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9:55 PM Sun, Dec. 16th

Citizens' Cemetery protects pioneers' graves with fence thanks to donors

Joanna Dodder/The Daily Courier<br> Ward Fence employee Joel Gonzales uses a welding tool to cut out the wrought-iron fence around a gravestone at Citizens’ Cemetery in Prescott last week.

Joanna Dodder/The Daily Courier<br> Ward Fence employee Joel Gonzales uses a welding tool to cut out the wrought-iron fence around a gravestone at Citizens’ Cemetery in Prescott last week.

PRESCOTT - Yavapai Cemetery Association volunteers have a little more peace of mind now that donations have helped build another section of protective fence around the historic Citizens' Cemetery in Prescott.

The second phase of the fence went up last week across the southern half of the cemetery, which is located along the east end of Sheldon Street.

The cemetery is the final resting place for nearly 3,000 of Prescott's pioneers, although only about 840 of them still have gravestones. It was established the same year as Arizona's territorial capital of Prescott in 1864, and was basically full by 1933.

Among those pioneers are eight ancestors of Pat Atchison, who with her late husband John founded the Yavapai Cemetery Association. The association helps the Yavapai County government take care of the cemetery, and it heads the fence fundraising effort.

Atchison's family dates back to the 1870s in Prescott. Her great-grandfather William Waters Durbin came here in 1875. He built many of the houses here, including his own home that still stands at 120 N. Summit St. Durbin, his wife and their two sons who died in infancy are among those buried in Citizens' Cemetery.

So Atchison has a special interest in protecting the historic headstones. She has collected boxes full of information about her antecedents, alongside more boxes full of documents about hundreds of other pioneers buried at Citizens' Cemetery.

"John and I loved old cemeteries," Pat Atchison said as she looked out amongst the gravestones recently.

"It was the goal to get the fence up before John died" in September 2009, said Bob Bakken, another Yavapai Cemetery Association volunteer.

With only donations to make the fence a reality, the going has been slow during these tough financial times. So the fence is going up in phases.

"I don't know how we're going to come up with the rest of it," Bakken said.

The locations of the first and second phases of the fence have been placed strategically to reduce easy access to the cemetery and therefore curb vandalism to the historic gravestones.

"We've had an increase in vandalism and foot traffic, and transient people sleeping here," said Julie Holst, who recently took over the presidency of the Cemetery Association.

"We put 13 tombstones back together in the last two months," after they had been vandalized over the years, Bakken said.

"When we were young, we were taught not to do this. We went to the cemetery with flowers for our relatives," Atchison said. "But now, people don't live where their families were... and they're not taught how to behave in cemeteries."

The wrought-iron fence is being erected just inside the low rock wall that Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps employees built around the cemetery in the 1930s. It would break the historic rock wall to drill the fence into it, explained Bob Furman, Yavapai County Facilities Department superintendent.

Contractors are preserving headstones and trees by cutting out the fence around them.

It's no small feat that the association has raised more than $50,000 to build about 1,000 feet of the fence, but it's still only about half done.

Many of the donations were made in the names of John Atchison and Barbara Bakken, Bob's late wife who died a year before Atchison.

When the fence is complete, the Cemetery Association plans to erect a plaque in memory of Atchison and Bakken. So although there is no room for more burials at Citizens' Cemetery, their memory will still be honored there.

To donate money to complete the fence, contact the Cemetery Association at ycacitizens@gmail.com or call 713-8807.