Landscape Architecture Students Adopt a Historic Cemetery for Freed Slaves

Wednesday, Feb 23, 2022

Landscape architecture students adopted Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery with a vision of developing an accessible path to care for the site and its residents. Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery has been a historical landmark in Irving, Texas to honor some of the area’s earliest African American residents with a final resting place.

However, decades of development in the DFW metroplex has blocked access to Bear Creek Cemetery and hides the landmark from potential visitors. The cemetery is located on a hill overlooking George Bush Turnpike and surrounded by new housing complexes on each side. As a result, caretakers of the cemetery experience issues with maintenance, vandalism, raising awareness, and preserving memories of those buried in the site.

Jaime Simon, 77 years old, attempts to visit the resting place regularly in honor of his great, great, grandfather who remains buried in Bear Creek Cemetery. Simon explained to NBC5 how his ancestors donated the “sacred ground” for freed slaves and other residents who made the Bear Creek community possible. However, Simon struggles to pay tribute to the historic landmark in his declining health, especially on the rugged dirt path that creates difficulties for older visitors to access the cemetery.

With the guidance of Dr. Austin Allen and Dr. Kate Holliday, landscape architecture students adopted Bear Creek Cemetery in 2021 and collaborated with neighboring property owners to negotiate plans for public easements. Joe Moses, Irving Parks and Recreation Director, explained plans to develop walkways and side railings as safe means of accessibility. In addition, Moses hopes these improvements will encourage people to visit the cemetery, learn more about the site’s history, and help maintain the historic landmark. Likewise, Simon explains how the city’s help will easily allow volunteers and supplies to care for the cemetery.

“Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery tells nearly two hundred years’ worth of stories about African American life and culture. By saving the historic site and other African American places, the nation’s cultural diversity will be represented and celebrated in the landscape.”

Learn more about Shelton's Bear Creek Cemetery history and CAPPA's plans to support the historic landmark.