Headstones at Lake Geneva’s Oak Hill Cemetery are getting a second life, thanks to a restoration project funded by the city.
The Lake Geneva City Council agreed to allocate $15,000 to the public works department to restore headstones in the city-owned cemetery.
The city has hired Humphreys Contracting to work on the project.
City public works director Tom Earle said about 60 headstones have been repaired or restored so far this year — twice as many as he expected.
“The cemetery headstone project has been a stellar success, better than I had hoped,” Earle said.
Located at 1101 Cemetery Road, Oak Hill was established in the 1880s, and about 8,900 people are buried there.
In addition to some Civil War figures, well known people buried there include members of the Crane family, owners of the Crane Company; members of the Sears family; John George Moran, who is a son of gangster George “Bugs” Moran; and “Bugs” Moran’s in-laws, who owned the French Country Inn restaurant.
The 45-acre cemetery was maintained by a private cemetery board until the city took it over four years ago.
Cemetery superintendent Clint Melancon said he was pleased with the work being done by the city on headstones.
“They’ve done a real nice job,” Melancon said. “They’ve done quite a bit, and they’re still working on it.”
Earle said he plans to ask the city for another $15,000 in the 2020 budget, so the project can be continued next year. He said most of the headstones that are being repaired have either been knocked down, have fallen over or have been neglected by family members.
Crews are staying away from headstones that are deteriorated beyond repair, and instead are concentrating on those that can be salvaged.
The cemetery needs to be preserved, Earle said, because it is a popular attraction in Lake Geneva. He has been wanting to undertake the headstone project for many years.
“Oak Hill is a beautiful place that everyone in the community should take pride in,” he said. “This project has been a long time coming — and one I believe in.”
Clarence Read, chairman of the Oak Hill Cemetery Board for family members of those buried in the cemetery, said families are responsible for taking care of their loved ones’ headstones.
But he noted that a mausoleum is among the facilities that have deteriorated badly.
“For some,” he said, “the families are gone.”
Alderwoman Selena Proksa said during a recent public works committee meeting that she has been impressed with the work being done on restoration efforts.
“I think it looks beautiful,” Proksa said. “I actually love it. Walking through Oak Hill, it’s beautiful.”
Melancon said many people visit the cemetery throughout the year to view old headstones of Civil War veterans and others.
Read said the city has done a good job of maintaining the cemetery since taking it over four years ago from the cemetery board.
“It looked horrible out there,” he said. “But they have been keeping it up now.
Besides the headstone restoration, there is upkeep needed throughout the year, including lawn mowing, weed removal and tree maintenance. Crews are usually at the cemetery all day on weekdays.
“I love it,” Melancon said. “It’s a beautiful cemetery.”