Dalton's West Hill Cemetery is the final resting place for some of the city's most illustrious residents, including poet Robert Loveman, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” author A.J. Showalter and baseball player Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, as well as 421 Confederate soldiers and thousands of others, including many of Dalton’s political and business leaders.
"The city estimates there are approximately 23,500 deceased who have been buried in West Hill Cemetery," said Public Works Director Andrew Parker.
West Hill Cemetery is approximately 95 acres, and its remaining spaces could be filled before the end of the decade.
"The city has approximately 2,000 spaces remaining within the sections of the West Hill Cemetery commonly referred to as the 'flats,'" said Parker. "These are the sections west of Lewell Street and north of Emery Street. Since 2015, there have been an average of 230-plus burials per year. That equates to approximately eight years of remaining space within the existing, active footprint of the cemetery."
Parker and City Council members are looking at ways to extend the use of the cemetery.
"The city owns another 7.5 acres of property immediately north of the 'flats' which is currently undeveloped and wooded," said Parker. "This area could potentially be used as a future expansion area for West Hill Cemetery."
Parker said one of the questions facing officials is whether to use that space for graves or for a mausoleum or some combination of the two.
About 20 years ago, officials in Rome faced a similar decision in regard to Myrtle Hill Cemetery. They decided to build a mausoleum with 840 casket spaces.
"The city (of Dalton) is in the very early planning stages of determining which option is more cost-effective and viable for implementation," said Parker. "The city of Dalton will review the Myrtle Hill mausoleum and learn from the city of Rome to determine if this is a feasible option for Dalton in West Hill Cemetery. Should traditional, direct burial plots be used in this 7.5-acre tract, city staff estimates approximately 2,450 burial spaces could be created."
City Council member Gary Crews said it isn't too early to start planning on how to use the remaining space at West Hill Cemetery.
"You've got to plan for these years in advance," he said. "If we decide to go with a mausoleum, we've got to survey the site, hire an architect, bid out the construction. That can take a while."
Mayor David Pennington agreed it isn't too early to look at the future of the cemetery.
"The Public Works Department will bring a recommendation to the council, and we will consider it," he said.
The city maintains two other cemeteries that have been at capacity and closed for more than a decade: Oak Hill Cemetery, near the Dalton-Whitfield County Public Library at the intersection of Waugh Street and Cappes Street, and the old Presbyterian Cemetery between Stone Street and Peachtree Street.