Editor’s note: The following article reflects the author’s position on the topic from a historical perspective. Wertis was also the superintendent of the cemetery for seven years and is currently a trustee of the Grove Cemetery Association.
Grove Cemetery came into existence because the old , one acre, Presbyterian Church owned burial ground on Main Street in the Village of Trumansburg was running out of room during the first half of the 1800’s. A group of prominent local citizens petitioned New York State for a charter to establish a new cemetery in 1846, but made their submission too late for action that legislative season. The next year, the State Legislature passed the “Rural Cemeteries Act”. This allowed for the formation in 1847of a local cemetery association…a not-for-profit corporation… that has persisted until the present time.
Almost immediately after the establishment of a constitution and by-laws and the election of trustees, land was purchased in the summer of 1847…eight acres of Smith Durling’s rail fenced cornfield just north of Halsey’s Woods and on the north side of Falls Road. Durling retained the right to “take off the corn by October first” and he also “reserved the rails in the middle and east fence.”
It is recorded in the Cemetery Associations book of minutes that “after the purchase of the lot last autumn the stumps were all pulled, the ground plowed, and beautifully graded”. Then, “on the opening of the spring the roads were graded and rolled and between three and four hundred trees planted on the principal avenues.”
The term “rural cemetery” is applied in another sense in relation to the history of cemeteries in America. Many early burial grounds were established on family property or in church yards…and these small acreages were filling up…similar to the situation in the Village of Trumansburg but on an even larger scale. So, large acreages were purchased outside of major cities for development into burial grounds.
These cemeteries were designed to have a park-line appearance and use...think Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery... Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery…Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn…and the Albany Rural Cemetery… all established between 1831 and 1841. They were laid out with winding roads through undulating topography, with ponds, watercourses…were well landscaped with trees and shrubbery…and of course with monuments and tombstones. They were designed to be beautiful final resting places, but also as “cultivated woodlands” to be visited by the living seeking respite from the not so lovely urban built environment. They were the place for a family outing, the place to drive through in your buggy or sleigh for those a’courting, or a place to walk through in quiet contemplation of nature’s beauty.
The founders of Grove may well have been familiar with the “rural cemeteries” of the larger cities, or may have simply wanted their cemetery to be a place of beauty according to landscaping standards of the day. The Cemetery Association has preserved landscape blueprints that lay out and name the avenues, drives, and vistas—think “Sunset Drive,” “Evergreen Avenue” and “Vista Bluff.” The current Board of Trustees, under the direction of Board President David Allen, follow an annual tree replacement plan and are in the process of reinstalling the stone post road signs that have disappeared over time. Their return will be a step in continuing the welcoming spirit with which the cemetery was established so many years ago.