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PLANNING FOR MUNICIPALLY‐OWNED CEMETERY PRESERVATION
Old North Cemetery Hartford, CT & Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY

Authors Patricia M. O’Donnell, Principal, Heritage Landscapes LLC
Sarah K. Cody, Project Manager, Heritage Landscapes LLC

Presenter: Sarah K. Cody, Project Manager,
Heritage Landscapes LLC, Preservation Landscape Architects & Planners

Many cities and towns have cemetery landscapes that once shone as pockets of green space, serving as much needed burial grounds and welcome respites from bustling city streets. Over time, as City resources have become strained, funding is often redirected to parks and playgrounds, which are perceived as more valuable community spaces than cemeteries. As a result, formerly scenic and restful cemetery grounds are neglected or degraded today. Over the course of the last two decades, several US cities have exhibited renewed interest in their burial grounds. Today, people recognize that these public landscapes often represent the spectrum of the population of city, from transient populations buried in unmarked plots, to graves of the famous and influential. Local cemeteries tell stories of the evolution and social history of the broader community and can be both a place of learning and reflection for visitors today. Recognition of cemetery value and increased interest often leads to volunteer clean‐up efforts, formation of ‘Friends’ groups, and preservation planning projects and advocacy.

As cemetery preservation and renewal has gained increasing focus over recent years, it has become apparent that while similar issues are present in cemeteries nationwide, there are also more specific issues that arise. Limited funding, appropriate methods of preserving historic features, and maintenance are common issues hindering optimal use, functionality, and quality of visitor experiences. Specific issues also exist that relate directly to cemetery landscape type, available resources, and perceived value to the surrounding community. Resolution to these issues requires a different approach to renew, enhance, and interpret valued cemetery landscapes.

To best understand the inherent commonalities and particular issues plaguing US cemeteries today, a comparison between two distinctly different cemetery landscapes is explored. Heritage Landscapes is currently developing preservation planning documents for Old North Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut and Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. These two historic cemetery landscapes offer an interesting comparison.

Located in a modest neighborhood of Hartford, an historic, industrial city, Old North Cemetery was established in the early 19th century to provide the city with a municipal burying ground. When the cemetery was first established, character, use, and perceptions of burial practices were focused primarily on functionality. Soon after, burial practices and perceptions began to shift, focusing more on defining a picturesque character where visitors could stroll along paths under a wooded canopy and dappled sunlight. This later consideration of landscape character and quality is evident at Old North Cemetery largely through the collection of ancient trees. (See Figures 1 and 2.)

Old North Cemetery is a city‐owned cemetery and important green space that offers a valuable resource to the surrounding neighborhood; the character of the cemetery contributes to the character and perception of the broader neighborhood. However, community residents do not appear to embrace the cemetery as a valued community resource. Given the importance of providing accessible, public open space in conjunction with the limited city resources, community engagement is essential to the overall renewal of Old North Cemetery. Heritage Landscapes has recommended creation of neighborhood initiatives such as historically sensitive repair and conservation skill‐building programs, youth training, and other projects as a means to generate interest, foster pride in the cemetery, and stimulate the local community. Utilizing community‐focused initiatives is a cost efficient approach for carrying out specific projects and for enhancing community value of the space.

Mount Hope Cemetery is significant as an intact example of a mid‐19 century designed, picturesque cemetery. It was established and improved by the City of Rochester as part of the emerging rural cemetery movement, a time when scenic, picturesque cemeteries were developed in the United States and abroad. Today, this impressive cemetery landscape conveys its historic character while accommodating limited burials and providing a valued green space and place of respite to Rochester residents and visitors alike. (See Figures 3 and 4.) To better understand the landscape and guide maintenance protocols and future interventions, Heritage Landscapes identified distinct landscape typologies within the cemetery. The character of the grounds and discrete landscape types are defined largely by the relationships between the dramatically undulating ground plane, network of curvilinear drives and paths, woodland canopy, and gravestones and monuments. By understanding the landscape types defined by the relationships between landscape features, specific projects are recommended that will help recapture lost historic features, enhance landscape character, and decrease required maintenance efforts.

Cemeteries throughout the US today are challenged by issues that hinder optimal use, functionality, and maintainability of the landscape. Preservation of valued cemetery landscapes requires consideration of general and site specific issues. Old North Cemetery and Mount Hope Cemetery are two distinctly different landscapes, offering different resources and facing different challenges. Heritage Landscapes has worked with each client group to identify issues as well as future goals to guide future treatment efforts. These cemeteries are important historic and cultural landscapes that contribute to the broader collection of public open space and cultural resources in their respective cities. By preserving these landscapes, we not only foster understanding our history, but we also help guide the future of our communities.

Figure 1. This early 1900s image shows the historic character of Old North Cemetery. Initially focused on functionality, the character was enhanced over time as impressive tree plantings created a scenic, park‐like landscape. Courtesy City of Hartford Archives.

Figure 1. This early 1900s image shows the historic character of Old North Cemetery. Initially focused on functionality, the character was enhanced over time as impressive tree plantings created a scenic, park‐like landscape. Courtesy City of Hartford Archives.

Figure 2. This view shows the current character of Old North Cemetery. While it retains a number of historic features, the overall character and use has shifted overtime. Courtesy Norma Williams.

Figure 2. This view shows the current character of Old North Cemetery. While it retains a number of historic features, the overall character and use has shifted overtime. Courtesy Norma Williams.

Figure 3. This early view of Mount Hope Cemetery depicts the overall, picturesque character of the grounds. Curving drives wind scenically around the dramatically sloping ground plane. Deciduous and evergreen plantings enhance the naturalistic quality and the overall modest style of monuments allows visitors to focus on the beauty of the landscape. Meadow planting covers the steep hillside evident at the left edge of the image. Courtesy Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery.

Figure 3. This early view of Mount Hope Cemetery depicts the overall, picturesque character of the grounds. Curving drives wind scenically around the dramatically sloping ground plane. Deciduous and evergreen plantings enhance the naturalistic quality and the overall modest style of monuments allows visitors to focus on the beauty of the landscape. Meadow planting covers the steep hillside evident at the left edge of the image. Courtesy Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery.

Figure 4. Today, Mount Hope Cemetery retains a high degree of integrity while the varying relationships between steep slopes, vegetative cover, and monument layout require distinct treatment approaches. Courtesy Heritage Landscapes.

Figure 4. Today, Mount Hope Cemetery retains a high degree of integrity while the varying relationships between steep slopes, vegetative cover, and monument layout require distinct treatment approaches. Courtesy Heritage Landscapes.

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4 Responses to Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit Abstracts and Video

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  2. Robert Wrigley says:

    My wife’s gr-gr-grandfather is a Union soldier buried there. When we visited this grave site last October we were quite dismayed at the condition and damage done to the stones by lawn mowers running over and chipping it. At the time we did not know the full history of the markers being altered in the 1930s. We would fully support the efforts to restore them.
    Would it be possible for a private citizen to be able to contribute to the restoration of their family’s marker or replacement? Perhaps a volunteer effort of those with relatives there could help accomplish some of this initiative to restore to their original condition.

    • Jason Church says:

      Dear Robert,
      The best person to talk with will be Betsy Dinger Elizabeth_Dinger@nps.gov who is a historian for Petersburg National Battlefield and Cemetery.

    • Bryan Cheeseboro says:

      Mr. Wrigley,
      I don’t know if you’ll get this message but I would be very interested to know which of the men buried at Battleground Cemetery is your wife’s gr-gr-grandfather. I am a historian and I have spent the last several years researcing the battle of Fort Stevens and Battleground National Cemetery. Does your wife have a photograph of her ancestor? That would be a goldmine. I have never seen any picture of any of the men killed at the battle.

      If you can be of help to me, my e-mail address is bryanac625@yahoo.com. Thank you.

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