Warrensville West Cemetery Master Plan
Public Education & Awareness Award
The Warrensville West Cemetery is known to be the second oldest burial ground in Cuyahoga County, with its first burial dating to 1811. It was listed in the National Register in 1984 as part of the Shaker Village Historic District.
Little recognized by most people in the area, in November 2019, the City of Shaker Heights, the Library and the Historical Society co-sponsored a tour of the Cemetery that was attended by 20 people, which ignited new interest in the cemetery, its history, and its preservation. Some attendees asked about removing overgrown plantings to open it visually and create awareness, but the City soon determined that a full historic preservation plan for the cemetery should be undertaken.
With funding from a Certified Local Government grant, the year-long process to develop the Historic Preservation Master Plan included formation of a stakeholder committee and a series of public meetings. A full inventory of grave markers was completed, and ground penetrating radar was utilized to identify burial sites where no headstone or marker was present. Grave marker conditions were documented and classified, and a landscape concept and amenities plan were developed.
During the planning process, a gravestone restoration workshop was held which drew 22 enthusiastic attendees. Among the plan's many recommendations were to cease mowing existing grass and establish more of a meadow setting with several mown paths to restore the cemetery's historic character and ecology. The Master Plan also recommended interpreting the cemetery's history through signage with QR codes linking to additional information on websites.
Before, during, and after the plan development process, a number of workshops, presentations, and tours were held, and continue to be planned today. Topics have included caring for the gravestones in a historically appropriate way, which was presented to the city employees who maintain the cemetery. There was also a gravestone restoration workshop on how to document, clean, reset, and repair broken stones and bases.
Tours have been offered in-person, but are also available online to encourage taking self-guided tours.
The cemetery preservation plan, along with related educational programs and special events, has substantially increased public understanding of the presence of this hidden gem, and awareness and excitement about its history and the people buried there.
When this project was undertaken, the partners reached out to the State Historic Preservation Office for similar Ohio cemetery plans but there were none to be had. So, completion of this plan can serve as a model that other communities and cemeteries can learn from and consider when planning their own restoration initiatives.
The co-sponsors of this project discovered that a diverse range of citizens have a real interest in the history of the cemetery, they want to learn about those buried in it and they want to see it preserved. The project also increased engagement in historic preservation activities and programming throughout Shaker Heights.