County Cleans Up Old Cemetery In Alief
Marie Lee was laid up at her Alief home Tuesday, recovering from a broken femur and a blood clot, when she started getting calls from friends.
“Do you know what’s going on in the cemetery?” they asked.
In years past, Lee might have made the five-minute drive to the 1-acre historic cemetery at the southwest corner of Bellaire Boulevard and South Dairy Ashford and found teenagers making mischief.
Tuesday brought better news. Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack had brought in trucks and crews of inmates to clean up the property and plan for the installation of a fence.
“I actually got in my car and drove myself,” Lee said. “I said, ‘I can’t do this, but I’m going to do it anyway.’ ”
Radack wanted to surprise Lee, whose nonprofit Alief Cemetery Historical Association has cared for the plot since 2006. At Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, Radack took the unusual step of getting his section of the agenda approved first, to allow the workers awaiting word of the “yes” vote on the cemetery transfer to begin the cleanup immediately.
Radack complimented Lee’s team of volunteers but said caring for the 100-grave cemetery had become overwhelming for them. Lee had first spoken with one of Radack’s staff about the idea several years ago, fearing her volunteers’ upkeep efforts would be lost as they aged.
“It’s a matter of respect, respect for people that have been laid to rest. But also, people look for places to gather,” said Radack, who now has assumed maintenance for two old cemeteries during his tenure. “A lot of people are history buffs, they like to go in and look at these tombstones.”
The area’s namesake, Alief Magee, is buried at the cemetery. She was appointed postmistress in 1895, Lee said, and locals changed the town’s name from Dairy, Texas, to match hers in 1897, two years before her death. The cemetery was designated historic by the Texas Historic Commission in October 2008.
Janet Wagner, chair of the Harris County Historical Commission, said such efforts are important.
“It preserves community history and allows the visitors in the community to have a little park and enjoy the past,” Wagner said. “The more you feel like you’re part of history, you understand that you’re just carrying it on. You feel like you have some ownership in protecting it.”
Radack’s crews found the property in better shape than Lee’s did in 2006, when her group began planting trees, raising buried headstones, leveling the ground and labeling unmarked graves.
“It was full of trash. Builders dumped their cement in there. It was terrible,” she said. “Kids would play ball in there. There used to be graffiti on the trees, and they used to mess up the markers.”
People now visit the cemetery and place flowers, she said.
State law allows a county to take over if the cemetery is home to graves at least 50 years old and is not cared for under a perpetual maintenance agreement or by a church or fraternal group; the rule does not apply to nonprofits.
“Remember, I’m 80 years old, and most of the guys working over there are past 65,” Lee said. “You cannot get a young person to do what we do, pull weeds and plant flowers. I knew Steve Radack did a very good job on his parks. I thought, ‘This is the guy I’d like to have help us with the cemetery.’
“We were just interested in going out there cleaning it up and respecting the people that are out there,” Lee continued. “That’s Alief history out there.”
Article Written by Mike Morris
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Harris County Precinct 3 caretaker Robert Kimich, left, and another worker weed eat around graves at Alief Cemetery.
Photo By Karen Warren