Historic Lakeside Cemetery slopes down to a wrought iron fence only a few yards from a steep cliff down to Lake Erie. Erosion is threatening the stability of that land and will eventually cause serious problems at the 1814 cemetery itself. A pathway leads to a stairway down to a dock and small beach. A tree has partially blocked the stairway.

Despite roadblocks, efforts to stave off potentially catastrophic erosion at the historic Lakeside Cemetery continue, just feet from a cliff dropping to the waters of Lake Erie.

The project to save the cemetery with 270 graves, including Bay founders Joseph and Lydia Cahoon, is a complicated, intertwining tale of history, land ownership and destructive natural forces.

There are three obstacles preventing work from starting: project cost, land ownership and access to the lakefront. The project, which is estimated to cost up to $500,000, would involve installing barge armor stone along the 28- to 30-foot-high cliff. This will require the city of Bay Village, which is responsible for maintaining the cemetery, to own the property between it and the lake before any work can be done on it. The work would also remove access to the shore. Charles and Carolyn Young, who own the land, don’t want to lose their property rights or access to the shoreline, according to Service Director Jon Liskovec.

“The project is at a stalemate right now,” he said during a phone interview last week. “The Youngs have a vision of what they want to have happen and the city has a vision of what they can afford to have happen. We’re trying to figure out who will take lead on the project based on what will be done.”

The Youngs own two of the three parcels of land between the cemetery and lake. The city owns the third. The family brought in an independent engineering firm to analyze the soil and proposed its own plan for work earlier this year. The Youngs’ plan would allow them to retain as much land use as possible while also allowing work to be done, said Law Director Mark Barbour.

“The homeowners sent us a new proposal for the project and we had sent them questions regarding it,” Barbour said, noting that the pandemic has also slowed down the process substantially. “We’re still waiting to hear back from them and when we do, we can move forward.”

The Youngs’ two rectangular parcels total 14,374 square feet, or about a third of an acre, while the city land is 21,717 square feet or about half an acre, which includes the cemetery and a portion of the shoreline. The city’s parcel is surrounded by the Youngs’ land, which they bought, as well as the house across the street from the cemetery, in July 2008 from Ed and B.J. Schwartz, for a total of $450,000 according to information provided by Cuyahoga County.

The homeowners could not be reached by press time.

Work on the project began in 2018 when city officials began seeking out grants from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Last year, city engineers conducted a soil boring test that found a large amount of the shoreline composed of unstable soil. To help with stabilization, city crews trimmed the canopy of an 80-foot-high hickory tree on the north side of the cemetery that’s been there for about 100 years.

Gabion baskets, which are wire mesh, 3-by-3-by-9-foot box containers filled with limestone boulders, were placed in the lake in 1973 and the eroded area was backfilled to help combat erosion. Since then, however, some of the baskets holding the limestone have broken, causing instability and erosion.

The cemetery was created for Rebecca Johnson Porter and her infant son, David, after the two drowned in April 1814 while returning to their home by boat from Cleveland. Porter’s sister, Sarah Osborn, and her husband, Reuben, donated a portion of their lakefront property next to Rebecca’s home for a public cemetery. Now it’s home to several historical figures including veterans from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I, as well as many names recognizable as Bay Village’s founding families.

“Our main objective is protecting that cemetery,” Liskovec said.

Officials are expecting an update for the project soon.

Contact this reporter at akamczyc@westlifenews.com or 216-307-6614.

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