Conditions Survey and Preservation Plan for

Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery

MacDonald & Mack Architects, LTD




Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery located on the corner of Cedar Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis, Minnesota, first opened for public burials in 1858.  After falling into a state of disrepair when its founder and caretaker, Martin Layman, died in 1886, many of its 27,000 bodies were exhumed and relocated elsewhere.  In August of 1919, the Minneapolis City Council closed the cemetery to burials due to its condition and size.  The city purchased the cemetery in 1928.[1]  Only a few burials have been allowed at the cemetery since.


Several rehabilitation schemes have been carried out in the cemetery’s past, the most significant of which occurred soon after the city’s purchase of the site.  Between 1928 and 1936, fencing, grass boulevards, plantings, sidewalks and ornamental site furnishings were installed.  Since then, work done to the cemetery has been mostly routine and is carried out by the Division of Public Works of the City of Minneapolis.  In recent times, the masonry piers that line Cedar Avenue and Lake Street were rehabilitated.  A private group entitled the Corcoran Neighborhood Association formed in 2000 to encourage and enable efforts such as these in the future.[2]


In April of 2002, the Corcoran Neighborhood Group contracted with MacDonald & Mack Architects, Ltd., to prepare a brief conditions survey and assist with preservation planning for the cemetery.  Items of particular concern included the wrought-iron fence, masonry piers at the perimeter of the cemetery, and marker stones.  After presenting our conditions report to the group for critique, it was determined that assistance with creating a basic maintenance plan would be of most help to the group in terms of preservation planning.  This report was prepared by Margaret Sauter and Robert Mack of MacDonald & Mack.


A copy of the conditions assessment, listing of work priorities, and instructions on how to create a quality maintenance plan follow this summary.  The appendix features a series of documents that can be photocopied as quick-reference for volunteers at the cemetery.  Appendix A notes principles of historic cemetery preservation; Appendix B offers resetting instructions for gravestones; and Appendix C explains techniques and solutions acceptable for cleaning masonry piers and marker stones.  Photographs (not included) follow in Appendix D.


Physical Conditions


Wrought Iron Fence


A wrought-iron fence extends along the Cedar Avenue and Lake Street sides of the cemetery.  The fence is in fair to poor condition.  While most of the vertical “pickets” are sound, many of the bottom rails have rusted to the point that they have significant loss of material.  In addition, many of the iron supports rods that connect the fence to the ground are missing.  Of the ones remaining, many are damaged and are no longer functional.


The bottom rail is most likely rusting due to extended contact with the moist ground below and drips from the upper rails above.  Iron support rods are most likely damaged or missing due to careless operation of lawn equipment.  Many are bent in the middle.


The bottom rail has rusted beyond repair.  It will need to be replaced rather than restored.  Smaller holes in the fence can be repaired using an epoxy, which will bond to the substrate and serve as a patch.  Rusty areas of the fence can be repaired using a converter, which will change rust back into metal.  The fence will need to be cleaned and sanded to remove loose paint before these chemical repairs are made.  Missing and damaged support rods will need to be replaced.  In the future, rust and corrosion can be prevented by maintaining the sealant paint covering the raw iron.


Perimeter Masonry Piers


Limestone piers support the wrought-iron fence along the two streets.  The piers are in fair to good condition.  Several of the piers have been extensively rebuilt while others were repointed in the past few years.  Some of the modern concrete pier bases are damaged along the southern edge of the cemetery, most likely due to settling in the ground or reconstruction with poor quality concrete.


Maintenance personnel seem to be aware of appropriate preservation and rehabilitation techniques for the piers.  Given this and the fact that the majority of piers are in an acceptable state, the only recommendation offered for their care is eventual replacement of the damaged concrete bases.  The damaged bases can be repaired in the same manner as other concrete bases along the stones.


Marker Stones


The markers vary widely in terms of material and condition.  Many need to be reset and some repair joints have failed.  Others are weathering and becoming hard to read.  The appendix to this assessment lists a variety of techniques for the restoration and cleaning of historic markers.  It is recommended these instructions be followed, and the maintenance instructions detailed within this document be followed to slow deterioration in the future.  Documentation should also be carried out to record for history the date on the weathered stones which cannot be replaced.


Work Priorities


The first work priority at any site is to repair structures or landscape elements that pose a safety threat to people, and to stabilize those features of the site that are in danger of imminent collapse.  Pioneers and Soldiers is lucky to have few of these concerns, and as a result, can focus more on long-term goals.  Work priorities for the cemetery should be as follows:


1.  Identify and Map:  The point of developing a preservation plan is to preserve those elements of the cemetery that are significant to the history of the grounds.  Therefore, surveys need to be conducted to determine which portions of the cemetery are worthy of restoration and preservation efforts.  Such elements should be recorded in a catalog and their location identified on a map.


2.  Evaluate:   The extent of repairs needed by the cemetery’s significant elements can only be determined after examining them individually to assess their condition.  Their conditions should be noted in the catalog developed in priority number one, and repair for them should be provided in the capital improvements portion of the maintenance plan.


3. Document:  Preservation experts recommend complete documentation of a site before repair work begins.  Such suggestions are appropriate for Pioneers and Soldiers due to its importance to the history of the city.  In addition, documentation is worthwhile as many of the historic elements are constructed of materials that will weather, and vital information may be lost if not recorded.


4.  Create a maintenance plan:  The maintenance plan needs to support ongoing preservation efforts and eliminate any damage occurring to the grounds as a result of inadequate planning or lack of knowledge regarding appropriate preservation techniques.  Included in this report is information regarding preservation techniques; personnel at the cemetery grounds should be enlisted to develop a general maintenance plan that fits with the special care needs of the cemetery and the resources available to do the work.


5). Carry out capital improvements and change maintenance habits.  Repairs of secondary importance, such as removing trees that are slow-growing but disruptive to historical markers, are not pressing in nature but should be completed in a timely manner.  In addition, no conscientious maintenance plan is effective if not enacted.  Changes to “maintenance habits” must be made to guarantee theoretical preservation plans become practice. Personnel involved with the cemetery on a day-to-day basis are typically best at enforcing and refining the maintenance plan as needed, assuming they understand the potentially hazardous effects of many common maintenance techniques and are invested enough in the grounds to avoid these hazards.


Creating a Maintenance Plan


Maintenance plans should be developed for both grave markers and landscaping elements to ensure preservation efforts are supported, rather than thwarted, during routing care of cemetery grounds.  Maintenance plans should include basic information about the site such as emergency and staff contacts, a brief summary of the owner’s philosophy for maintenance; a description of tasks to be completed; appropriate cleaning and repair techniques; a schedule for maintenance and log of work completed for routine tasks; a schedule for maintenance and log of work completed for capital improvements; and maps to make routine care easy to plan and more efficient.  Maintenance plans such as these can improve the cost-efficiency of care, reduce wear and tear to many of the historical elements of the cemetery, and help maintenance managers plan for preservation in the future.


Contact Information


Emergency contacts and staff phone numbers should be at the beginning of the maintenance plan. This section should also list any general emergency procedures staff may have to follow.


Philosophies for Maintenance


Maintenance philosophies for historical cemeteries typically center upon the concepts of stabilization and preservation.  Stabilization refers to the efforts put forth by managers, maintenance crews and volunteers to “retain the greatest cultural and structural integrity of the artifact and the site overall” while interfering as little as possible with the historical fabric of the site.   Preservation refers to the big-picture efforts put forth by managers and maintenance crews to care for the site, including planning for preservation in the future and documenting changes to the grounds as they occur.[3]


As part of their philosophy of preservation and stabilization, historical cemetery experts advocate the use of maintenance methods and materials which will do the least amount of damage to markers, piers, fence supports, grave depressions and historical plants.  This requires preliminary research to identify artifacts significant to the cemetery’s history, full documentation of artifacts before repairs; and repair work that retains, rather than strips, the historic character of a particular artifact while removing immediate dangers that jeopardize the artifact’s health in the future.  A complete list of preservation principles for historic cemeteries can be found in Appendix A.


Description of Tasks


The tasks to be performed at the cemetery should be broken down into two categories:  routing care and capital improvements.  Routine care includes maintenance duties that need to be carried out at least once a year, if not more.  Capital improvements include maintenance duties that need to be completed every few years, or on an as-needed basis.  Maintenance staff know best what tasks need to be completed at the cemetery, and are the best equipped to assemble such a list, but a rundown of potential times to include can be found below.


Routine tasks for markers and structures are rather few, since minimal cleaning is advocated for these artifacts.  Surveying the grounds to assess damage to stones, piers, fencing, ornamental site furnishings, and so forth should be completed on a regular basis to maintain a running list of repairs to be made.  Historic structures, such as the cemetery office building, should be examined as well and have maintenance performed on it similar to that of any house or structure.


Most of the maintenance associated with markers and structures would fall into the capital improvements section.  Resetting broken or leaning markers is fully acceptable according to the preservation philosophy outlined above, so long as the reconstruction is done with materials and methods that do not damage the marker further.  Markers in danger of topping or cracking may also be repaired, so long as they are repaired in a fashion that will not further damage the marker in the future.  Cleaning as well is appropriate, although excessive cleaning is unnecessary as it can damage the historical fabric of the markers and other masonry items. Repainting the wrought-iron fence and wooden structures should also be planned on an as-needed basis.


Routine tasks for the lawn are many.  Tasks such as mowing, weedwhipping, raking, shoveling and de-icing are obviously in constant rotation.  Trimming historic plants and monitoring non-historic plants to assess their potential damage to markers and structures should be added to the list.


Capital improvements for lawn care should include removing non-historic plants that are disrupting markers and repairing roads and walkways.  Filling in grave depressions should never be done, as they are often the “only evidence of otherwise unmarked graves.”[4]


Appropriate Techniques for Repair and Cleaning


Marker and Structures Repair and Cleaning


Some preservation experts recommend only trained conservators, artisans and masons who have experience working with historic materials be allowed to reset, reconstruct or repair broken or cracked markers.[5]  However, many cemetery preservation groups throughout the country carry out these repairs themselves.  Appendix B features basic resetting instructions from the Connecticut Gravestone Network.  Pioneers and Soldiers should hire a professional conservator to develop more specific instructions, however, as these may not be complete.


Cleaning markers should be done with the least invasive methods and materials possible.  A description of acceptable and unacceptable solutions and techniques can be found in Appendix C.  These instructions can be considered professional recommendations and should be put into the maintenance plan.


Although many of the historic masonry piers have been partially reconstructed with new material, it is appropriate for Pioneers and Soldiers to enlist preservation-minded techniques for the care of these as well so as to not damage the historic fabric that remains.  Cleaning recommendations for the masonry piers are similar to those for markers as explained in Appendix C.  In addition, piers heavily stained with pollutants or oily soil can be cleaned with a non-ionic alkaline detergent and natural or synthetic bristle brush, since they are uniformly constructed of limestone.  Test cleaning should be done in an inconspicuous area to ensure that no staining or deterioration occurs on the piers as a result of using such a detergent.[6]  It is recommended that a professional masonry cleaner be hired if the use of any cleaning agent beyond plain water and ammonia is used on the piers.


Landscape Repairs and Maintenance


Appropriate lawn care if one of the best ways to reduce damage to markers stones, masonry piers, ornamental site furnishings and fencing.  Because of its importance, maintenance concerns and appropriate techniques that should be considered when constructing a maintenance plan are outlined below.


Next to vandalism, lawn mowers typically cause the most damage to cemetery grounds.  Contact between a mower and marker can cause a marker to loosen and eventually topple off its base.  Contact also can cause chipping on the edges of the base and stress fractures within the stone.  Riding mowers in particular can cause damage to grave depressions, as the heavy weight of the machine encourages premature sinking and settling.  Putting rubber bumpers on the edges of a push mower may help to minimize damage in case of contact between a mower and stone.  However, it is advisable that mowers steer clear of markers to avoid a possibility of contact, and weedwhips and hand-trimming be employed to cut the grass around stones.[7]


Traditional weedwhips can damage markers as much as mowers.  Replacing such weedwhips with those that use a nylon filament is acceptable so long as they are used around hard stones only.  Hand trimming is recommended around sandstone, wooden, or decaying (sugary) markers.[8]


Herbicides and pesticides should be used sparingly, if at all.  While it is obvious that maintenance personnel should avoid spraying stones directly with chemicals, such substances may also wick into markers from surrounding soils via the marker’s base, thereby deteriorating the base, stone, or mortar joint between the two.[9]


Moisture infiltration in the markers can be caused by excessive irrigation and by the presence of voluntary vegetation crowding the base and lower portions of the stones.  Markers should be monitored for dampness when determining an appropriate irrigation schedule for the grounds; the schedules which leaves markers dry for the longest period of time should be the one adopted.  Vegetation that is crowding markers and creating a damp environment at the base of the stones should be removed, assuming it is not historical in nature.[10]


Historical plants should be trimmed regularly, but not replaced.  In addition, weed killers and other chemical treatments pose a threat to relic plants.  Ariel photos of the cemetery from the past can be used to help identify plantings found on the grounds today, if they are available.  Another inexpensive way to identify historical plans might be to host a “Plant ID Day” on Arbor Day to have interested and informed volunteers visit and identify plant types, age and so forth.  These plants should then be cataloged and marked on a maintenance map, and lawn care efforts can then be planned with their preservation in mind.  It may be helpful to contact a landscape historian as well regarding appropriate care for these plants if they are found to exist at Pioneers and Soldiers.[11]


One solution to the mowing, herbicide, irrigation and voluntary vegetation problems listed above is the replacement of traditional grass cover with a low maintenance ground covering.  Cemetery preservation experts recommend choosing a ground cover that is historic in appearance, has a shallow root base so as to not disrupt markers, and remains low-lying when mature to avoid creating a moist environment around the stones and their bases.  The ground cover should also require minimal watering and chemical treatments to avoid over saturation and chemical infiltration of the markers.[12]


Schedule for Maintenance and Log of Work Completed:  Routine Care


A schedule for repairs is best developed by maintenance staff at the site after compiling a complete list of routine and capital improvement tasks to be performed.


A log of tasks completed should be part of the schedule for maintenance for reference.


Schedule for Maintenance and Log of Work Completed:  Capital Improvements


A schedule for repairs is best developed by maintenance staff at the site after compiling a complete list of routine and capital improvement tasks to be performed.


A log of tasks completed should be part of the schedule for maintenance for reference.


Maintenance Maps


Once significant elements of the cemetery have been identified, creating a maintenance map is one of the best ways to make ongoing preservation efforts cost-effect and efficient.  Several maps should be developed, including a conditions map for markers, piers and other structures that will guide capital improvements.  This map should correspond to a catalog that notes the stone type, age and health of markers and masonry piers and a list of scheduled improvements for rehabilitating these items.  It can also record long-term trends such as spalling and discoloration in the markers, which might reveal problems in the landscape maintenance plan.


A landscaping map that notes historic plantings and can assist with efficient planning of routine lawn care should also be developed.  This map should indicate which areas of the lawn can be mowed with a riding mower, which can be done with a push mower, which markers can withstand the force of a nylon filament weedwhip, and which areas must be cut by hand.  It should also indicate which areas of the cemetery can be irrigated frequently and which cannot, and show clearly where chemical treatments can be used on the lawn.  It should correspond to a catalog of any know historical plants and a written description of appropriate care for these plants, as this vegetation is more delicate than non-historic plantings and requires individual care.


In addition to assisting daily preservation efforts, maintenance maps might help crews plan for the needs of the historical elements of the cemetery in the future.  A map can help crews identify where traditional ground coverings might be a time-saving investment, or where less frequent watering and mowing might be possible.




“The Historic Layman’s Cemetery,” Hennepin County History (Spring 1969).


Mack, Robert.  “Assessing Cleaning and Water Repellant Treatments for Historic Masonry Buildings.”  Preservation Brief Number 1 from the National Park Service, 2000.


Pearson, Marjorie.  “Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery.”  National Register of Historic Places Registration Form prepared by Hess, Roise and Company, 2001.  Available at the Heritage Preservation Commission Office, City of Minneapolis.


Strangstad, Lynette.  “Preservation of Historic Burial Grounds.”  Preservation Information Series from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1995.








[1] “The Historic Layman’s Cemetery,” Hennepin County History (Spring 1969):4.

[2] Marjorie Pearson, “Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form prepared by Hess, Roise and Company, 2001, available at the Heritage Preservation Commission Office, City of Minneapolis.

[3] Lynette Strangstad, “Preservation of Historic Burial Grounds,” Preservation Information Series from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1995:4.

[4] Ibid.:19.

[5] Ibid.:15.

[6] Robert Mack, “Assessing Cleaning and Water-Repellent Treatments for Historic Masonry Buildings,” Preservation Brief Number 1 from the National park Service, 2000; 4-5.

[7] Strangstad: 18.

[8] Ibid.:17.

[9] Ibid.”17.

[10] Ibid.:18.

[11] Ibid.:16, 18.

[12] Ibid.:18-9.