Camp Nelson National Cemetery to expand

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Last week, the Jessamine County Fiscal Court approved the sale of the remainder of its property on the Glass Farm for $180,000 to the Camp Nelson National Cemetery.

This plot of land, around 16-21 acres, will be used to expand the cemetery.

According to the director of the Kentucky National Cemetery Complex, Michael Niklarz, the cemetery has no real connection to Camp Nelson National Monument, as it is run by the National Park Service and the cemetery is run by the Veterans’ Association.

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The national monument was made into an official national park in 2018, but the cemetery has existed since Camp Nelson was used during the Civil War in the 1860s.

“(The cemetery is) much older than we are because they came into existence literally right after the Civil War due to what happened here at Camp Nelson. There was a large hospital that was here, and many soldiers died here, and they needed a place to bury them. And they did, and then after the war, it became proclaimed a national cemetery,” Ernie Price, superintendent of Camp Nelson National Monument, said.

Many civilian workers from Camp Nelson were also buried in some of the original graves.

The first expansion of the cemetery that Niklarz remembers was in 1997. This upcoming purchase is part of a three-phase plan to expand the cemetery.

The Jessamine County Fiscal Court donated 21.69 acres of land to the Cemetery five to eight years ago. That was split into two plots to be developed for burials in two phases.

Phase one is happening now, and that plot of land now has available gravesites and roads.

Phase two will likely take place in 3-5 years. The cemetery will have about 5800 new grave sites thanks to these first two phases.

Niklarz says as long as the state loses veterans at the same rate, those 5800 graves will keep them going for 10+ years.

The third phase will be the development of the 16-20 acres of the soon-to-be-purchased Glass Farm.

Niklarz said the cemetery needs to expand because it is in its mission to “make sure that we provide a final resting place with honor and dignity to our veterans. That’s the bottom line. This (expansion) is all for Kentucky veterans as long as they have an honorable discharge.”

The expansion won’t just allow for more gravesites in the national cemetery, but the national monument will get a piece, too.

Price said the national monument will also gain something from this transaction between the county and the cemetery.

“We are involved because if this transaction happens, a tiny sliver of land is part of that purchase- about .7 acres- that the cemetery would transfer to the national monument,” he said.

However, this land transfer still must be approved federally.

Price said that Camp Nelson, or any national park, must do more than just go out and start claiming land to expand the park. Any land that comes into the national monument must be part of the approved boundary for that park, and the boundary must be considered historically relevant to the park’s theme and mission.

Price has drafted the request, redrawn the map, and is now waiting to send the request to the National Park Service’s regional office in Georgia. The regional office is the one that submits the request for congressional approval.

This expansion is something that Jessamine County Judge-Executive David West would like to celebrate with the cemetery and the park.

He said his father played a hand in an earlier expansion for the cemetery, so he’s proud to help facilitate this expansion today.

“It’s very significant for all of us,” West said.