History comes to life in Roanoke’s Evergreen Burial Park
The former old “solitude” farm has rolling hills and mountain views. The nearly 50 acres, nestled between the Ghent, Wasena, and Raleigh Court neighborhoods, are as beautiful today as they were 100 years ago when three prominent Roanoke businessmen created a “modern burial park,” and more importantly a lasting business that still serves its community. From its initial conception, Evergreen Burial Park has been, and is today, a special place, populated by many exceptional people who had an enormous impact on the place we call home.
World War I was raging. The United States was not yet involved, but news from the European theater splashed across the daily papers. Nestled between the headlines: “Bulgarian Port Bombarded by Allies’ Fleet,” and “Hindenburg’s Drive to Riga Now Checked: Other Russian Successes Also Reported,” Roanokers read, “Plans Made for Modern New Burial Park.” On Saturday, October 23, 1915, in the afternoon edition of the Roanoke World-News, Roanoke Valley residents first learned about the Evergreen Development Company and its plans to build a new cemetery on nearly 47 acres of land in what was then Roanoke County, Virginia.
The day before that article appeared, the Virginia State Corporation Commission had recognized the incorporation of Evergreen Development Company by its founders: A.G. Chewning, C.M. Armes, and C.B. Cole. The Roanoke area needed a new cemetery. City Cemetery had sold all of its burial plots. At the time, Fair View Cemetery was the only burial park of any size near Roanoke City. The new Evergreen Burial Park was closer to Roanoke City, and at the time it opened, it offered a unique feature that set it apart from other cemeteries in the area. “The principle feature of the new plan,” the World-News reported, “is from the beginning a substantial portion of the proceeds from the sale of space will be placed into a trust fund, the interest from which will assure thorough and perpetual care of all the lots.” Chewning, Armes, and Cole set out to build a company that would continue to service their community long after they themselves were gone.
When Don Wilson arrived at Evergreen Burial Park in 1982 as a 23-year-old upstart, little did he know that he would still be there 34 years later. It was just a job he was going to do until he found something better. As it turned out, managing a cemetery was the perfect job for him. He had always had a knack for sales. He started young, selling flower and vegetable seeds when he was eight—light bulbs, magic shoe shine, and yearbook advertisements followed. He also enjoys history and meeting people.
What he did not realize in 1982 is the cemetery business is a people business, steeped in history. People come to Evergreen at difficult times in their lives; they treat them, and the loved ones they are entrusting with them, with care and dignity. As you walk through Evergreen, you are walking by the men and women who have made our community, and in some cases our country, what it is today.
Evergreen: A Century of Service, written by Don Wilson, president of Evergreen Memorial Trust, with Denise Allen Membreno, marks the 100th anniversary of Evergreen Burial Park. When you read this book, you are not only learning the history of Evergreen Burial Park but that of Roanoke. The men who founded Evergreen Development Company were prominent business owners who shaped Roanoke in addition to their company. They and the developers of Evergreen have made things easier today with the cemetery layout, rules, and regulations, most of which are still in force, albeit with some tweaks for the 21st century.
Evergreen Memorial Trust
Over the years, Evergreen has acquired other cemeteries. Evergreen now has five properties under its umbrella: Evergreen Burial Park in Roanoke, Mountain View Memorial Park in Boones Mill, Green Hill Mausoleum in Buena Vista, Mountain View Cemetery in Vinton, and Forest Rest in Boones Mill. They wanted to let the communities in which these properties operate know that all were held to the Evergreen standards, so in 2013 they named their parent company Evergreen Memorial Trust. These properties offer everything—traditional burial, cremation, mausoleum entombment, natural burial, and pet burial.