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Hanson helps restore historical cemeteries

Cemetery restoration may not seem like a typical engineering project, but the opportunity to participate in this type of work is an honor and a privilege.

Over the past two years, Hanson’s Florida project team has taken part in restoring two cemeteries in north Jacksonville, Florida — Hillside and Pinehurst — with work ongoing in the city’s Memorial and Old City cemeteries. The projects are part of a larger effort to improve six historical cemeteries in Jacksonville, including those that comprise the Moncrief Road Cemeteries Historical District. These cemeteries mainly served African Americans during the era of segregation.

Hanson Senior Project Manager Randy Downing, who is leading Hanson’s efforts on these projects, can relate to the projects’ importance. “Having grown up as the son of a cemetery caretaker and after spending many summers doing the upkeep,” he said, “I can appreciate the need to revitalize these sites that contain so much personal history for the descendants of those buried there.”

Improving access to memorial markers

Pinehurst Cemetery, established in 1928 by the Afro-American Life Insurance Co.’s Memorial Cemetery Association, is approximately 8.5 acres and contains more than 1,125 burial markers. In 1992, Jacksonville designated Pinehurst as a local landmark site. In 2018, it became the first to undergo restoration efforts as part of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s five-year, $10.8 million plan to clean and restore the Moncrief Road cemeteries.

Hanson contributed site design and permitting for Pinehurst, including an approximately 1,500-foot-long access roadway to be used mostly for maintenance vehicles. Hanson also designed the geometric layout of the road, as well as grading, drainage and sediment control features; handled permitting with regulatory agencies; and coordinated with environmental, survey and geotechnical consultants.

The project team encountered several design challenges while working in and around the cemetery’s historical markers, many of which had fallen or sunk due to loose soil and were adjacent to the proposed roadway. Hanson worked with the St. Johns Water Management District to grant a permit exemption for the project, which lacked space to construct a stormwater management facility.

Unknown but not forgotten

Hillside Cemetery, also referred to as Hillside Paupers Cemetery and Potter’s Field, is the final resting place for Duval County’s unknown, unclaimed and indigent residents. Approximately 10 acres, the cemetery contains more than 4,000 known burials and markers.

For the Hillside improvements, Hanson designed a 1,200-foot-long entrance roadway and provided civil engineering services that included geometric road layout; grading design, drainage and sediment control features; permitting coordination with regulatory agencies; and project team coordination with survey and geotechnical consultants.

During on-site work, Hanson minimized the disturbance of the roots associated with several trees and blocked storm runoff along the entrance road corridor by using a thin but sturdy roadbed and installing wide concrete flumes instead of pipes.

“These projects have certainly been unique and challenging,” Randy said. “It is fulfilling to see these neglected and forgotten historical sites cleaned up and visitors granted better access to them.”

Randy Downing is a senior project manager for Hanson who can be reached at

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