About this series
This series focuses on my talk with local author and historian Thomas Dilley as we walk through the cemetery and talk about the people who inhabit the cemetery and their contributions to the city.
- Part I - Architecture and history of a city treasure
Other articles by the same author
This is part two of a two part series talking about the History of Oak Hill Cemetery and the people buried there. I also spoke with Fred Quillin, who is a local history buff, to get a citizens perspective on the cemeteries in this great city.
Throughout my time studying the city's cemeteries, I have been asked why it is so important to study those who have been buried. I asked Fred Quillin, a Grand Rapidian who also studies the city's history.
"I view our cemeteries as resources for learning about not just the prominent citizens of Grand Rapids' history, but many of the great innovations Grand Rapids has hosted in generations back. You learn about those grand ideas and creativity and realize that the bodies that housed those ideas are resting, marked, in this designated space of land," Quillin said. "Cemeteries are like local history books that you can walk through, see first hand, even touch."
- Edward Lowe
Edward Lowe was involved in the foundry and lumber business. He was the richest man in Grand Rapids in the early 1900s. His home, which was a 69-acre dairy farm, became the present site of Aquinas College in 1945. The house can still be seen on the north side of campus. In 1911, Theodore Roosevelt stayed in the guest room on the second floor when he visited Grand Rapids. Lowe was a huge philanthropist in the city.
“Lowe put the Salvation Army on the map in Grand Rapids,” said Thomas Dilley, who regularly leads cemetery tours. Lowe's plot is the largest in the cemetery and is located in the eastern part. It features Greek Revival architecture with columns of the Doric order. The wreaths that are present above the chiseled family name represent victory in death.
- Louis Withey
Louis Withey was a involved in lumbar, banking and finance. He started the Michigan Trust Company. He was also a respected and prominent citizen involved in many city decisions including the street cars. His plot is the second largest in the cemetery. It is located in the center of the cemetery on the west side. It is set on the top of a small hill surrounded by cherry trees, when blooming, are a spectacular site to behold. It is a Classical Revival featuring ionic pillars from the Greek era and has functional stain glass windows.
- Carl Voigt
Carl Voigt emigrated from Prussia to the United States in 1847. He opened two dry goods stores with his partner, William Herpolsheimer. He went on his own to focus on the milling business. His mill was the present location of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. His mansion was built in 1896 at 115 College SE and was his home for 76 years. His youngest child, Ralph Voigt, lived in the house since it was built. When he died in 1971, the house was donated to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. It was donated to the city two years later. The house remains relatively unaltered since the early 1900s and serves as a window where visitors can see how the Voigts lived.
- David Kendall
David Kendall was the most famous and successful furniture designer and producer in Grand Rapids. He lived till 1910. Kendall’s second wife Helen M. Kendall had a provision in her will to incorporate the David Wolcott Kendall School of Art as a memorial to her husband in 1928. Kendall strongly believed in the principles of art and to offer encouragement to aspiring artists. The school opened its doors on March 1, 1931. His plot is located in the far south corner of the Valley City part of the cemetery. It is a large bedrock stone that was sculpted by a German sculptor. It shows the many organizations he belonged to. The main three are The Sons of the Revolution, which meant that he was a direct descendent of a revolutionary soldier. The most interesting carving is the one indicating Kendall’s membership in the Massachusetts Society. This indicates that he is a descendent of individuals who were on the Mayflower. The carving lists the names of the Mayflower passengers he was related to.
- Amos Rush
Amos and his son, Edwin, were architects in the city of Grand Rapids. Two examples of there architectural treasures we still enjoy are former Mayor Logie’s house on the corner of Union and Cherry, and the building that has gargoyles on the roof which now houses McFadden’s Restaurant. Their mausoleum is located across form Kendall’s. It is a combination of Egyptian and Romanesque Revival. It is made out of red sandstone from Lake Superior.
“I find this plot to be rather intriguing. If you look at the round face on the ornament above the door you see it resembles a human face without any features. This is probably due to them losing a child and want it memorialized, Dilley said"
- Marcus Brown
"Not much is known about Marcus Brown. Most of his records are lost to history for an unknown reason. He was a lumber baron in Grand Rapids. He is best known for having the Egyptian Revival pyramid in Oak Hill. It is not a true pyramid; its large vertical walls and small base take away that designation. It also has slightly overlapping stones to protect the joints from harsh Michigan winters. The interior is 15 feet high with a pillar reaching to the ceiling. There are 12 burial spots in it, but only seven are occupied.
- Melville Bissell
Melville Bissell was asthmatic. To help him breath better he developed an early carpet sweeping machine to aid in cleaning the housewares shop he and his wife Anna owned on Monroe Street. The device was patented as the Bissell Carpet Sweeper in 1876. In 1883, Bissell built the company's first manufacturing plant in Grand Rapids. He died unexpectedly in 1889, and his wife Anna took over as leader of the company. She served as the company president till 1919. Over the years, the company expanded from manufacturing only mechanical sweepers to producing vacuum cleaners and carpet shampooers. It still maintains a plant in Walker, Mich. His plot features a 50-foot obelisk mixed with Classical Revival architecture.
Near the old Jewish part of the cemetery and near Hall Street on the Valley City side, there are two areas where many soldiers are buried. Some of them died during the Civil War, WWI, and WWII. The others are veterans who died after the war. Whatever the case, they did not have a lot of money when they died and the space was offered to them. The sight of all these military graves is breathtaking - almost a miniature Arlington in our city.
My name is Michael Tuffelmire. I was born and raised in downtown Grand Rapids. I am a father, decorated veteran and community advocate on issues of community violence, smarter government,local history, and neighborhood revitalization. I am a community organizer and Aquinas graduate with a Masters of Management and a Masters in Sustainable Business. I have been writing for the Rapidian since its infancy in October 2009 and received the 2010 Volunteer of the Year award from the Community Media Center for my writing – an honor for which I am extremely proud. My hobbies include bicycling, camping, paddling, historic preservation, travel, reading, and enjoying the sights and sounds of the city.
Reports on: Inner-city neighborhoods,progresive urban issues, local politics, environmental issues, local events