Balancing History and Functionality in Portland, ME

In 2012, as part of a long-term engineering services contract between the City of Portland and Woodard & Curran, the City tapped the engineering firm for comprehensive design, permitting, and construction administration services for an expansion of Evergreen Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark. The owner sought to use open space on the grounds to offer more options to the families of decedents. The challenge presented to Woodard & Curran was to find ways to best utilize this space for modern interment, while maintaining a historic aesthetic.

Located in the heart of Portland’s Deering neighborhood, the cemetery has been in operation since 1854. In its early years, the establishment of family plots was common and Victorian cemetery design prioritized a parklike setting. Family burial plots are no longer the norm, so Woodard & Curran’s expansion design incorporated this social shift, allowing the cemetery to establish individual plots and add a columbarium. Both are situated along paths with curvature, a nod to the existing layout of the grounds, but the absence of looping byways allows cemetery workers to more efficiently perform services and maintenance.

Also of concern was the expansion’s proximity to Stevens Avenue, an important Portland thoroughfare. It was necessary to maintain the cemetery as a visual marker on the street while preserving the peacefulness of the grounds. The landscaping team integrated buffering while preserving visibility with strategic landscaping.

The firm came about these solutions through significant outreach. Meetings with cemetery management and staff helped to shape the functional approach, while neighborhood meetings and publication of site plans invited feedback that informed aesthetic, buffering, and historic aspects of the site design.

With new paved routes and other impervious elements added to the grounds, Woodard & Curran also needed to ensure the expansion was stormwater friendly. Adding detention catchments or treatment systems was an option, but either would significantly impact the historical setting. Instead, the firm opted for a low-impact development (LID) approach, choosing to revegetate select pathways, keeping them firm enough to maneuver, but green enough to still reduce the overall impervious area of the cemetery.

The complete design, permitting, and construction process managed to meet the growth needs of Evergreen Cemetery and satisfy permitting and historical preservation requirements, all at an affordable price point for the city. Woodard & Curran helped to eliminate excessive future maintenance costs and stormwater treatment costs. Meanwhile Evergreen can provide new services to the families of decedents, which will allow the cemetery to bring in more revenue.