Cemetery Boundaries

Date Published: 
September, 1895
Original Author: 
Mr. McCarthy
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 9th Annual Convention

The subject urged on me by your committee to write about, namely, Boundaries, I had tile great kindness, but poor judgment to consent. In fact, I had supposed that papers on every conceivable subject connected with cemeteries had already been read at our annual conventions.

That I dislike boundaries of any kind and have all along urged their discontinuance, both in cemeteries and outside between neighbors and estates and indeed our association takes a just pride in what has been accomplished in this line, so that it seems a step backward to discuss walls, iron or wooden fences, hedges, etc.; that they are a necessity, rather than a thing of beauty, is my excuse for boring you with this paper.

That every cemetery has its boundaries of more or less extent, and to enclose or protect this property entails an enormous expense and very often a corresponding amount of ugliness. Expediency and the carpenter, or wooden fences, are too much in evidence around cemeteries, and Swan Point is no exception. But we have made a beginning and hope to replace these gradually with stone walls of such material as our grounds furnish. Comment or criticism on such walls varies, some think that they are simply "outlandish," while others say that they are a "thing of beauty and a joy forever;" but then the latter never had any connection with a cemetery or ever built any stone walls, so it would be presumptuous in me to tell every cemetery what is the best or proper, screen or fence, but I will honestly speak my mind (which you are already painfully aware of) and discuss the matter so that each of us may learn something that he may utilize in his section of the country according to his means.

In this connection 1 am concerned more with the planting or embellishing of boundaries, both outside and inside, than I am with any ostentatious architecture, or extravagant outlay, costly carving, or so much stone work in parks or cemeteries, and then covering the same with Wisteria, Woodbine, etc., has too much of the "Landscape Architect," who no longer advertises under the old-fashioned title of "Landscape Gardener."

I presume that all will admit that stone, either plain or elaborate, is the most natural and enduring material for boundaries, if beautiful in design or workmanship; covering with vines or climbers would not seem to be advisable. If the material is native to the place or vicinity, and no great outlay has been expended on its design or cutting or fitting, such walls, or at least a great portion of them, had better be covered. In fact, they offer an opportunity of growing a class of plants not often seen to advantage, like Euonymus or Ivy, that retain their foliage all winter. The beautiful, but uncovered wall will grow dingy and deteriorate with time, while the homely, but dressed or covered wall will grow more beautiful with age, and if planted on top and inside it will harmonize with the planting and the country, and nature will eventually adopt it as her own, for "age can not wither nor custom stale its infinite variety”.

Another common and often expensive boundary is a low wall capped with iron, generally of beautiful and elaborate design. This it seems unnecessary to cover with vines, besides the iron will frequently need painting. I must confess that no matter what these materials, I should prefer to see them dressed with vines outside and shrubs and evergreens inside. Of course, I could not recommend wood or picket fences and presume that they are used only as temporary protection. Iron is cheap; it will last much longer, and cover it so that it cannot be painted. It will last long enough "and the more Wisterias and Bignonias trained on it" the stronger it will be and its defects, if it meets any, will be concealed.

In my own city there is a large cemetery, bounded with two prominent streets, with electric car lines, etc.; on the sidewalk a few trees are planted, while inside the very high and strong picket fence very little or no planting bas been done. So that the whole ground, with its daily interments and funeral services, are in full view of passengers and a thickly settled population. Surely this is not just to the dead or to the friends that visit their graves, nor is it pleasing to those who daily have to pass by this extensive territory. Respect for both would suggest that such boundaries should be thickly planted. I believe, however, that few cemeteries are thus exposed.

How to remedy or improve boundaries like the above is a subject for discussion, so I will venture to suggest that where a cemetery fronts on a highway for some length, which is often the case, and there are no abettors to consult and the sidewalk is narrow, say 8 feet, I would set the fence or wall back 2 or 3 feet. This would give a strip of grass and allow of planting and give more room to those using the sidewalk.

I see that it is a general custom in many cemeteries to locate the poor lots or single graves "next or near the boundaries" and often without sufficient space for planting or concealing them from the public view, and as a main avenue generally follows the boundaries of a cemetery, "such lots or graves to my mind have a very conspicuous location and it seems to me that such lots concentrated in groups in other parts of the cemetery would not be so conspicuous or any reflection on the poor, while the location mentioned could be made the most beautiful and highest priced land in the cemetery. This is what we are trying to do in Swan Point, minus the high price and such trifling matters, which are so slow to materialize, and so perhaps I had better try to explain how we propose to treat our boundaries. I don't expect to tell you anything new or to consider my views a plea "for progress" or even a cure for Insomnia, but having some eight or nine thousand feet of such boundaries to construct eventually I naturally feel interested and rely on your advice and sympathy.

As you are probably aware our great crops in Rhode Island are clams and rocks, the latter Swan Point has in abundance, and they have to be dug out of the ground at great expense before it is available for burial purposes. Hence their use for our boundaries or walls. It is not likely that any two men would build such walls the same, and I guess I am one of the two; with any other screen or fence one would not have such latitude or even variety.

These walls are 6 feet at the bottom and a little narrower on top; width is necessary, as you can use any large boulders and not have them rest on any earth or filling back of the wall. They are between 4 and 5 feet high, so as to admit of seeing the planting inside. I don't think any higher wall would look well or be any extra protection, because people bent on mischief would scale them, although it might put them to a little more trouble. No cement is used; the joints or crevices are filled with mossy turf from the woods. Euonymous-Radicans, from its hardiness and permanent foliage all the year, is planted. At long intervals in prominent position Ampelopsis Englemanii is used, especially on top, "where it is allowed to have its own way," the Euonymus covering its bare stems during winter on the wall proper. Ampelopsis Veitchii, I think, covers too much, and being deciduous has little beauty all winter.

The strip of land inside, varying in width from 15 to 25 feet more or less is filled or raised as high or a little higher than the wall so as to show the planting from the highway. On the cemetery side we shall have no railroad banks or grades, but such elevations and depressions even if we have to create them as the extent or contours of the ground may suggest. "Evergreens, Rhododendrons, etc., planted here must make a beautiful background, (so difficult or seldom obtained) to a range of lots in place of single graves, and would not this land sell for a sufficiently higher price as would offset any extravagance in the waste land or any outlay in planting same not to mention the beauty and seclusion secured to the cemetery, while the wooded and natural plantation as seen from the "highway" would be appreciated by the public.

How the strip of land referred to should be planted would almost require a separate paper, suffice it to say that the more wild or natural native material the more pleasing the results. Belt of shrubs and evergreens of various heights and character in fact, a perfect tangle as in a state of nature where Clematis, Honeysuckles, Woodbines and other vines could mingle with the loftier and stronger shrubs and trees. Hydrangeas, Lilacs, Snowballs, Rhododendrons, Double Roses, etc., are too cultivated and unsuited to plant next to the highway. Single varieties of many of these, like our native Single Roses, the Japanese Roses, Multiflora, Wichuraiana and our own beautiful Michigan Rose (Setigena) would be more appropriate. I merely mention a few of these things to stimulate thought in the ever fascinating and important part of our occupation.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 9th Annual Convention
Richmond, VA
September 18, 19 and 20, 1895