By JOSH STIPANOVICH
Repairs are expected to be complete next week on a 30-foot stretch of brick barrier surrounding the nearly 163-year-old Oak Hill Cemetery.
The section of wall collapsed, but Bill Host, Oak Hill Cemetery superintendent and a 50-year employee of the 25-acre cemetery, said that’s almost expected of a wall that was originally constructed in 1922.
He noticed the damaged section of the wall about two weeks ago.
“It’s an old wall,” Host said.
It’s not the first time areas of the brick wall have been damaged. An area about 50 yards from the now damaged section was renovated last year.
Renovations to the wall last year cost the cemetery about $28,000, Host said. Due to the prohibitive cost of destruction and construction of the entire wall that encompasses the cemetery’s 1,400-foot perimeter, cemetery officials just repair each section as it falls.
“You’ve only got so much to work with,” Host said. “We have other things to do to take care of the cemetery.”
The brick wall initially was built to act as a retaining wall and for security purposes, said Bill Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.
“The retaining wall is what led to [the wall’s] failure,” Lawson said. He added that’s due to the pressure of the ground pushing itself against the wall over the years.
The latest incident comes after a cold winter and a wet and stormy early spring in the Mahoning Valley. As a result, Host and his grounds crew were cleaning up a small area of the northeast side of the cemetery on the morning of April 12 when a thick oak tree collapsed and damaged several gravesites.
“I don’t think the storm had anything to do with it,” Host said of the latest wall collapse. “Water gets down into there, [and] it freezes and expands.”
When areas of the wall give way, Host makes calls to contract brick layers to make the repairs. The lowest bidder is hired, Host said.
Lencyk Masonry, of Youngstown, got the job, which began Monday. Repairs for this damage also cost the cemetery about $28,000. Host said he expects work to be finished some time next week.
Larry Lencyk, owner of Lencyk Masonry, said the wall “was primarily out of brick.” He said that’s due to inclement weather and climate over time, which essentially turns the mortar into sand.
Progress is being made, weather permitting, and as of Thursday afternoon, the inner wall above the grade had been constructed. But a couple stages of work remain, Host said. Next comes the area of the wall below the grade, and once each of the grades is finished, interior and exterior fencing also will be installed.
Lencyk said he is creating a structural masonry wall to prevent it from falling again any time soon. He added that he’s confident it would hold up another 100 years.
Host and his crew perform other minor maintenance work to help maintain the integrity of the wall, which was partially funded by a $500,000 endowment started by Henry M. Garlick, then leader of the Mahoning Cemetery Association, in 1922 and collected from several families who owned plots then.
That endowment is still open and rather large, Lawson said. According to the Mahoning Cemetery Association’s Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the organization had $7.3 million in assets.
The money needed for the latest repair is also coming from the endowment.
Oak Hill Cemetery is home to several high-profile locals including George Dennick Wick who was aboard the Titanic with his family after a trip to Europe, the 25th Ohio governor David Tod and John Alexander Logan Jr. who received a Philippine Insurrection Congressional Medal of Honor.