April 18, 1838
, by act of
State's Legislature, "The
Green-Wood Cemetery" was incorporated "for the purpose of establishing
a public burial ground in the City of
," and was authorized
to purchase up to 200 acres. Its name, Green-Wood, was chosen as one
"indicating that it should always remain a scene of rural quiet, and
beauty, and leafiness, and verdure." Though it was initially established as
a joint stock company under the misapprehension that that was the only structure
possible, within a year it was converted to a nonprofit corporation "eminently and essentially philanthropic…from which even the appearance of
individual profit is excluded." Its
Act of Incorporation dictated that the trustees were to be elected by its lot
owners and all of its income was to be applied to the acquisition, preparation,
and maintenance of its grounds. Land that had been used primarily as pasture and
woodland was purchased from old
families: the Wyckoffs,
Ibbotsons, Deans, Sacketts, Schermerhorns, Bennetts, and Bergens.
BATES DOUGLASS (1790-1848) was chosen as Green-Wood
Cemetery's landscape architect and
first president. An experienced
civil engineer who had surveyed the area and was intimately familiar with it,
Douglass rode on horseback over the heights of
with Henry E. Pierrepont
until he found "the best locality in the vicinity for a cemetery, and
probably the finest in the world." The land they chose had several
advantages: its proximity to New York City
remote to be beyond the range of city improvements, yet so near as to be of
convenient access"), its panoramic view of
Harbor, and the variety offered
by its hilly surface and ponds.
circa 1860 photograph
by Beer & Co., published by
is of the west side of Ocean Hill, looking north.
Note the stones at the left side of the road;
they are glacial rubble removed from the surface and used to form the road bed.
Such rocks can still be seen on the edges of the cemetery’s paved
roads. Courtesy of Jeffrey Kraus.
land had been shaped 17,000 years earlier, when the glacier crept southward,
then halted at the moraine which runs east-west through what is now
As the glacier began to recede, it left behind ponds, hills, and rock
rubble. These features made the land
unattractive for commercial or residential development, but inexpensive and
well-suited for a rural cemetery.
"Douglass had no intention of grossly changing the
land; rather, he planned to grade and groom the original 178 acres to meet the
cemetery's needs. Consistent with
the attitude of the time, nature was not to be allowed to take its own course,
but was to be improved upon, to be made more "natural."
Rock rubble was taken from the hills and used for the beds of carriage
roads. Variety was prized as hills, glacial ponds, forests, dells, and valleys
were manicured and lawns were planted. Circular,
oblong, and triangular family plots were created; rows of gravestones, such as
those found at the Congressional Cemetery in
, or the later
, were scorned. Curved paths and roads added to the
land's mystery, surprising and delighting visitors whose leisurely walk or
carriage ride was driven forward by the desire to know what was just around the
bend. Picturesque trees, framing the distant scene, were planted. (But Douglass
never took the picturesque concept as far as the eighteenth century Englishmen
who "planted" a dead tree in
for its scenic effect.) The names of features, roads
and paths at Green-Wood were chosen to enhance this experience of being in the
presence of life, not death: Sylvan Water, Grassy Dell, and
were typically-uplifting choices. Under Douglass's
became the finest of the first generation of American
landscapes in the English picturesque garden tradition."1
the request of Green-Wood Cemeterys Board of Trustees, David Bates Douglasss’s
remains were brought there and interred beneath this monument.
choose a quiz about Greenwood Cemetery!
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Jeffrey I. (1998). Brooklyn's Greenwood Cemetery. Vermont: Stein OurPress