KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — When the COVID-19 pandemic started shutting things down in mid-March, inmate work crews were unable to return to Crestview Cemetery for lawn maintenance.

Crestview is the largest African American burial site in Knox County, and it’s now overgrown with grass and weeds.

A Knoxville woman whose mother is buried at Crestview called WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare to ask what could be done, and Don found some answers.

Good news: Crestview to get cleaned up

The good news — Crestview is going to get cleaned up, at least temporarily.

Some of the grave sites at Crestview Cemetery can hardly be viewed due to the overgrowth. (WATE)

The cemetery is part of a group of historic burial grounds and presently, no one claims the property. Once the pandemic arrived in the area, maintenance was halted.

The grounds at Crestview Cemetery haven’t been mowed all year. Grass and weeds are so high, it’s difficult to find or even see some of the gravestones. For people who have loved ones buried here, the site of the cemetery is disheartening.

Cemetery condition is disheartening

“It looks like a jungle to me. It looks like a forest. It’s grown up almost as tall as I am,” Brenda Reece said.

Brenda Reece says her mother was buried at Crestview more than 40 years ago.

The cemetery is part of the West View Historic Cemetery District consisting of Crestview, Southern Chain and Longview cemeteries.

Along the edge of Keith Avenue, you can see where a few people have trimmed the grass around the markers of family members.

“When I went there for her birthday in March, it was real high so I cut it. Then, I went back by there,  it was so tall I couldn’t even get in there,” Reece said.

We were there 11 years ago when the cemetery was being maintained by its owners.  At the time, the grass was being cut and some of the overturned stones were repaired. But within a year or two, ownership of the private cemetery was in dispute.

Trustees from the Knox County Jail maintained cemetery for years

So, around eight years ago, Knoxville’s Public Service Department and the Knox County County Sheriff’s Office started maintaining the property.

“The inmates had been doing it for awhile. But since COVID, they have not been able to get out and do anything,” Reece said.

Trustees from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office had maintained the property here for years; cutting the grass and trimming around the grave stones. When the pandemic began, the sheriff’s office told us its work release program ended temporarily for the safety of its inmates. A sheriff’s spokesperson said regrettably no one has been able to return since mid-March.

“Nothing has been done, the grass has grown up and nothing has been done,” Reece said.

Don Dare speaks with B&B Services, Inc. about the upcoming cleanup effort at Crestview Cemetery. (Photo: WATE)

But soon, something will be done at the cemetery. The city tells WATE 6 On Your Side, B&B Services has won a contract to clean up the site.

“It means a lot to us. We are award of the circumstances. We are excited about extending a hand to assist.  As well as learn more knowledge about the graveyard,” Walter Jamison, B&B Project Manager, said.

City approves one-time emergency mowing contract

When Reece heard that the city has approved a one-time emergency contract to mow the property, she was happy to hear it.

“Okay, that’s a good thing, that is very good,” Reece said.

Jamison says it will likely take a week to make the cemetery look good again.

“It is a lot of work. A lot of hands-on work. To be sensitive to the head stones out there. The grass is extremely high. It is a big task,” Jamison said.

Reece said she is looking forward to visiting her mother’s gravesite that has been rightfully maintained.

B&B Services has twice received Minority Business of the Year awards from the City of Knoxville and The Urban League.

In light of COVID-19, the Sheriff’s Office tells us its group of work release inmates will likely resume maintenance at the gravesite properties once it’s safe to do so.