In my parents’ last years, they lived on the North side. Some of their banking was at the Home Savings and Loan on Belmont, and not far from there going southbound, we passed Tod Homestead Cemetery. Sometimes we passed going north to Kravitz Deli, which my dad loved. I had always noticed the impressive cemetery gate when we passed. I discovered in writing this article, that the gate was designed by the same architect who designed another iconic Youngstown structure, that is reminiscent of the gate.
The cemetery bears the Tod family name. It was established in 1908 under terms of the will of George Tod, son of industrialist David Tod, the only Ohio governor from Youngstown. The Tods owned a 900 acre farm on the western banks of the Mahoning River, bounded on the east by Belmont Avenue. Of this, 256 acres were set aside along with an endowment fund to establish a cemetery for the people of Youngstown.
The board formed to establish the cemetery included Mill Creek Park founder Volney Rogers. In 1911, Rogers hired landscape architect Warren Manning to develop a land use and plot layout plan. Manning designed the diagonal northwest to southeast plots that give way in the back to east-west oriented plots. Later on, additional plots were added on the south side of the cemetery. In line due east the entrance was an oval sunken garden east of which was the Tod plot, with a stone obelisk as a central feature, located in line with the cemetery gateway..
Rogers also retained Julius A. Schweinfurth, as architect for the cemetery buildings. It was he who designed the Chapel, entrance arch, and administrative building. The entrance arch is 40 feet and the tower 90 feet high. The style is described as “Italian gothic,” consisting of coarse sandstone topped by a tile roof. The sandstone came both from local and Indiana quarries. It was built in 1919 and was entered into the National Register of Historical Buildings in 1976. Have you figured out what other Youngstown structure the gateway reminds you of? It turns out that in 1913 Volney Rogers, having seen a similar bridge in Europe, hired Schweinfurth to design the Parapet Bridge on the east side of Lake Glacier, beloved of photographers. He also designed Slippery Rock Pavilion.
Rodef Shalom Cemetery was moved to the Tod Homestead Cemetery in 1912, and some cemetery sites list this as an alternate name for the Tod Homestead Cemetery. The Youngstown Township Cemetery, a “potters field” for the poor, was also incorporated into the cemetery in 1914.
In the 1920’s, the cemetery faced financial challenges from its construction and land development costs. A $400,000 gift from John Tod and reorganization under Fred I. Sloan put the cemetery on a solid footing. Sloan led the cemetery until 1958 and was buried there in 1963. One of the other significant structures, the Tod Mausoleum, was built by private investors in 1926 and turned over to the cemetery in 1971.
In 2004, Paul J. Ricciuti, FAIA, one of Youngstown’s leading architects of the late twentieth century into the present, was hired to renovate and restore the interiors of the Chapel, administrative offices and the Tod Mausoleum to their original designs. Then in 2014 the “sunken garden” was re-developed into what is now the Columbarium (“columba” being the Latin for “dove,” a symbol of spirituality and peace), accommodating the increasing numbers who wish to place cremated remains of loved ones in enclosed niches. The area consists of ten low profile structures with a fountain, landscaping, and walkways. This drone video shot in 2015 shows the Columbarium as well as the stunning gateway quite well.
Currently, the cemetery states that there are 38,000 people of all faiths whose final resting place are within its confines. Gravesites and niches are available and the cemetery layout indicates available locations. It reflects the generosity of one of Youngstown’s early founding families, the Tods, the vision of Mill Creek founder Volney Rogers, and the architectural skills of both Julius A. Schweinfurth and Paul J. Ricciuti. It’s design reflects both historic and contemporary elements, suggesting a facility in touch with both its heritage and current needs of the community. And like the park Volney Rogers was associated with, Tod Homestead Cemetery was built as a place of beauty and, with care, to last.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!