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Jan 22nd
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Home Places to Visit Historic Graveyards Deadwood's Other Graveyard: Historic Saint Ambrose Cemetery Has a Future

Deadwood's Other Graveyard: Historic Saint Ambrose Cemetery Has a Future

Restoration, Preservation Plans Proceed to Save South Dakota Town's Nearly Forgotten Catholic Burial Ground Dating Back to Early 1880s

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Some simply call it Deadwood's other cemetery, while others don't even know that it's there, but all that's about to change for the Black Hills' historic Saint Ambrose Cemetery.

Established as a Catholic graveyard around 1880 by Deadwood's Saint Ambrose Church (although some say it served as a cemetery even before that), Saint Ambrose Cemetery never received anywhere near the notoriety of its neighbor, Mount Moriah Cemetery.

It's at Mount Moriah where you will find the remains of such Wild West notables as Wild Bill Hickok, "Calamity Jane," Potato Creek Johnny and Preacher Henry Smith.

Rather, Saint Ambrose Cemetery became the resting place for many early Catholic Irish settlers, but at least one famous Deadwood personality rests within. The grave of Mike Russell, who owned Deadwood's Bodega Saloon, and who was a close friend of Buffalo Bill Cody (he helped finance Cody's Wild West show) is there, as well as several other significant leaders of the community.

Over the decades, Saint Ambrose fell into disrepair, and its parish really was not able to take care of the property. In 2003, however, the City of Deadwood acquired the Saint Ambrose Cemetery and plans began to be drawn up for its reclamation and preservation.

Due to erosion and sporadic maintenance, the cemetery currently is depressed and unsafe. Within the cemetery there are failing retaining walls and plot caps, tilted monuments, and unstable fences.

In some areas, gravestones, retaining walls, and ironwork have been affected by natural vegetation, poor construction, and weathering. Vandalism and theft have also become a persistent problem.

In an effort to restore and preserve the Saint Ambrose Cemetery, the City of Deadwood and the Historic Preservation Commission have hired Dream Design International Inc. (DDI) to prepare and facilitate a preservation plan for the cemetery's immediate and long-term future.

DDI is experienced and knowledgeable in historic preservation practices and has done extensive research on cemetery preservation. DDI's staff has been involved in many historic preservation projects including the Mt. Moriah Cemetery Preservation Plan.

On March 4, 2008, the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission hosted a public meeting and discussion on the restoration plan for the Saint Ambrose Cemetery.

Representatives from DDI presented an overview of the restoration plan project, and provided updates. Additionally, the commission sought the community's vision for the restoration and preservation of the cemetery, and heard input on important issues and priorities for the project.

The input gathered at the meeting will be considered in the creation of the final preservation plan for the project. Another public meeting should be held in late April.

"One of items of the Preservation Master Plan for Saint Ambrose will be to determine if the cemetery's monuments, such as the Angel of Saint Ambrose, should be preserved in the present state, or restored to its formal glory," Kevin Kuchenbecker, Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Deadwood, told OldWestNewWest.Com. "I am assuming it will be a case-by-case basis with each and every monument in the cemetery. It is truly a wonderful project, and we are looking forward to the results of the plan."

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