The Eckles-Madison Family Cemetery on Carnes Avenue does not look like much of a threat during the winter with trees bare and vines limp from the cold. But the Normal Station neighborhood knows it’s only a matter of time before the flora emerge out of hibernation and take back the lot.
Come spring break, however, college students from Florida will spend the week clearing the lot.
TK Buchanan, community safety liaison for the University of Memphis, said the property, which is just off Echles Street, has been a problem for more than 100 years, especially during the summer when plants grow over the gravestones and into nearby properties.
“Literally, no one has ever taken care of it,” Buchanan said.
The cemetery was created just before the area was redeveloped for housing in the early 1900s, and approximately 14 members of the Eckles and Madison families are buried on the property.
Although Memphis city workers, local residents and Boy Scout troops would occasionally try to rehabilitate the lot, it was never enough.
“Basically what they do is remove the litter or dumping and leave,” Buchanan said. “There’s nothing else that they can do without heavy equipment, a plan and some resources.”
Holly Lissner, southwest area coordinator for the Normal Station Neighborhood Association, lived on Carnes Street as a college student and moved back after purchasing a house three doors down from her first house.
"This is something that has been resurfacing time after time after time," Lissner said. "It’s a hard paper trail to follow--who owns it, who’s responsible for it."
After following the paper trail, which meandered through both city and state offices, David Madison was found as the heir to the property. Now, Buchanan and the NSNA are working to obtain the deed.
"Essentially, he’s got to admit that it belongs to his family, and he’s got to deed that over to the neighborhood association," Buchanan said. "The plan is for the neighborhood association to raise the funds for legal fees associated with having this done, and it’s going to cost a couple thousand dollars to have it deeded over."
Once the property is deeded over, volunteers can focus on renovating the lot in 18 months. Until then, any cleanup efforts that happen before the project officially starts in August is "just bonus," according to Buchanan.
Cyndy Grivich, program coordinator for Memphis City Beautiful, said the organization, which facilitates beautification projects around the city, will provide the tools volunteers need to rehabilitate the lot, including gloves, garbage bags and shovels.
Lissner is grateful that the property is finally getting some much needed T.L.C. and hopes that she will be able to attend the cleanup herself.
"I think it was one of those things that the stars happened to line up," Lissner said. "I would love for our residents to take ownership of this property."