Graveyard plots + trends

Carrboro’s plot sales averaged only 15 per year from 2013 through 2015. In 2016 Chapel Hill sold the vacant land next to their graveyard into which they could have expanded burials. As a result Carrboro’s plot sales jumped to an average of 50 per year from 2017 through 2019. Sales of plots from 2020 through 2022 averaged 103 per year.  Old Carrboro Cemetery sold out its plots in 2022. As of February 1, 2023 there were only 102 plots left along Davie.  At the 2022 rate of sales, these will be gone by September 2024.

In October 2020 the author of this website found out by accident that plans to expand the graveyard into our meadow were already underway;  he spoke to the Council five times that fall about his concerns. Worried that a shortage of plots would lead to increased pressure to withhold a park from our neighborhood, on October 27 he asked the Council to place a moratorium on further sales. But the Council failed to become engaged with the expansion-or-park issue after the town’s staff presented the CVDA expansion blueprint in November 2020. In spite of the Comprehensive Plan’s May 2022 promise of a community discussion regarding the uses of the Fidelity open tract, the Council has still not notified our neighborhood of the expansion planning that has been underway for years. By November 2021 this author had become alarmed by the sharp increase in plot sales during the first two years of the pandemic. On November 16 he warned the Council that the numbers from Public Works indicated that the Davie graveyard would run out of plots within 3 years. Knowing that running out of plots would pressure the Council to expand the graveyard into our meadow, on March 31 of 2022 he sent a specific proposal for tightening plot sales, to conserve the remaining plots for the most deserving local families so that there would be enough time to fully consider the creation of a Fidelity park. The Council did not get around to considering this proposal until February 7 this year. One member who switched their position on this measure from tightening to no-tightening at the last minute said that it wouldn’t be needed if the Council instead were to rush into a plan to expand the graveyard on an ASAP schedule! At that time they made no mention of getting community involvement in the planning process.

There are four kinds of plot sales. First, the prices depend upon whether the purchaser is a resident of Carrboro or not. Second, for planning purposes, it is interesting to note whether a plot is being bought for a recently deceased relative (“Immediate Use”) or whether the plot is being bought in advance (“Future Use”). Perhaps only 50% of plot sales are for Immediate Use.  In November 2020 there were 292 sold-but-not-yet-used plots out of the 1693 sold plots along Davie;  these 17% had been bought as Future Use (as had many others that had later been used before 2020).

Between 1948 and 2006, Carrboro increased its plot prices every 8 years on average. But our prices have not been adjusted for inflation since 2006, when they were set at $750 for residents and $1500 for non-residents. The CPI increased by 47% from July 1, 2006 to January 1, 2023.  Chapel Hill charges $1000 for an ashes niche in their columbarium. The Reformed Judea Congregation Cemetery, which is six minutes away out on Jones Ferry, is the closest privately operated graveyard. There a plot for a non-member is $5775.

The Council is reluctant to provide us with a park that would provide for our human needs so that they can instead honor the traditions and location preferences of a tiny fraction of the families in Carrboro. This is especially galling to those of us whose friends and relatives have been being cremated for decades. In a November 2021 report to the Council, Town staff reported the following percentages and projected percentages of cremations nationwide:  2010 = 40%,  2015 = 48%,  2020 = 56%,  2025 = 63%,  2030 = 70%, 2035 = 74%, 2040 = 78%. Fifty years from now, how much meaning will be attached to the new graves that will be inserted into our meadow over the next ten years?

The first burial in the Davie graveyard took place in 1933 and it became an active cemetery operated by the Town in 1948. At that time it was a whites-only graveyard surrounded by farmland. Since the total population of Carrboro in 1950 was 1795, let’s guess that 1200 of them were white. So far along Davie each acre has held 802 graves. So the entire Town-owned 8.73 acres could hold up to 7000 graves (before deducting for rocks). From 1948 to 1995, the Davie graveyard averaged only 24 plot sales per year. Since the town was far bigger after 1980 when compared to 1948, let’s guess that 10 burials took place per year in the 1950’s. (Many people would have belonged to churches with their own graveyards.). During the post-war recession, in 1948 why would a small poor milltown buy enough land to provide for up to 700 years of burials?!

Few mourners continue to visit the oldest graves at the top of the hill, which are mostly pre-2000. These Zone 1 graves largely belong to the long-departed “Old Carrboro” white families. When this author arrived in Carrboro in 1987 there were still many long time white residents with thick Southern accents. By 2000 most of them had moved out to Alamance and Chatham – if anything breaks on campus on a holiday, you have to wait an hour for an electrician or HVAC technician to arrive. (How many Trump-for-President signs did you see in Carrboro in 2020?). Where will the children of our remaining long time residents, who are largely African-American, be thirty years from now? This author has met several baby boomer African-Americans who are the proud parents of children leading professional lives across the South, and many African-American residents who are transplants. The demographics of Carrboro will continue evolve rapidly with (like it or not) gentrification accelerating. Most of any new graves created in the Fidelity meadow in the 2020’s will probably be “left behind” and rarely visited thirty or forty years from now.

GY4 Graveyard Solution was previous page