August 12, 2010

Leaning Wall of Cemetery

While it definitely isn’t as famous as another slanted piece of architecture half way round the world, the leaning retaining wall at the Memphis City Cemetery came under scrutiny at the August 5 City Council Meeting.

Street Superintendent Roy Monroe reported little progress in what the council has identified as the first step in rectifying the problem. Monroe spoke with representatives of the Missouri Department of Transportation in an attempt to establish ownership of the structure. Monroe reported that local MoDOT representatives told him they did not believe the structure belongs to the state.

The council had instructed Monroe to try to establish who owns the wall, and thus who would be responsible for its maintenance.

Alderman Lucas Remley had aired concerns earlier this year that the roughly 15 foot wall that runs parallel to Highway 136 on the north side of the city cemetery, was showing warning signs of eventually failing. Remley noted that the wall was leaning out, toward the highway, posing a significant problem for the transportation on the two-lane road, not to mention historical concerns with the unavoidable disturbance of gravesites located adjacent to the structure.

Monroe stated he believed the retaining wall likely was constructed in 1948, when the highway was relocated east of Memphis.

According to published articles in the Memphis Reveille, a new strip of what was then Highway 4, or Route 4, was constructed in 1948 on the south edge of Memphis, along what was the Grand Avenue. This project included the bridge over Gun’s Branch, located just west of the cemetery entrance.

The council agreed that the retaining wall likely was constructed at this time.

“When they built that roadbed, they would had to have cut the hill, so it only makes sense that was likely when the wall was put in place,” Remley said.

The Memphis City Cemetery did not become property of the city until the spring of 1967, when two separate private cemetery associations deeded over the property and all related assets to the city. The consolidation of the Memphis Cemetery Association and the Southern Cemetery Association led to the modern day facility.

Monroe noted that regardless or not of state ownership of the structure, whoever performs any work at the site will have to work with MoDOT since the retaining wall currently rests on state right-of-way along U.S. 136.

The council agreed to perform additional research on the property while also seeking additional input from MoDOT. Input is also being sought from local historians regarding who built the structure and when.

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