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HISTORY OF OAKWOOD CEMETERY
Excerpted from the book
Troy’s One Hundred Years 1789-1889
Published in 1891 by William H. Young, 7 and 9 First Street, Troy, NY
In October, 1846, certain citizens perceiving the public need of an eligibly situated and extensive burial-ground, subscribed to an agreement to advance severally seven hundred and fifty dollars to purchase and lay out the land approved by the majority as suitable for a cemetery, and to loan the money until a sufficient number of burial lots were sold to liquidate the indebtedness of the association formed by them. In attempting to accomplish the undertaking, they found it impracticable as they had planned it.
They then determined to form an association under the general act passed by the Legislature authorizing the incorporation of rural cemeteries. On September 9th, 1848, a meeting was held at the office of Isaac McConihe, where the Troy Cemetery Association was formed by the election of John Paine, D. Thomas Vail, Isaac McConihe, George M. Tibbits, Stephen E. Warren, and John B. Gale as its trustees. A committee was appointed to select a site for the cemetery, which, having viewed some of the most eligible grounds of easy access, reported in favor of the purchase of a tract of land, commanding extensive prospects of the surrounding country, situated near the north-eastern limits of the city.
On September 5th, 1889, the trustees purchased about one hundred and fifty acres of land there, which were in part laid out into burial lots, walks, and roads, by J. C. Sidney, an experienced landscape engineer. On October 16th, 1850, the officers of the association, the members of the Common Council, the ministers of the churches, and a large body of citizens, preceded by the Watervliet Arsenal Band, and escorted by the military companies of the city, commanded by Captains Brintnall, Jones, and Dexter, marched in procession from the court-house to the grounds, under the direction of Colonel A. H. Pierce, chief marshal.
On reaching them, the large concourse of people surrounded the temporary platform erected for the services of the occasion, which began with a prayer by the Rev. Nathan S. S. Beman, D. D.,. L. L. D. of the First Presbyterian Church. A selection of scripture was then read by the Rev. Robert B. Van Kleeck, of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which was followed by the singing of a dedication hymn, composed for the occasion by the Rev. John Pierpont, of the First Unitarian Church. An address was then delivered by the Hon. David Buel, jr., who, in closing it, declared the grounds consecrated under the name of Oakwood Cemetery and the authority of the officers of the association. The exercises were ended by a benediction pronounced by the Rev. George. C. Baldwin, D. D., of the First Particular Baptist Church.
In 1884-1885, the finely-built keeper’s lodge, at the western entrance to the grounds, on Cemetery Avenue, was erected. The massive granite pillars of the iron gates, – the attractive bronze bust of the Hon. John Paine, deceased, the first president of the association, – the pretty distribution of ornamental shrubs and choice trees,- and the rise of the broad avenue from the verdant sweep of the lateral lawns are delightfully associated to greet the eyes of those entering the cemetery on the west side.
The most conspicuous of the numerous monuments adorning the beautiful necropolis is the stately monolith seventy-five feet in height, marking the grave of the distinguished soldier, Major-General John Ellis Wool, who died in Troy, on November 10th, 1869. The finely-sculptured sarcophagus, the tomb of the valiant officer, Major-General George H. Thomas, “the Rock of Chickamauga,” is seen in another part of the extensive grounds.
The beautiful Romanesque architecture of the Gardmer Earl Memorial Chapel is exceedingly imposing. The richness of the colors and tints of the ornate windows of the chapel, its choice marbles and elaborate sculpture, the artistic configuration of the mosaic floor, and the harmonious designs of the foliated arches in other parts of the handsome building give an enduring expression of the love of the bereaved parents, William S. and Hannah M. Earl, for their only son, Gardner, who died on March 3d, 1887, to whose memory they reared the costly structure. It is one of the few mortuary shrines in the United States that ennoble the fame of their architects.
The erection of the building was begun on April 12th, 1888, under the superintendence of Fuller & Wheeler, architects, and with its various appointments, completed in November, 1889. Built on a rise of ground three hundred feet above the level of the Hudson River, which it overlooks, it affords a charming and wide-sweeping prospect of the valley and the high land bordering it on the east and west. The tower at the south end of the building is ninety feet high. The loggias connecting it with the chapel is twenty-six by forty feet, and the chancel sixteen by twenty-six feet. The length of the building is one hundred and-six feet, with a width of seventy feet , at the north end. The crematory, on the west side of the chapel, is provided with incinerating apparatus of the most approved construction.
Within the secluded precincts of Oakwood Cemetery are the graves of many of the early inhabitants of Troy. Among them is the tomb of the “the Patroon of Troy,” Jacob D. Van der Heyden, “who departed this life, Sept. 4th, 1809, aged 50 years, 10 months, and 12 days;” also that of Matthias Van der Heyden, who “died August 17th, 1825, aged 65 years;” that of Samuel Gale, M. D., born March 3, 1743, died January 9, 1799;” that of Benjamin Covell, who “died December 24th, 1840, aged 85 years and 4 months;” that of the Rev. Jonas Coe, D. D., who “died July 21, 1822, in the 64th year of his age,” and that of Emma Willard, who died at Troy, on April 15th, 1870.
The first president of the Troy Cemetery Association, John Paine, performed the duties of the office from September 9th, 1848 until his death, on February 7th, 1852. William F. Page, who succeeded him in 1852, held the office until his decease, on October 22d, 1870. The present president of the association, A. R. Smith, was elected on November 1st, 1870. By his unrelaxing efforts and supervision Oakwood Cemetery has been made one of the most beautiful burial-places in the country. The superintendent of the grounds, John Boetcher, whose effective landscape-work has so charmingly changed the original features of the cemetery, took charge of the grounds on May 1st, 1871.