The century-old sexton house is coming down at St. Joseph Cemetery.
A crew from PM Environmental of Berkley began demolition at 8 a.m. Thursday. By 8:30, half of the structure was gone.
A partial interior demolition took place earlier to remove environmentally hazardous materials.
“An asbestos survey found the hazardous substance in floor tiles. It had to be safety removed. No lead paint was found,” said Rachel Lazere, family service advisor at the cemetery.
The demolition was originally scheduled for March.
“We ran into a few issues with obtaining the permit. We needed to track down some old deeds with the county registrar, since the property had changed ownership from the local parishes to the Archdiocese of Detroit,” said Lazere.
Since 2013, St. Joseph Cemetery has been operated by the Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services, a ministry of the Archdiocese of Detroit.
The yellow brick house sat at the center of the cemetery and was the oldest existing structure on the cemetery’s property. It had fallen into disrepair.
“Utility service was discontinued. Extreme temperature fluctuations have caused damaged to the interior structure of the building, and the exterior has deteriorated over the years,” said Lazere. “Restoring the building proved to be cost-prohibitive. That is when we started considering alternative solutions, including demolition and possible future uses for the land.”
The sexton had an integral job at the cemetery and lived onsite.
“The sexton would sell graves, dig graves by hand, maintain the cemetery and guard the cemetery at night from potential grave robbers,” said the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Later, the building served as the cemetery’s office. In the late 1990s, when the new office was built, the sexton house became a storage space.
Few historical records remain on the house, but Lynn Reaume of the Monroe County Museum estimates it’s about 106 years-old.
Reaume stopped by the site before demolition.
“I think 1915 or 1916 is right. The paint was removed on some parts, and it’s the same brick used on another building the church built then,” she said.
The museum’s collection also contains an invoice that shows the purchase of building materials in 1915.
The property where the sexton house stood will soon have a new use.
“The cleared space will be available for individual plots and private family estates. The new structures will be custom-designed to the family’s specifications,” said Lazere.
A company in Cold Spring, Minn., designs and builds family estates for the cemetery. Currently, there are three on the grounds.
“A private family estate is a custom-designed, multi-generation resting place created to preserve the family heritage. Estates can be fully customized to accommodate traditional burial estates, cremation estates and mausoleum estates. Private estates reflect a family’s legacy and create a historical tribute to lives well-lived,” said Lazere. “Each estate is beautifully designated with custom architectural details and custom landscaping.”