Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kalamazoo's Riverside Cemetery

I suspect that everyone with Kalamazoo roots has at least one person in their family who was laid to rest in Riverside cemetery. Some of the newer sections are devoid of much character, in my opinion, but I find the older sections on the slopes of the hill to be very peaceful. I got the opportunity to spend a little bit of time there last fall. While visiting family in town we spent an afternoon in section B (see map below) trying to decipher the inscription on John Harrigan's grave stone (I'll write about this endeavor later). Perhaps some people would find the spot lonely, but I enjoyed spending time beneath the crown of oak trees listening to the leaves rustling in the breeze.


Apparently, Riverside was not always such an idyllic spot. Anyone who has neglected their landscaping for one reason or another likely understands how quickly a flower bed can transform into a tangled den of bermuda grass. It seems that this happened to Riverside. Kalamazoo township purchased twenty-six acres in 1861, and had it laid out and ready for use by 1862 (The KPL website describes it here). Within seven years the cemetery was overrun by weeds and the citizens were having second thoughts.

Despite promises from the township to improve the cemetery, by 1869, the situation was so bad that some residents who had purchased lots were actually planning to give them up and bury their dead elsewhere. In the fall of that year, the township board appointed Dennis Coogan, “the well known gardener, to be sexton.” The article in the Kalamazoo Telegraph (10-19-1869, P4, col2) continued “that beautiful spot set apart as a resting place for the dead, has been neglected, and suffered to run back to a wilderness condition.”

In just over a year, Coogan had effected a change. The Telegraph (12-30-1870, P4 Col3) stated:

“This beautiful retreat for those who, after life's fitful fever, sleep well, has been greatly improved and beautified during the past season. Mr. Dennis Coogan, the well known gardener and florist, having been in charge of it, and devoting his best efforts to making it what it should be is encouraged by liberal appropriations by the people of the township. Heretofore it has been looked upon as a wilderness place, too wild and lonely for the purposes it was dedicated to, because it had been suffered to grow up weeds and underbrush, and the roads and pathways, to be almost lost. Now the change is great, and hereafter it will continue to grow in grace and beauty. A large number of lots have been purchased this season, and the place has come to be looked upon with great favor by those who a year or two ago believed it would never be made a pleasant looking burying ground. It is naturally the prettiest cemetery in the county, and in a few years will be all that we could wish it to be.”

Thanks to the ministrations of the grounds keepers, Riverside cemetery remains a well-tended and peaceful resting place for our ancestors.


To find your ancestors buried in Riverside I suggest checking the indexes at Find A Grave or downloading a PDF of transcribed burials from the Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society website (the records go up to 2006).

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