Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Strolling the Serpentine Paths at Evergreen Cemetery

Strolling the Serpentine Paths at Evergreen Cemetery
Written by NJ Historian

Between Newark, Elizabeth, and Hillside in New Jersey is a 115 acre cemetery known for its tranquil setting, garden-like layout, and prolific grave markers. Unique in their variety and style, these grave markers span the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries in a cemetery that was designed during the Victorian period. Despite thousands of burials and numerous expansions since its establishment, Evergreen Cemetery retains much of its original authenticity and design characteristics, blending grave markers from two centuries in a park-like setting amidst a densely populated and urban region on the border of Union and Essex Counties.

Between the 1830s and 1850s, many of the religious and secular burial grounds in northern New Jersey cities were becoming overcrowded. Additionally, there was a growing concern for sanitary conditions and a trend toward non-denominational burial grounds, run by an association rather than a religious body. As early as 1831, the first non-denominational cemetery company was established in Jersey City, New Jersey.

In 1853, due to the overcrowded church burial grounds in Elizabethtown and Newark, Evergreen Cemetery was established by clergymen and businessmen from the area. The newly-formed cemetery board selected the thirty-one acre farm of John and Ellen Teas Farm as the site for the cemetery. It was located on the Upper Road to Newark, on the outskirts of Newark, Union, and Elizabeth. The new cemetery would prove to be beneficial to the Second Presbyterian and St. John's Episcopal Churches in Elizabeth, as they wanted to utilize portions of their existing cemeteries building expansions. Eventually, graves in the way of these building expansion projects were relocated to Evergreen. This accounts for a number of burials and grave markers predating the cemetery's establishment. The cemetery's original ninety acre layout and grounds were designed by Ernest L. Meyer of Elizabethtown. Meyer was an engineer from Germany who later became the City Engineer of Elizabeth.

Meyer designed the cemetery to reflect the romantic Victorian view of death. The cemetery was designed with serpentine-patterned carriage paths, pedestrian paths, and rectangular and circular burial plots. Many of the original family plots, a new concept developed during this era, were surrounded with ornate iron fences and gates. The carriage paths were named for trees that were popular at that time: Elm, Oak, Locust, and Laurel. The pedestrian paths were named for flowers: violet, primrose and myrtle. An effort was made in the original design to incorporate existing trees. One cherry and several apple trees still survive from the farm's orchards. Sheep from the farm were retained to keep the lawn trim during the summer months. Eventually, the sheep were replaced in the summer months by young boys from the Pingry School in Elizabeth.

In less than ten years, the cemetery board began thinking about expansion. Thirteen acres were purchased from Oliver and Frances Bryan in 1863. Between 1863 and 1926, fifty-eight additional acres were purchased. The final fourteen acre lot, sold by George Stengel in 1926, brought the property to its current size of 115 acres. The last sections added to the property were designed by designed by William Henry Luster, Jr., also a city engineer of Elizabeth, and his son Clifton H. Luster, Hillside Township's engineer.

In the early 1900s, construction began on a barn near the main gate on North Broad Street. The plan was changed and redesigned by architect C. A. Oakley as an office, chapel, and superintendent's residence. Construction on the administrative building was completed by early 1907 at a cost of $58,307.88. The building, still in use, is a two-story, gable-roofed structure of rock-faced cement block construction and built in the Colonial revival style. 

In 1932, a chapel was built on the grounds at a cost of $33,000. It was designed by noted Elizabeth architect, C. Godfrey Poggi, who chose to utilize the English Tudor style in its design. Poggi designed other Elizabeth buildings including the original Battin High School and the 1926 Union County Park Commission Administration Building.

1854 family vault of Van Buskirk-Jaques built in the Egyptian Revival style.
The cemetery's first burial took place on March 5, 1854, when sixteen year old William Bloomfield Sayre was laid to rest. Since then, more than 100,000 monuments have been added. The cemetery contains grave markers and monuments typical of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Common funerary monument types found at Evergreen Cemetery include headstones, pier monuments, pedestals, obelisks, columns, crosses, statuary, sarcophagi, garden screens, colonnades, and mausoleums. 

A number of rare and unique grave markers dot the property. One such rare example is an Eastern rite cross made of iron by an iron-worker for his daughter, Mary Hyra, in 1922. In complete contrast to the architectural and religious forms are the natural boulders at the graves of Jonas W. Townley and Mary Mapes Dodge. While Townley's epitaph is carved directly on the stone, that of Dodge is inscribed on a bronze plaque mounted on the rock.

Natural boulder marker of Jonas W. Townley (b. 1815 - d. 1897).
All but a few of the mausoleums and vaults on the property date to the twentieth century. Two of the earliest are grass-covered, mounded vaults with masonry entrance facades: the 1854 Van Buskirk-Jaques vault whose Egyptian Revival facade has a cove cornice, canted corner piers, and entrance lintel ornamented with the Egyptian winged sun disk/snake head emblem and the later Dr. John Washington vault whose simple brick front, covered by wisteria, has a low round-arched entrance.

In the twentieth century, a large number of Gypsies were buried in the cemetery. Gypsies began to visit the cemetery after the opening of the Waverly Park race track in 1867. Three seasonal campgrounds were established in the area. Despite the race track moving to Trenton in 1901, the gypsies' presence in the area did not cease. The first Gypsy buried at Evergreen Cemetery was John Smith from the Vauxhall section of Union Township, in 1926. Since then, an estimated 3,000 Gypsies have been buried. Their markers are often opulent, large, and contain a variety of religious, folk, and personal symbols. A more recent Gypsy burial is that of "Singin' Sam" Stevens', whose plot is near the corner of North Broad Street and Lower Road. Stevens was a Gypsy and musician who died in 1984 at the age of forty-five. He had an elaborate grave marker built: a black granite colonnade inlaid with many gold musical notes and the words "Singin' Sam." The monument includes a granite amp and Gibson electric guitar with a laser-etched portrait of Sam on its back. Some of his greatest hits are labeled on an over-sized 33 rpm record. This stone is much larger than your typical headstone and spans several plots.

Grave of "Singin' Sam" Stevens (b. 1938 - d. 1984) at Evergreen Cemetery.
Many noteworthy people are buried in Evergreen Cemetery. They include three Congressional Medal of Honor winners: Rufus King of Hillside and J. Madison Drake and William Brant of Elizabeth. Famous authors include Edward Stratemeyer (The Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift), Mary Mapes Dodge (Hans Brinker of the Silver Skates), and Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage). 

Six former U.S. Congressmen and at least one dozen mayors from Elizabeth are interred in the cemetery. They include William Chetwood who served in the Whiskey Rebellion and was mayor from 1839-1842 and congressman from 1836-1839 and Francis Barber Chetwood who served as mayor three times from 1846-1847, 1851-1853, and 1871-1873. There is also a section devoted Civil War Veterans. It is marked by two Spanish-American cannons obtained by Elizabeth Mayor William A.M. Mack, M.D., dedicated on Decoration Day, May 30, 1900 and a flagpole erected in 1912.

Today, when you enter Evergreen cemetery, you are instantly transported into what seems like another world, full of greenery and peace, despite being only a mile from Newark Airport and heavily traveled Routes 22, 1&9, and the New Jersey Turnpike. For a short time, you forget that it is the twenty-first century and you imagine yourself in the late 1800s, as you walk the serpentine pathways supplanted by tombstones and towering obelisks set within a preserved natural oasis of rolling hills and our deceased, but not forgotten loved ones nearby.

Additional photos of my trip to the Evergreen Cemetery on Pinterest

For More Information
Find A Grave: Evergreen Cemetery

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There is an old oak tree on the Hillside side of the cemetery. I wonder how old it is? My wife and I visit Evergreen every holiday to decorate her maternal grandparents grave

The artwork is unbelievable

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