October 2013: Beecher Mausoleum listed on National
National Register of Historic Places
Community mausoleums in Illinois are critically
endangered due to a lack of oversight and financial
support. The Beecher Mausoleum (Beecher) and the
Fernwood Mausoleum (Roodhouse) are unfortunate examples
of the challenges community mausoleums are facing. While
committed groups of local citizens may seek to raise
funds for maintenance and rehabilitation they are
hindered by complicated legal regulations and policies
regarding land ownership and treatment of human
remains. There is a risk that the buildings, and the
people interred there, will simply be abandoned.
Dozens of community mausoleums were built in the early
1900s as part of a nationwide movement to give people of
moderate financial means affordable above-ground
entombment. These dignified buildings were given rich
stone veneers, fine metalwork and stained glass windows.
Cecil E. Bryan, a native of Irving, Illinois, is
credited with designing and building over 80 community
mausoleums, including Beecherís. But Bryan recognized
that the business model for the development of community
mausoleums was susceptible to mismanagement.
Unfortunately, his fears were realized. Community
mausoleum perpetual care endowments were often
inadequately funded or mismanaged and governing boards
disbanded or became inactive, leaving the buildings with
no effective ownership.
There is currently no Illinois state law that adequately
deals with the status of abandoned or deteriorating
mausoleums. Although local governments may take
ownership, budget constraints make this unlikely. A few
communities have raised funds to finance rehabilitation.
Others have sought to demolish their mausoleums, but the
problems of locating and notifying family members of the
deceased make demolition or full rehabilitation nearly impossible. There has
been no uniform response to this growing problem.
Restoration and maintenance of these important historic
structures will require both private and public
resources. Owners and operators of community mausoleums
would benefit from technical assistance, not only in
restoration and maintenance, but also in the development
of business and/or fundraising plans. Changes to state
law to increase the funds available for maintenance of
cemeteries would also improve the situation.
What You Can Do
If there is a deteriorating or abandoned community
mausoleum in your area, please contact your state
legislators and Landmarks Illinois.