City officials say less than 500 available plots remain at New Evergreen Cemetery, which was created nearly 70 years ago as a burial site for African Americans.
With an average of 200 plots sold each year, officials estimate that the designated single plots will sell out within the next three years. Once all the individual plots have been sold, the City Council has voted to allow individual plots to be sold in areas of the cemetery designated for families and couples, according to Assistant City Manager Derwick Paige.
By opening the additional plots, which in many cases have been reserved but not paid in full, Paige estimates that the sprawling 47-acre New Walkertown Road cemetery could have as many as seven to eight years of life left in it.
This is not the first time New Evergreen has been faced with capacity issues. In 1998, the cemetery, which was relocated from its original site near Smith Reynolds Airport during World War II, was in danger of running out of sites, but a grassroots movement prompted the City of Winston-Salem to expand the property. But another expansion is unlikely at New Evergreen, which is bordered by privates homes, a handful of businesses and a creek favored by geese.
Paige said another expansion would be costly and require a significant amount of work, including the construction of a bridge across Brushy Fork Creek or one of its tributaries.
Grantheum Johnson, director of Hooper Funeral Home for the last 15 years, remembers the public outcry that ensued when the city first announced the cemetery was reaching capacity.
“We had this uproar … they had a petition circulating and everything, and the city responded,” Johnson recalled. “I think some people missed what was happening. They thought Evergreen was just going to be neglected.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke, who was on the Council at the time of the expansion, said the city will continue to maintain Evergreen whether it is still selling plots or not.
“It will be maintained,” promised Burke, who owns several plots in the cemetery herself. “We will not forsake it.”
Johnson, who has been in the funeral services industry for 25 years, said Evergreen is the cemetery of choice for the vast majority of Hooper’s customers.
“We frequent Evergreen more than any of the other parks,” he said. “I think it’s the longevity of Evergreen. You’ve got generations and generations of people out there, so a lot of people want to secure a space where their families are.”
Cost is also a factor for many Hooper customers, Johnson said. Plots at Evergreen and Woodland, the city-owned cemetery that was once designated for whites only, cost $700 for adults, while plots at most private cemeteries start around $1,200, he said.
“Sometimes, to be competitive, the private parks may adjust their at-need (plots for current burials) prices, but it’s still a noticeable difference between the private sector and places like Evergreen or Woodland,” he stated.
James Mitchell, Property and Facilities Management director for the City of Winston-Salem, credits city-owned cemeteries with keeping the cost of plots at private cemeteries competitive.
“I think if the city cemeteries weren’t in business or were not selling plots, then the private sector could raise their prices,” he said.
The city is currently working to tout the 30-acre Woodland, which sits at the intersection of Reynolds Boulevard and Indiana Avenue, as an alternative. Rates at Woodland, which features an open-air chapel, are identical to Evergreen’s, and the cemetery is currently underutilized, Mitchell explained.
“We’ve looked at expanding New Evergreen and really can’t find a significant amount of suitable space for it, so that’s why we’re focusing on Woodland,” Mitchell explained. “It really is a very pretty site as well.”
Burke said she doesn’t expect another outcry when Evergreen is full.
“I don’t think people will mind (going to Woodland) being that they’re still going to have a property maintained by the city,” she said. “That gives you that security that your loved ones will be taken care of, and we have the finances to take care of them.”
The city is planning to upfit Woodland, which has gravesites dating back to the 1890s, with new fencing and additional landscaping around the entrances to make it more appealing to citizens, Paige said. With more than 1,000 sites available and a current average sales of 20 plots annually, Woodland could serve the city for some time to come, Paige said.