Prior to 1842, Oak Hill Cemetery was known as Old Maid’s Hall and consisted of about fifty burial sites in a small area. In January of 1842, Reverend Thomas B. Fox, pastor of the First Religious Society of Newburyport, and other leading citizens formed a board of trustees to oversee the design and management of a rural garden cemetery, which was to be one of the first in the United States.
A rural garden cemetery is a style of burial ground that uses landscaping and pathways in a park like setting. As early as the 1700’s in England, burial grounds on the outskirts of towns enclosed with a wall and pathways through the grounds with planted trees were advocated.
Additional land was purchased from the Moses Brown family, and on a beautiful day in July of 1842, a consecration ceremony attended by over two thousand people was held.
The trustees of Oak Hill Cemetery were inspired by the example of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which opened in 1831 and established the first rural garden cemetery in America. They arranged for the planting of hundreds of flowers, shrubs, and trees, and for the design of paths and roadways throughout the cemetery. This new conceptual design for cemeteries reflected a growing belief that cemeteries should also be for the enjoyment of the living. The movement developed at the same time as did the movement to create public parks, such as the “emerald necklace” of parks in the Boston area designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.
Today Oak Hill Cemetery trustees are implementing several restoration projects and fundraising is now underway. The book, Tiptoe Through the Tombstones, Oak Hill cemetery, Volume I, will highlight the current projects, discuss notable burials and the person’s contributions to Newburyport in the 1800’s, and include self guided detailed maps. The book is due to be published in December 2008 and will be available in local bookstores.
Oak Hill Cemetery Board of Trustees:
Tim Healy, President
John Janvrin, Treasurer
Jamie Yalla, Clerk
Jack Grady, CFP
William O’Flaherty, Jr
Ghlee E. Woodworth, coordinator of restoration projects, cemetery tours, and historical research.