Forsyth is running out of room to bury its dead.
City manager Janice Hall told council on Jan. 27 that all city cemeteries are out of lots. She said James Freeman, owner of Freeman Funeral Home, who has been selling lots for the city, told her that he has had a demand for lots and that everything that is surveyed is sold in all three city-owned cemeteries: Forsyth Cemetery near the Public Safety Complex, Monroe Hills Memorial Garden on Highway 41/Old Atlanta Highway and Rest Haven on Highway 83 South.
Hall said Freeman, who oversees burials at the cemetery, said the upper right quadrant of Monroe Hills Memorial Garden is granite and it is impossible to dig there. She said all the lots in the Forsyth Cemetery are sold, and all the surveyed lots in the other two cemeteries are sold.
Council voted to have everything surveyed that can be used in Monroe Hills and to cut the timber around Rest Haven. Hall said she will ask for bids on the timber.
Freeman, who has sold cemetery lots for the city since 2014, said the city still has some lots available at Rest Haven, but it is filling up. He estimated it can only serve the city’s burial needs for another four or five years without expansion. However, he said that the best action to take now is to survey Monroe Hills Memorial Gardens to set up a grid identifying more lots. He said surveying the land that is already cleared in Monroe Hills could provide almost 1,000 more grave sites and serve Forsyth for 15-20 years at the present rate of burials.
Freeman said the granite layer in Monroe Hills seems to be almost a foot thick. He said no lots have ever been sold in that part of the cemetery because the city was aware of the rock layer. It was not an issue until surveyed lots began running out and the city began looking at how to expand the cemetery. Freeman said it is probably best left as open space. Freeman said the city owns the land between Monroe Hills and Rest Haven and can expand the cemeteries by clearing the wooded land between the two. He estimated the city could add about 90 lots, with each lot having room for 16 burials. The expansion could add about 1,440 grave sites. He thought clearing the land could be done in about six months, then it would need to be surveyed into grids.
Freeman said the city needs to take action to expand its cemetery space. One problem is that most people don’t plan ahead for burial.
“People don’t want to talk about it,” said Freeman.
He said there are innovations in the funeral industry, like special vaults for cremated remains, that the city could consider in long-term planning.
In addition to the city’s three cemeteries, there is also Monroe Memorial Gardens on Ensign Road, a private cemetery associated with Monroe County Memorial Chapel.
In the discussion at the Jan. 27 council retreat about it, council member Mike Dodd said the city needs to enforce its regulations about monuments at the cemeteries; monuments aren’t permitted at Monroe Hills or Rest Haven.
In 2019 council asked for a plan to limit access to city cemeteries after citizens complained of damage to grave markers. Research determined there are 13 means of access to Forsyth Cemetery and that damage was likely done by city maintenance workers instead of vandals.
“I think it’s really a moot issue because people can get into both cemeteries,” said Hall. “I know what you were trying to do. It looked good until we got into it.”
Hall found prices on fencing and gates, but the cost was high because of the many points of access. She said some of the problems are better since the Board of Education started limiting access to Newton Memorial Drive from the Mary Persons High School direction. She said the city needs to be able to access the cemetery for funerals.
“It still will not address the original issue of vandalism or if one of our guys hit something and didn’t know it,” said Hall.
“We need to put attention into resurfacing instead of blocking,” said council member Julius Stroud. “If the pavement is good, they will stay on the surface area. If it’s blocked, they will park wherever.”
Council member Chris Hewitt said the city should block Vineburg Road, however, because a citizen is using it as his driveway. He said the fence by the water tower will need to be moved to close Vineburg Street.