The Rapidian

Walking tour of historic Oakhill Cemetery set for Saturday, September 10

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Join the Grand Rapids Historical Society on a free walking tour of historic Oakhill Cemetery on Saturday, Sept. 10, considered the city's grandest historic cemeteries that opened in 1859.
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Thomas R. Dilley, author, historian and retired attorney, will lead the free walking tour of Oakhill Cemetery

Thomas R. Dilley, author, historian and retired attorney, will lead the free walking tour of Oakhill Cemetery

Oakhill Cemetery was part of the garden cemetery movement that introduced curved drives and decorative markers.

Oakhill Cemetery was part of the garden cemetery movement that introduced curved drives and decorative markers.

This marker for the late Melvin Buchanan (1843-1896) is among the many old monuments at Oakhill Cemtery.

This marker for the late Melvin Buchanan (1843-1896) is among the many old monuments at Oakhill Cemtery.

Join the Grand Rapids Historical Society for a fascinating free walking tour of the northern half of historic Oakhill Cemetery starting at 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 10. This landmark cemetery is considered the grandest of the city's rural garden historic cemeteries. 

Opened in 1859 on the city's Southeast Side, Oakhill Cemetery is the final resting place of some of the most important players in our city's history.  Many helped build the city and its industries during a time of phenomenal growth in Grand Rapids and in the entire Midwest. Some of the monuments are among the most interesting and elaborate tributes to these pioneers and are truly art objects preserved for us in stone for all time.

Leading the tour will be Thomas R. Dilley, a local retired attorney and well-known city historian and author, who will share with visitors his extensive knowledge of the cemetery's history, occupants, art and architecture.

The garden cemetery offers a far more relaxed, welcoming park-like arrangement of burial spaces compared to the previously popular rigid rows and individualized plots. The garden cemetery movement that swept the eastern United States between 1830 and 1900 introduced curved drives and vistas in larger, family-oriented lots intended to serve a single family for generations. It also welcomed for the first time, larger, more decorative markers and monuments on graves, which allowed lot owners to memorialize their families and to satisfy the seemingly insatiable Victorian appetite for elaborate and sometimes ostentatious displays.

When Oakhill Cemetery opened, the property was at the eastern edge of what was then the limit of the city of Grand Rapids. The original parcel, located entirely north of Hall Street just west of Eastern Avenue consisted of approximately 35 acres. As the much talked about opening of the new cemetery approached, the city purchased roughly 40 acres on the south side of Hall Street, and opened the Valley City Cemetery, also in 1859.

The two cemeteries, of similar design, were operated separately until they were joined together, under City administration, as Oakhill Cemetery in 1885. The walking tour will encompass only a part of the northern portion of the cemetery. Last September the Grand Rapids Historical Society sponsored a walking tour of the cemetery's southern half which was led by Dilley and Jennifer Morrison.  Both are society trustees.

Attendees are asked to enter the north side of the cemetery from Hall Street for the start of the tour. In case of severe weather, the rain date will be Sunday, September 11 at 10 a.m.  Cancellation will be announced on the Grand Rapids Historical Society’s Facebook page. Find out more information at the Historical Society's website at www.grhistory.org.

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