There is no arguing the fact that Richmond is a historic town. It is one of the first cities established in Virginia, has long been the state Capitol, and was the home to some pretty notable Americans. St. John’s church in Richmond is where Patrick Henry gave his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, it was the long-time home to Edgar Allen Poe, and was the Capitol of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Nowhere is this history better exemplified than at Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery. In fact, Richmond Magazine each year publishes a list of the “Best & Worst” that the city has to offer, and Hollywood Cemetery was given the nod twice on the 2013 list. It was a runner-up for Best Scenic View and was voted Best Historic Site. We were honored to have been selected as project manager when the Cemetery Board of Trustees sought to renovate the site.
Hollywood Cemetery was established in 1849 on land that once belonged to William Byrd II, founder of Richmond, and later, Continental Congress delegate John Harvie. The sprawling 130-acre parcel, listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, is the final resting place of numerous historic Virginians, 25 Confederate generals, Jefferson Davis, and U.S. Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler. A centerpiece of the cemetery, both figuratively and geographically, is the President’s Circle, dominated by the obelisk marking the grave of President John Tyler and a black iron memorial to President James Monroe.
Surrounding President’s Circle is a series of walkways and walls, constructed of granite over 160 years ago. Replacement cobblestones were needed, and sections of wall were in disrepair. We were contracted to renovate this historically delicate site and had no margin for error.
The project called for over 607 tons of granite. Over 100,000 individual pieces would be required to pave the walkways, replace gaps in walls, and in some cases repair whole sections of wall. The original granite work was laid out with an unusual geometric symmetry, and this was matched precisely. To minimize our impact on the site, each seven-pound cobblestone and wall piece was individually milled off-site, and then delivered to its proper spot at Hollywood. We also ordered three distinct shades of granite to be able to properly match new and old.
Given the complexity of the layout, it was necessary to remove all of the existing granite and start from scratch. Everything was carefully marked, and then removed. New foundations were created, and then everything was reset. In addition to restoring President’s Circle to its original grandeur, new burial niches were created, providing for a final resting place for Virginians for years to come.
Mike Van Yahres, of BCWH/Van Yahres Studio, said, “KBS exceeded all expectations. The project proceeded extremely well.” We were honored to have had the opportunity to work on this American landmark.