Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Oak Hill Cemetery

David Tod Memorial.jpg

David Tod Memorial, courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society

This past weekend was one of the times many people visit cemeteries. It might be to remember a family member and place flowers at their grave. It might be to place flags at the graves of veterans to remember their service.

In writing about Youngstown, I’ve discovered that Oak Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of many of people I’ve written about: early settlers like Daniel Shehy and James Hillman (both re-interred since they died before the cemetery opened), P. Ross Berry, George Borts, Col. L. T. Foster, George Lanterman, William F. Maag, Jr., G.M. McKelvey, Reuben McMillan, John S. Pollock, Henry H. Stambaugh and James L. Wick, Jr. Two of the most famous were Governor David Tod and Titanic casualty George Dennick Wick (memorialized only since his body was never recovered). Many others from the extended Wick and Arms families also are interred here. A walk through Oak Hill Cemetery is a walk through Youngstown history. The Mahoning Valley Historical Society leads such walks each year, the next scheduled for October 26, 2019. It’s one of those things on my Youngstown bucket list.

I never had occasion to visit the cemetery growing up though we drove past it, particularly when we were visiting South Side Hospital. I did not know anyone buried in it nor the history written on those gravestones. Somewhere in the curriculum of schools, there ought to be a study of local history, and this cemetery would make a good field trip for such a unit.

Oak Hill Cemetery Lot Numbers

Oak Hill Cemetery Map. Source: Find-A-Grave, contributed by Susan Less Philips

The Mahoning Cemetery Association was formed in 1852 in response to the outward growth of the city that was over-running early cemeteries located near the downtown area. In 1853, they acquired sixteen acres from Dr. Henry Manning, who was chairman of the association and a prominent local physician. Some of the earliest burials were re-interments from the older cemeteries, including the burials of Colonel James Hillman and Daniel Shehy. Three acres were added in 1856, purchased from Dr. Manning, for burials from Youngstown Township.

The cemetery took a great step forward in 1924 when Mahoning Cemetery Association chair Henry M. Garlick led a drive raising $500,000 from families with plots in the cemetery to create an endowment that provided for the perpetual care of the cemetery grounds. Among the improvements made at the time was 6,000 feet of macadam road, an eleven foot high fence around the perimeter, leveling the graves, and planting trees and landscaping, and in 1934 an administration building on the west side of the cemetery. The granite gates at the corner of Oak Hill and High were added in 1962.

Oak Hill Cemetery postcard

Entrance to Oak Hill Cemetery before construction of the granite gates

The cemetery was not merely the final resting place of the rich and famous. Overall, 25,000 people are buried here. Scrolling through the list of Oak Hill Cemetery Memorials one comes across names of many servicemen who died during the nations wars, infants and children, and ordinary workers in the city’s industries. At a couple of periods in the history, Oak Hill interred the indigent of the city. Those still interred in the cemetery are in the Youngstown Township section.

The cemetery was landscaped by Warren H. Manning, a protege of Frederick Law Olmstead, perhaps the country’s premier landscape architect. The beauty of his work is evident to this day in the wooded hillsides and curving drives of the cemetery. He designed a fitting resting place for the men and women who invested their lives in the city and a place of peace for those who visit to remember them, or to walk through Youngstown’s history.

Sources:

Sean Barron, “Learning About Valley Figures at Oak Hill CemeteryThe Vindicator, October 29, 2017.

Matt Farragher, History of Oak Hill Cemetery. Mahoning Valley Historical Society, October 17, 2012.

Oak Hill Cemetery Tour,” Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Oak Hill Cemetery,” Find-A-Grave.

Oak Hill Cemetery Memorials,” Find-A-Grave.

3 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Oak Hill Cemetery

  1. Oak Hill Cemetery is a glorious place and quite magical from my point of view, though it is true that I am a cemetery aficionado. They are spaces that exist at the cross-roads of history, architecture (landscape and otherwise), art, and yes, morbidity. It is a fine example of the Rural Cemetery Movement that sought to redefine the cemetery space as one that, with the visions of landscape architects, would encourage these hallowed grounds to become spaces for the living as much as the dead.
    Patricia A. Finney in her article, Landscape Architecture and the “Rural” Cemetery Movement described them thusly, ”The rural cemetery was designed with romantic vision, based upon English landscape gardening. Nature, in contrast to an increasingly urban setting, was idealized and sought out; cemeteries, located close to the city, were consciously designed to provide sanctuary, solitude, quiet, adornment, and beauty. It was common, especially on Sundays, for full families to picnic in cemeteries ‘taking long walks in the peaceful setting, thinking about the past and the future, and keeping a little bit of history alive for themselves.’ ”
    https://www.crl.edu/focus/article/8246
    I have been to numerous cemeteries in the US and in Europe, but Oak Hill Cemetery remains my favorite as it holds a special connection in the town where I was born and what it meant to me since my days at YSU. I would highly recommend these places of beauty to anyone that can appreciate such things and take the time to explore — perhaps one might come to understand how it is I view them as glorious and magical.

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