Historic Alief Cemetery now under maintenance of Harris County

September 25, 2012 4:38:54 PM PDT
The Houston area has some historic cemeteries that are badly in need of cleanup. Often it's done by neighborhood groups, but in Alief the job was just getting to be too much for volunteers.

So the county has stepped in to pay some tribute to the past and create a park-like space for the community.

Surrounded by traffic that passes by day and night is a reminder of what Alief once was -- a farming community founded on the fields southwest of Houston. And Alief Cemetery was its burial ground for pioneer families, with lives that bridged the 1800's and 1900's.

The hard life reflected in some of the markers and the ages at which they died.

Volunteers did what they could over the years. One man mowed it a bit at a time, day by day. A Boy Scout troop and students helped out, but more consistent attention was needed.

Over time, the cemetery was forgotten, but later rediscovered by Marie Lee.

"Where people threw their trash, where builders threw their old concrete, and it was just a big mess," said Lee, with the Alief Community Association.

She and other volunteers cleaned it up when they could, but the job required more than that. So their county commissioner took the Alief Cemetery on as a precinct project.

State law allows counties to maintain historic cemeteries without perpetual care. Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack decided Alief Cemetery qualified.

"You go from something that people are appalled by to something they take pride in," said Commissioner Radack.

On Tuesday, county crews mowed the grass, county inmates collected trash, and a survey was taken for a fence that will surround the cemetery.

For Ernest Kobs, a Precinct 3 employee, it's both a job and a labor of love.

"People have a fear of being forgotten and I want to make sure people are not forgotten," Kobs said.

There are ghost stories about the cemetery -- strange lights and tales of an apparition near the graves. That doesn't frighten Marie Lee. But if there are ghosts here, she hopes they'll appreciate what the living have done for the dead.

"They've got a good haunting place now. At least they can find where they want to go," Lee said.

It's the third cemetery project Precinct 3 has adopted. Radack sees it as creating a community asset which can serve as a park-like setting for neighbors.

The inmate labor is free. The only cost to the precinct is fuel to transport people and equipment.


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