Two local cemeteries sold to chain New Orleans firm buying Loudon Park, Druid Ridge.

June 26, 1992|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Loudon Park Cemetery, the 139-year-old resting place of more than 200,000 Baltimoreans, is passing from local control and becoming part of a national chain.

Stewart Enterprises Inc., a New Orleans company that describes itself as "the third-largest provider of cemetery and funeral home services in the United States," announced yesterday that it has signed a letter of intent to buy the historic burial ground, along with Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville. Both are owned by the Primrose family, which founded Loudon Park in 1853 and acquired Druid Ridge in 1913.

Publicly traded Stewart said it also intends to buy Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery in Annapolis in a separate transaction.

Acquisition of the Maryland cemeteries is part of a trend toward chain ownership of cemeteries and funeral homes, said William E. Rowe, executive vice president of Stewart. "It does seem to be the wave of the future in our industry," he said. "You have owners retiring and children not interested in taking over the family business."

Loudon Park off Frederick Avenue holds the remains of an estimated 650 Marylanders who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, most interred in a section known as Confederate Hill.

An estimated 2,300 Union veterans are interred in a 5-acre parcel acquired by the government in 1903 and now known as Loudon National Cemetery, which was not part of the transaction.

Mr. Rowe said his company projects that Loudon Park, with 250 acres, and Druid Ridge, with 220, have so much undeveloped real estate that it will be "certainly 100 years" before they reach capacity.

He added that his 82-year-old company probably will add high-density mausoleum space to conserve land at the two cemeteries, which together have more than 1,200 burials a year.

Stewart plans to build funeral homes at both cemeteries to make them "full-service facilities," Mr. Rowe said.

Stewart Enterprises is no stranger to the Maryland market. It owns Cedar Hill Cemetery in Brooklyn Park, Crestlawn Memorial Gardens in Marriottsville and Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Bladensburg.

Ken Budde, Stewart's senior vice president for finance, said Stewart will depend on sales of new plots for its revenues but also is assuming responsibility for the upkeep of the Baltimore cemeteries.

Together, Loudon Park and Druid Ridge employ an estimated 60 maintenance workers and an administrative staff of about 25.

Stewart, which owns 45 funeral homes and 31 cemeteries in eight states, reported revenue of $75.6 million during its last fiscal year.

Mr. Rowe said Loudon Park and Druid Ridge together account for the bulk of the proposed $22 million for four purchases Stewart announced yesterday. The other two are the Hillcrest operation and a funeral home in Falls Church, Va. Individual purchase prices were not disclosed.

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