Sunday, February 12, 2012

Contemplating Our Final Resting Place

Last week, a reader alerted Gossips to devastation in the cemetery. It appeared that a wholesale cutting and pruning of trees was going on in the Cedar Park portion of the cemetery, particularly along the entrance from Columbia Turnpike and around the cemetery house. 

When asked about the activity in the cemetery, DPW Superintendent Rob Perry explained that the lack of snow this winter was giving DPW workers the chance to address tree maintenance issues in the cemetery. Many of the trees being cut had been damaged in the ice storm that occurred in December 2008. At that time, many damaged trees had been pruned and left standing to see if they would recover. Some did, but those that did not were now being removed. Perry also pointed out that the area along Columbia Turnpike beyond the entrance to Cedar Park would eventually have to be cleared to make room for new graves, since this was "and forever will be" a cemetery. 

The current situation raises the issue of stewardship of our cemetery. The original part of the cemetery--Hudson City Cemetery--was determined in 1983 to be eligible for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places for its "noteworthy collection of funerary art, ranging from typically late 18th-century stones executed by a master carver--and embellished with winged effigies and other typical design vocabulary--to tombs, such as the Egyptian Revival-style tomb which is an outstanding reflection of American romanticism in the antebellum period and the interest in that period of utilizing Egyptian design motifs in cemetery design." William Krattinger, historic preservation specialist with the New York State Historic Preservation Office, has called the Hudson City Cemetery "a virtual treasure trove for historians and enthusiasts of American funerary art, offering as it does a wealth of markers and crypts that illustrate various themes and styles within this genre." 

Many of the tombstones and crypts in the Hudson City Cemetery are now in disrepair. In the past couple years, Peter Jung has spearheaded a privately funded project to restore the family grave site of Hudson River School painter Sanford Robinson Gifford, but there are many more graves, significant for their design or the personages laid to rest there, that require and deserve remedial care and attention. 

Cedar Park, the newer part of the cemetery, was developed in 1896. This part of the cemetery, consisting primarily of 20th-century grave sites and tombstones, is significant not so much for its funerary art as for its design. The entrance to Cedar Park was landscaped by local notable Dr. John Conover Smock, who engaged the help of America's foremost landscape designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park. Smock was a notable geologist, who during his career chaired the Department of Mining and Metallurgy at Rutgers University, served as New Jersey State Geologist, and was an assistant in charge of the New York State Museum in Albany. Ahead of his time, Smock deplored the mutilation of natural resources in the Catskills and the Berkshires and worked to protect natural resources in the Adirondacks. When he retired to the mansion in Hudson now known as Cavell House in 1897, Smock pursued his interest in horticulture. It was said that on the grounds of his home he planted a specimen of every tree and shrub that was indigenous to New York State, and people came from miles around to view the beautiful plantings. 

Trees and shrubs were an essential element of the original design for Cedar Park, and the maintenance of the plantings should recognize and respect the original designers' intentions. Wouldn't it be grand if a public/private partnership could be created for the stewardship of Cedar Park? The mission of such a partnership would be to do historic research to understand the original landscape design of the cemetery and inform tree and shurb maintenace so that it respected and perpetuated that design while allowing the cemetery to expand as required. 

The information about Dr. John Conover Smock comes from the Individual Historic Site application for Cavell House prepared in 2006 by Mary S. Hallenbeck.

1 comment:

  1. A Friends of the Parks organization is what we need, and an official Parks Commission and/or Parks Commissioner too. So many little time...but this is really important.