Historic Black cemetery in Crestwood formally recognized by National Register

Register recognition provides more opportunities for grants and funding

The+entrance+to+Father+Dickson+Cemetery+in+Crestwood.

Photo by Erin Achenbach

The entrance to Father Dickson Cemetery in Crestwood.

By Lucas Irizarry, Staff Reporter

Crestwood’s historic Black cemetery — Father Dickson Cemetery — was officially recognized on the National Register of Historic Places Oct. 6. Registration protects the site from government take-over and brings more attention for funding and tourism.

The cemetery, under Friends of Father Dickson Board President Ernest Jordan’s care for the past 33 years, was founded in 1903 and is the final resting place of 12,000 Black Americans. Before Jordan began working on the cemetery in 1988, it was rife with vandalism and overgrown vegetation. 

Jordan said it was important to preserve the site because of the lack of similar historic places in the area.

“Out in that area there is hardly any information about Black history. I have a grandmother, a great-great grandmother and numerous relatives buried there,” Jordan said. “Back in the 80s there was a developer that was inclined to do residential or commercial development on the property. There’s just too much history, locally, nationally and worldwide for the people that are buried there to be lost.”

In September, Friends of Father Dickson held a grave marker surveying event as part of the application process for the National Register. Volunteers took measurements and collected other information related to each grave marker for the register application, while the class from Lindenwood handled the formal application process.  

Jordan said getting the cemetery on the register was always the goal because it gives more opportunities for funding and grants. Jordan said the news of registration hit him “like a 2×4,” so the board hasn’t had a chance to identify which grants it will be applying for. In the past the board has applied for support from the Crestwood government and been rebuffed, so Jordan may revisit the idea now that the cemetery is registered.

The cemetery is part of a collection of historic places in the area, including the Grant Historic Site and the Sappington House complex and featured at the Sappington House gift shop is a walking tour of the cemetery created by Jordan himself. 

“We encourage people to walk through it, visit it, it’s open from sunrise to sunset,” Jordan said. “We want to introduce it to the community not only for Black History Month, but Black history period because it’s so accessible.”

Recently the Crestwood Board of Aldermen approved the addition of the Joseph Sappington Cabin to the Sappington House site, adding an extra piece to the historic area. In the past the cemetery and the foundation have partnered for fundraising and events, and Sappington House Event and Volunteer Coordinator Sally Cakouros said the cemetery’s registration and the new cabin help to complete the “historic district.”

“I’ve been talking about it and now it’s becoming more real,” Cakouros said. “We have been doing things with them in the past and we look forward to doing more things with them. It just makes us a more well rounded site.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with the correct date that the cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.