the burden of the work of maintaining the area.
"He couldn't take care of it anymore, so I took it over with Judy Pilewski and a couple of other people," Carlson said. "We've kind of revamped the thing."
Established in the 1850s, the privately owned Smoky Hill Cemetery is located at the base of Coronado Heights, near the intersection of 12th Avenue and Winchester Road, northeast of Lindsborg.
"It's one of the oldest cemeteries around," Carlson said. "There are graves out here from before the Civil War."
The cemetery serves as the final resting places for several generations — from Lindsborg's founding families to those who died in recent years.
"There's a lot of World War II vets who are buried up here," Carlson said. "We've got a lot military history out here, too. A lot of people that fought in the Civil War are buried up here."
The Smoky Hill Cemetery Company pays for maintenance of the grounds with donations and the sale of burial plots, with much of the work being done by volunteers.
"There's all this stuff to do," Carlson said. "We just do a little at a time."
Old trees have been trimmed or taken out and new trees have been planted, including a line of cedars along the south fence line. Gravel has been added to the roads in the cemetery and a new east entryway with a culvert and stone pillars was constructed to make it easier for vehicles to access the grounds.
"Each time we hire someone to mow it, it's $200 and it takes an entire day – or sometimes two days — to mow," Carlson noted.
It is technically the responsibility of families to keep up the headstones in Smoky Valley Cemetery, but that is not always feasible.
"There are people buried up here whose families aren't around anymore, so we've hired some monument companies to come in and they've straightened out a bunch of them," Carlson said. "That's another big expense."
The most recent addition to the cemetery is a cement pad backed by a low rock wall that will serve as a seating area.
"You can't beat the view," Carlson said. "You can sit here and look across the valley."
Benches and a directory of the burial plots, both occupied and empty, are scheduled to be installed around Dec. 1.
"It'll be a place for people to come up here and sit and have some coffee, drink a beer or something to remember their family with," Carlson said.
After that project is completed, plans are being made to replace the current archway and fence that faces the road.
"It's about to collapse over," Carlson said. "That'll be next year's project — a black wrought-iron fence along the road."
The renovations to Coronado Heights brought more visitors and gave the cemetery more exposure.
"People come up here and realize there's a lot for sale still," Carlson said. "We sold 20 plots last year and that was more than we'd sold in the previous three years combined, so the word is getting out. People in the cities that are from here are choosing to be buried out here because it's $150 out here and it can be $2,000 in city cemeteries."
Since the cemetery does not receive any support from taxes, the uptick in plot sales gives its board the means to budget for further maintenance and improvements.
"We'd like to see the place keep going, because eventually I'm going to be buried up here," Carlson said. "I'd like to see it stay nice."
Donations can be sent to Smoky Hill Cemetery, P.O. Box 384, Lindsborg, KS 67456.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at email@example.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.