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KSBY Investigates: Saving St. Patrick's Cemetery - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

KSBY Investigates: Saving St. Patrick's Cemetery

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St. Patrick's Cemetery, Arroyo Grande (KSBY) St. Patrick's Cemetery, Arroyo Grande (KSBY)
Price family gravesite, St. Patrick's Cemetery, Arroyo Grande (KSBY) Price family gravesite, St. Patrick's Cemetery, Arroyo Grande (KSBY)
Workers restore a damaged headstone at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Arroyo Grande. (KSBY) Workers restore a damaged headstone at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Arroyo Grande. (KSBY)
John Michael Price (courtesy Effie McDermott) John Michael Price (courtesy Effie McDermott)
Andrea Carlon Price (courtesy Effie McDermott) Andrea Carlon Price (courtesy Effie McDermott)

When you drive north on the 101 through Arroyo Grande, it's hard to miss a dilapidated cemetery on a hill, just off the highway.

Community members have tried for years to get Catholic Church officials to restore the deserted burial site where some of San Luis Obispo County's pioneer families are laid to rest.

"This is the history of the founding fathers of this area,"said Johnny Kenny on a recent visit to the historic cemetery. 

Kenny is a descendent of John Michael Price, the Central Coast pioneer developer who founded Pismo Beach. Price sold the land on the hill to the Archdiocese of Monterey for a dollar back in the late 1800s, to be used as a cemetery. 

"This was John Price's ocean view," said Kenny. "You could see down the valley into the lush marshlands. It was a beautiful area for his vision of his resting place. " 

More than a century after Price and other local pioneers were laid to rest, the cemetery is deserted. About 220 people are buried there, most in the late 1800s to the early 1920s, according to Archdiocese records. The last burial was in 1981.
 
Vandals, thieves and weather took a devastating toll on the historic cemetery as a Walmart and the 5 Cities Shopping Center thrived nearby.

"What's it like now, looking around here?" KSBY reporter Caroline Lowe asked Kenny.

"It is bleak, it's been vandalized, it's been neglected, " said Kenny, as he walked through the cemetery last week.

Unlike many neglected cemeteries in more rural settings, St. Patrick's is surrounded by one of the busiest retail and commercial developments in the area.

"Thousands of people pass by this every day but no one gives it attention or restoring it," said Kenny. "Names are gone, grave sites are cracked. It's sad."

The conditions motivated some community members to create a website and Facebook page, urging the Archdiocese to save the burial grounds.

When KSBY recently contacted church officials, they told us they are considering a couple of options to finally do just that.

We shared the news with Kenny.

Kenny: "That's wonderful!"

Lowe: "Did that surprise you?"

Kenny: "I don't know if it's surprising. It's more about time."

The first step was repairing about 15 toppled, broken headstones last week.

Kenny said he looks forward to pitching in to help with the restoration project, a project to show respect and remembrance for those laid to rest at the historic cemetery. He would like to see St.Patrick's Cemetery become a serene place where people come to picnic with their children and talk with docents about the pioneers who are resting there.

"It's exciting to see people are at it again, interested," Kenny said. "Hopefully, their interest sticks and a little bit and slice of Central Coast history can be preserved here." 

Greg Knowles, Director of Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Monterey, released this statement to KSBY regarding plans in the works to finally restore St. Patrick's Cemetery:

"We are very pleased to announce today that we completed the reassembly and straightening of 15-20 monuments. We are in the early stages of looking into plans from a landscape architect, to improve the overall appearance of the grounds and soil. To date, we have only conceptual plans and we are working on obtaining the overall costs, in which we may need the community's help and input. Currently, we are looking at two possibilities. 

The first one would be to create a very simple grounds solution, by bringing in decorative small rock. Applying the gravel section by section as funds allow, until the acreage is completed. The finished result would be a very low maintenance but simple and unimaginative looking grounds. The only ongoing maintenance would be a simple quarterly weed spraying.

The second option being suggested is a more creative plan by introducing wild flowers and planting some native plants. This plan may even be more cost effective initially but would require long-term maintenance of trimming, weeding, etc. Long term, this plan would need much more maintenance than the first. However, this is still an option if the community would possibly consider assisting with it.

Understandably, this project is long overdue, and we want to express our appreciation for the communities patience and input in this matter."

Greg Knowles said anyone who is interested in being part of a committee to help with the restoration plans should contact him at Gregk@cfcsmonterey.org.

Related links:
Price Historical Park
Save St. Patrick's Cemetery
 

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