Highland Cemetery has been a landmark in Prairie Village, Kansas, since before the Civil War, when two local families, the Nalls and the Whites, established a family cemetery where the two families’ land met.
“It’s a piece of history for Prairie Village,” said Mayor Eric Mikkelson. “There’s no other tangible marker in Prairie Village that I’m aware of that goes back anywhere close to 160 years.”
“The first burials happened about 1864,” said Cemetery Board President Marianne Noll. “The two families started the cemetery because they had a need, and it was a family cemetery for the families who lived in the area.”
The one-acre cemetery was incorporated roughly 60 years after it was established as a simple family plot. However, despite its status as a local landmark, it faltered for nearly half a century, until the community rallied around it. Local Boy Scouts and schoolchildren provided a much-needed cleaning and a cemetery board re-instituted in 2015 – the first time a board existed for the cemetery in approximately 30 years.
“Prairie Village is a great city today because of what those forefathers and foremothers did for our city, and that’s where many of them are buried,” Mikkelson said. “These were our neighbors, these were our forefathers, these are the people who volunteered their time and made sacrifices to build the Prairie Village that we are today. [The cemetery] is a place for reflection, it’s a place for remembrance of who we are, who we were, where we came from.”
The new cemetery board wanted to maintain the pioneer spirit of those who came before, instead of modernizing the cemetery, although the cemetery continues to accept new burials.
“We’ve kept with the feeling of the cemetery, having it be a pioneer cemetery,” Noll said. “We wanted to keep that feeling so we haven’t done sidewalks, improvements to change the character of the cemetery.”
However, there was one modern convenience the cemetery was sorely lacking – access to running water.
“Since the board took over, we saw the need to have water in the cemetery,” Noll said. “We’d like to spend time cleaning the old markers, and we need water. Hauling water in is arduous. When we plant flowers, we need water. Any cleanup we do, we need water.”
Prairie Village approached the local water utility, WaterOne, and requested the utility consider providing the cemetery with a water connection at no cost, since the volunteer group didn’t have the financial means to install a tap on their own. Unfortunately, because WaterOne is a nonprofit public agency, it is not permitted to distribute free services, so couldn’t install the tap for free. However, WaterOne has a partnership with HomeServe, a leading provider of emergency home repair plans, and WaterOne officials knew that HomeServe could help.
“Water One recognized an opportunity for service line warranty partner HomeServe to demonstrate its good faith and investment in its customers by funding the extension through its charitable donations,” said WaterOne Engineer Matt Carter. “We thank HomeServe for being such a good partner to our area, not only in providing affordable home water line system warranties, but also taking a rare opportunity like this to demonstrate that HomeServe cares.”
Through a partnership between WaterOne and HomeServe, an 80-foot water service line and hydrant were installed so volunteers could more easily access water.
“Now with water, we will be able to have live, beautiful flowers, all summer, all fall,” Noll said. “And it will really enhance the beauty of the cemetery. When you have the city and the water district, which have been very supportive of the cemetery – it just shows how connected we are as a community and that makes Johnson County and Prairie Village a great place to live.”
Through the efforts of volunteers and support of the surrounding community, Highland Cemetery will be a landmark for years to come.
“Water One and HomeServe were generous enough to donate this connection so these volunteers can continue to maintain this legacy,” Mikkelson said.