The last time the old cemetery in Moline got into erosion trouble, a hillside slid into the city swimming pool.
This time, city officials hope to get ahead of the problem before caskets that were buried 100 years ago begin reappearing above ground.
Riverside Cemetery is known and appreciated for its rolling terraces, which Moline Cemetery Manager Todd Slater points out were built 150 years ago and designed by a world-famous architect.
"The terraces were built with horses and wagons and no machinery," he said this week. "The landscaping was designed by William LeBaron Jenney, and he did a lot of famous work in Chicago and also designed the first skyscraper. It makes Riverside quite unique."
But Riverside's uniqueness also is its weakness.
In 2004, as Moline prepared to welcome its first guests to its brand new Riverside Aquatic Center, disaster struck. Part of the cemetery washed down the hill, across a road and right into the new pool.
"It took out the pool fence and went right into the water," Slater recalled. "The pool incident was bad enough and costly enough. If the larger hill above gave out, the concern is that we could have exposed graves."
The area that is getting immediate attention is in the northeast corner of the cemetery. The section is surrounded by a narrow gravel road, which now contains chunks of aged rock that have fallen from the wall that circles the knoll. Several family graves occupy the grounds, and the dates on the headstones range from the late 1800s to the mid-1990s. Some of the stones are too worn to read.
"A couple of the graves are getting very close to the hillside," Slater said. "That section is failing horribly."
The City Council is considering spending $44,880 on slope repairs, which Slater described as a "first phase" of the erosion-control work that is needed at Riverside. The expenditure would be the first for revenues from the new video-gaming fund. It comes from the city's share of proceeds from video-gambling machines that have been approved for a handful of Moline taverns.
"The terraces are getting pretty rounded in places, and many of the monuments are tipping," Slater said. "The first phase of work involves drainage. The walls, they haven't even begun to work on."
Despite the deteriorating condition, City Engineer Scott Hinton said the city has no long-term repair plans for the cemetery.
“This project addresses storm-water runoff,” he said. “It’s a way of piping the water downhill. Right now, this is the only thing we have going on.”
Among the notable burials at Riverside Cemetery are Deere & Co. founder John Deere and Francis Dickens, the fifth child of author Charles Dickens. He died in Moline in 1886.