Last May, after completing my spring semester, I headed over to the Masonic Library in Cedar Rapids, IA. I wanted to visit the Linn County Genealogical Society to do a little research for my thesis...a cultural landscape report and treatment plan for Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids, IA. I opened a plat book for the City of Cedar Rapids dated 1907 and found this map.
The year 1907 would have fallen between the 2nd and 3rd expansion of the cemetery. This burial ground was first laid out in the mid-1850's as a simple grid atop a hill south of Mount Vernon Road. However, as the demand for burial spaces increased, the newly incorporated Oak Hill Cemetery Company contracted in 1869 for the services of one HWS Cleveland of Chicago to design a landscape of extraordinary beauty. The management was so pleased with the overall effect when that plan was laid upon the ground that they again hired Cleveland in 1880 to expand his design for more avenues, walkways, sections, and lawn to the east and south .
Cleveland would enmbrace what some thought to be constraints of a site as opportunities to build unique features into the design of his parks, estates, and cemeteries. It is possible that it was with this 2nd expansion in 1880 when Cleveland, as a landscape engineer and designer, recognized the natural drainage of the site as an opportunity to channel stormwater by way of a large swale running downhill from east to west and into a built lake in the low-lying ground that could not be sold for burials plots in Oak Hill Cemetery.
I spent this past Tuesday perusing old Cedar Rapids newspapers on NewspaperArchive.com searching for any mention of Oak Hill Cemetery, but more specifically, the lake. I wanted to find confirmation that this lake was in fact built. Was this 1907 plat map copied from an original design filed in the city offices? I have not as yet found any design plans that exist today. Every other plat map is simply labeled, without any specific detail. Note the simplicity of the Bohemian Catholic Cemetery to the southeast. But this 1907 map is a detailed plan showing avenues, sections, vegetation, and that beautiful lake. Nothing links Cleveland with this 'lake' plat map design, but all his signature characteristics are on that page and the paper trail I am following suggests the possibility of a connection.
After a solid 4 hours of staring at the screen of my laptop, I found the following in the Evening Gazette dated May 7, 1883, "The new artificial lake is completed and the water, which is to come from a spring in the hill about a quarter of a mile south of the cemetery, will be turned on within a few days. " I can only surmise that they were getting ready to fill this newly built "artificial lake" in time for the Veterans' Day celebration at the end of the month.
Here in this simple passage, I have discovered a nugget of confirmation that the lake shown in the detailed cemetery plan on this 1907 plat map of the Oak Hill neighborhood had, indeed, been built. Could it be a water feature designed by one HWS Cleveland of Chicago in his 1880 expansion of Oak Hill Cemetery? It is a possibility...
It was a good day of honest research.