Saturday, December 11, 2010

Winding Down

Oak Hill Cemetery, 1996 foto of a stand of Bur Oaks and Shagbark Hickories.
in the SE corner.
Today these trees are gone.
source: Iowa State Historical Preservation Office

Finals next week. I have one more paper and presentation to prepare and present. This last paper of the semester focuses on one small aspect of my thesis and it has been enlightening in that I have had to accept some hard realities about Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids, IA. Does it still possess enough integrity for a listing on the National Register? I am saddened because this close-up look has revealed irreversible changes over the years, the loss of important elements of the original design. It still has the old bones of a Grand Dame, but these are really old bones.

I guess that is my build an argument that this cultural landscape is worth recognition as historically significant with the integrity to back up that significance. It not only represents the Midwestern 'lawn' version of a 'rural' cemetery, but it was also a designed landscape of H.W.S. Cleveland, one of the early practitioners of landscape architecture. He envisioned this burial landscape in the context of the Midwest during a period when cemeteries served as parks and green spaces for growing Midwestern towns and cities in the mid-to late-19th century.

Fotos are few and far between. I have scoured the archives of several libraries, several on-line postcard sellers, and put out a call on the OHC's Facebook page. So far nothing. The on-line archival newspapers for the area have been my salvation. Some of these articles dating back to the late 1860s describe in great length some aspect of the cemetery. There were editorials about the felling of the hard maples and elms that lined old Mt. Vernon Road; the re-surfacing of the roads up to and into the cemetery, the new granite gatehouse and trolley stop with its matching cut-boulder fence and iron gate; and the lake that was dug and waiting to be filled within a few days with spring water piped from a hillside between the cemetery and the Cedar River.

These articles are all I have to go on. It was exciting to find them after days of reading and searching. It has been disheartening to realize that so much of this landscape has been altered, or in such disrepair, that someone from Cedar Rapid's past might not recognize this final resting place for their loved ones.