Arlington Historical Society Raising $60,000 to Restore City’s Oldest Cemetery

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With toppled headstones, a partially collapsed fence and trash strewn about, it will take more than a little maintenance to repair years of vandalism and neglect at the Arlington Historic Cemetery.

That’s why the Arlington Historical Society has turned to the public for help with its $60,000 fundraising campaign to restore the cemetery and make it a historical destination people want to visit once again.

“This is our history,” said Geraldine Mills, Executive Director of the Arlington Historical Society. “It’s our town’s history. Wouldn’t you feel good knowing you had a part in preserving it?”

The Historic Cemeteries on Arkansas Lane are actually three separate cemeteries that were established independently but are now combined into a single cemetery. The earliest known burials there were in the 1850s.

The early 1920s saw the use of the cemetery by local black citizens according to the Arlington Historical Society. This was the only place to purchase a plot to bury their family members at the time. Burials continued there through the early 1950s.

This cemetery is also the resting place of Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson, father of Tarrant County. Members of Johnson’s family as well as members of Eli Ford’s family rest here also.

“This historic burial ground has been plagued by neglect, vandalism and security problems off and on from the beginning,” Mills said. “We want to ensure the founders of our city finally get the respect they deserve.”

The restoration project will have three phases: fencing and security, gravestone restoration and an interactive history tour.

The first phase will address the biggest problems Mills said the cemetery faces: trespassing and littering.

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Sections of the aging chain link fence surrounding the cemetery have been destroyed, allowing people to use the cemetery grounds as a shortcut to a nearby convenience store. Trespassers not only walk through the private property but also leave trash behind and cause damage to the grave markers.

The Arlington Historical Society wants to ensure the cemetery is adequately secured by installing a wrought iron fence with a prominent entryway.

“The people who are buried there contributed to make Arlington what it is today and they deserve not only our respect, but our protection,” Mills said.

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The second phase aims to restore gravestones. More than 40 gravestones require immediate attention, Mills said.

The third phase would create an interactive tour for visitors. Planned improvements include a pedestrian path and a vehicle path, each lined with information boards. Topics would include the different sections of the cemetery, Arlington’s history from that era, and the legacy of those buried there.

“Each of these families gave of their time and talent to assure Arlington would be successful,” Mills said. “Whether they opened a business, built a home, a church, a school or road, together they built a town. Our town.”

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Depending on fundraising efforts, the Arlington Historical Society anticipates completing the first two phases of the project by June. The interactive tour is expected to be installed by the end of 2017.

Donations of $300 or more will receive a plaque with the donor’s name on one of the new fence panels. Donations large or small can be made to the Arlington Historical Society at 1616 West Abram Street, Arlington, Texas, 76013. Donors can also stop by the Fielder Museum or call 817-460-4001 for more information.

“This project is important to our city to connect us with our past,” Mills said. “All of our citizens should know about the pioneer families who settled this area and grew our town to become the city it is today.”

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