Radical Landscape Change Clears Way For Cemetery Expansion

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Infrastructure

Heavy machinery works to remove earth from a hill between Union Cemetery and Stepping Stones Road.  The new area will expand the cemetery; the fill is also being used to help expand Seaside Cemetery. Between the two, an addition 2,000 new grave sites will be created. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Anyone who has driven down Stepping Stones Road in the past two weeks can't help but
notice it: The hill that sat along the south side of the road between the bike trail and Heritage Lane is significantly
lower.

Heavy trucks have been leveling the hill, removing truckload after truckload of earth to create more usable
terrain for an expanded Union Cemetery. Some of the sand has gone to protect several town beaches and landings
from recent storms while some was transported to Hitching Post Road, where it was used as fill for the expansion of
Seaside Cemetery.

With the town's two largest cemeteries running out of space, the expansion has been long in the works.
Funded by a $650,000 appropriation at last May' annual town meeting, the work will create space for nearly 2,000
new cemetery plots.

“We were very constrained,” said Park Director Dan Tobin, who works with the cemetery commission. “We
were down to very little left in those cemeteries.”

At Union Cemetery, the expansion will clear the area from the back of the developed cemetery, which has an
access off Main Street, to Stepping Stones Road. The entire hill won't be removed, Tobin said, but it had to be
lowered to create terrain acceptable for grave sites. A new road will be built into the cemetery off Stepping Stones
Road, he added.

“It will be much more conducive to cemetery plots there” once the grading is finished, Tobin said.
At Seaside Cemetery, the commission a few years ago gained control over the former railroad right of way
which connects the cemetery to Hitching Post Road. Earth from Stepping Stone Road was used to raise the grade in
that strip of land. A new access road will tie in with the Seaside's other roads, and plots will be laid out along the
sides of the road, Tobin said.

Using fill from Union Cemetery to help expand Seaside Cemetery saved an estimated $50,000. The material
also turned out to be perfect for beaches, and was used to bolster Cockle Cove Beach and several town landings on
the north side of town; numerous truckloads were brought in before and after last week's storm.

Contractor Dig It is making good progress, Tobin said. Part of the deal with the company is that it gets to
keep any excess fill, which he said also helped lower the cost of the project. The work should be largely completed
by the latter part of May, with the construction of roads, addition of loam and seeding. Lots in the new area could be
available as soon as this summer, he said.

The Stepping Stones Road site is somewhat notorious, in that it once housed a mysterious radar array. From
1952 to 1960, two white, flat-topped buildings sat at the top of the hill, one of the highest points in town. The system
was part of the Experimental Semi-Automatic Ground Environment Sector based in South Truro, and filled in a
blind spot on that facility's radar. It was part of an early-warning system of radar installations along the east coast.
Top secret, the facility was surrounded by a chain link fence and was not far from a military listening post in what is
now the Great Hills neighborhood. The buildings were removed decades ago, and the town cleared vegetation from
the hill in January 2014.

The town has 17 burial sites, but only four cemeteries are actively being used: Union, Seaside, People's and
South Chatham.