Akron residents were treated to a peek at the past when the historic Glendale Cemetery celebrated its 175th anniversary with the re-creation of a Civil War-era funeral procession from Perkins Square to the memorial chapel complete with a horse-drawn, glass-enclosed hearse from the Billows Company and full military color guard on the original date of Decoration Day. The ceremony was also the inaugural event to kick off efforts to raise money to have the cemetery’s bell tower restored.
Friends of Historic Glendale Cemetery is the fund-raising arm of the cemetery and a nonprofit founded in 2002 whose trust is to assist and help maintain the cemetery. Gregory R. Bean, Board of Trustees president, told the Akronist the goal is to raise $250,000 to reinstall the bell’s clapper and repair the roof. “It’s going to cost about $200,000 to historically renovate the bell tower which was built in 1883. The clapper was stolen decades ago. The bell is still there, but vandals broke in and stole the clapper 40 or 50 years ago. The belfry needs to be replaced; the inside of the bell tower has aged so,” he said.
Bean explained that the stone is all in good shape, but almost everything else needs to be completely renovated or replaced. “We cut down a lot of the trees and shrubbery around [it] which needed to come down. Part of the reason that the roof is rotted is it’s not getting enough sun and air circulation because in the summertime those trees pretty much covered it and therefore blocked the air flow. We’ve had to do the same thing around the Civil War memorial chapel for the same reason. Without airflow you’re going to have rot occur in the roof, and mold, and all of those bad things.”
They are planning to have the renovations completed sometime next year. “I’m hoping that a year from now, at this same time, we can be dedicating the [restored] bell tower,” Bean added.
The bell tower was built in the Arts and Crafts Movement style of the 1800s with $1,000 in funds raised by the Ladies’ Cemetery Association for its construction. It was designed by architect Frank O. Weary and rang out to announce every funeral procession at the cemetery in the late 1800s. The bell also marked the daily closing of the cemetery’s iron gates at 6 p.m. The tower stands 60 feet tall with a 15 foot diameter base. The bell weighs in at 700 pounds.
Dave Lieberth, chairman of the board of the Summit County Historical Society of Akron, Ohio said: “That is a dry-stone tower – there is no mortar holding that tower together. The idea is to restore it to its original state.”
Cemetery origins & history
The rumors that Buchtel College was built over a graveyard were true. When Minor Spicer came to the Western Reserve as a pioneer settler from Norwich, Connecticut in 1811 at age 35, he was the first white settler in Portage Township (now Akron). The difficult journey took three months. Other settlers soon followed.
After building a log cabin on the 260-acre site purchased from the Connecticut Land Company (then, five years later, building a frame house to replace the cabin) Spicer donated land in 1813 to the growing community for the establishment of Spicer Hill Burial Place. It was located on a high slope overlooking a beautiful view of the valley. But there was a drawback. The soil conditions were deplorable.
Akron historian Samuel A. Lane in his book Fifty Years and Over of Akron and Summit County writes: “The sub-soil of the Spicer burial ground was a species of rock, similar to what is known as sewer-pipe clay, excavations having to be made almost wholly with the pick, so that surface water, percolating through the loose earth above the coffin, would be largely retained in the substantially water-tight grave.”
Dr. Jedediah D. Commins, a druggist and Vermont native, moved his wife, Sophia, and two teenage sons to Akron from western New York in 1832. By then the community had grown to a population of 1,300 people. Five years later, Commins’ son, Augustus, died at age 20. Commins could not bear the thought of burying his son in that swamp land. Being a druggist, he had the means to place his son’s body in a container of alcohol and store it in the basement of his home for a year as he sought a solution to his predicament.
While visiting Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the summer of 1838, Commins was gathering ideas from the rural cemetery for building a tomb for his son. He marveled at the tranquil beauty of the scenic views and thought Akron deserved something similar.
Commins was not alone in his opinion. Upon returning home, at an informal meeting of citizens in the autumn of 1838, Commins was chosen to draw up a charter to form a rural cemetery for Akron. He also drew up a petition that was presented to the State Legislature on Jan. 10, 1839. On Mar. 18, 1839, the charter was granted by the State of Ohio and the Akron Rural Cemetery Association was formed with Col. Simon Perkins as president, Commins as secretary and Samuel A. Wheeler as treasurer. It was only the third chartered cemetery in the nation and the first in the state of Ohio.
Gen. Perkins, founder of Akron, proposed to sell the village four acres of ground at one hundred dollars per acre and to donate one additional acre. The council also purchased three acres from Judge Leicester King of Warren. By 1891, the “western section” was added bringing the total to 57 acres. The cemetery was originally located in a rural setting but the city had grown around it over the decades.
In 1871, Buchtel College (forerunner of the University of Akron) wanted to break ground for its new building on the Spicer Hill Burial Place. So, in March, the two acres of graves were moved to the Akron Rural Cemetery and Spicer’s heirs sold the land to the college.
In 2001, Glendale Cemetery was registered in the National Register of Historical places.
After the Civil War ended, the Ladies’ Cemetery Association was organized by Mrs. Mary Ingersoll Tod Evens. $20,000 was raised by 1869 to build the caretaker’s lodge. It was designed by Weary who also designed the Civil War Memorial Chapel.
The memorial chapel was built to honor the Akronites from that war. The 18,000 square foot Gothic style structure has exterior walls of broken Asher stone with a porch supported by six polished granite columns. The interior contains rolled cathedral glass windows imported from Scotland. The chapel was built in 1875-76 with $25,000 raised by members of the Buckley Post, Grand Army of the Republic. It was dedicated on Decoration Day, May 30, 1876.
In front of the chapel stands a statue of Grief. Mark J. Price, in his book The Rest is History: True Tales from Akron’s Vibrant Past, writes: “She mourns for men whose names will never be known, the brave soldiers who marched off to battle and disappeared in a puff of smoke…Her sad eyes gaze towards the ground as she dangles a rose in her right hand and clutches a floral wreath in her left.”
The inscription on the monument reads: “To Our Unknown Dead 1861-1865.” It was dedicated on Memorial Day 1909 before a crowd of 10,000 people and was a gift from an anonymous member of the Buckley Post. Later in the ceremony the donor was revealed to be Col. George T. Perkins, 73, chairman of the B.F. Goodrich Co., and son of Col. Simon and Grace Perkins.
Price concludes: “The robed woman stared down sadly as holiday crowds fell from tens of thousands in the early 1900s to mere dozens by the late 1980s. She maintains her quiet vigil today, [more than] one century later, mourning our unknown dead while many others have forgotten.”
The Glendale business office was built in 1903 and housed the cemetery records and provided space for the superintendent and treasurer to work.
Summit County’s largest GAR chapter was Akron’s Buckley Post 12 named for its first commander, Lewis P. Buckley, a colonel in the 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Nearly 1,000 members founded the post on March 21, 1867. Buckley died one year after organizing the chapter. The final commander (and last member standing) was Alvin D. Miller. In 1940, a 92 year old Miller dedicated a large memorial marker surrounded by 50 headstones to his fallen comrades. Miller died May 6, 1941.
Mausoleums and their symbolism
In 1860, Commins built his family mausoleum on the side of a hill at the Akron Rural Cemetery and finally had the resting place for his son that he wanted. Although Commins’ mausoleum was simple, plain and unassuming, Glendale boasts many grandiose structures designed to look like Greek, Roman and Egyptian temples, even Gothic churches. And many of the mausoleums contain symbols with different meanings.
Alison First, education coordinator of SCHS explained how symbolism on the mausoleums meant something and what different things symbolize. First explained: “They are not there just for a decoration; they are there for a reason. If they have wheat on it, that stands for Resurrection and Life Everlasting. Lions stand for Strength. Calla lilies are for a Happy Life, or Good Life. So they all have these symbols that go with it.” First said.
First mentioned how the door of the Waters mausoleum reveals a woman with braided hair which means Unity or Oneness. The rosettes symbolize Hope, Love and Promise. “Many of them have architectures like Greek Revival. Some of them are Egyptian that look like the pyramids. There are reasons for those symbols that they have on there. Urns, or draped urns on them, represent Mourning. The Reifsnider mausoleum has this wonderful Egyptian motif around it. It has spears and it has a serpent and that represents Protection. And then the pharaohs. They have the staff of the pharaohs at the top and they are also protecting that area as well. That’s just fascinating in itself,” she added.
The bell tower is symbolic of Immortality and Truth. The three links in the chain on the Odd Fellows monument represent Fellowship, Love and Truth. The Odd Fellows, started in England in the 1700s, is a fraternal organization dedicated to social unity and relieving the distressed.
First said: “One of the most interesting things I’ve discovered is we have the Odd Fellows marker. There are 26 stones and they all look the same and they just had the person’s first and last name and a date. So I thought: ‘What is this?’ So I walked up and each of those 26 markers have inscribed on that marker those three chain links so they were obviously Odd Fellows. I thought that was kind of interesting. I don’t know what the date means. Is that when they joined? Is that when they died? It would be interesting to find out what that symbolizes on them, the date, that’s marked on the stone,” First pondered.
A Who’s Who of Summit County
Some real movers and shakers of Summit County’s past now reside at Glendale. Some notable residents include:
Fred W. Albrecht and family of Acme Grocery fame.
Ohio Columbus Barber (d: Feb. 1920) – Son of pioneer match manufacturer. In 1862 assumed management. In 1865 organized the Barber Match Co. It became the Diamond Match Co. Owned Ann Dean farm.
Gen. Lucius Bierce – Five time mayor of Akron and state senator.
Chief Big Buffalo (d: 1956) – Cherokee Indian who was in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West shows in the 20th century. A carnival worker, he later worked at Glendale. Epitaph reads: “Gone to his happy hunting grounds.”
Jason Brown and family – Son of U.S. Abolitionist John Brown.
Honorable John R. Buchtel (d: May 1892) – Founder of Buchtel College.
Col. Lewis P. Buckley – Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Dr. Jedediah Commins (d: 1867) – Pharmacist and founder of Glendale Rural Cemetery.
George Washington Crouse – Former U.S. Congressman.
Mary Ingersoll Tod Evens – Organized the Akron Ladies’ Cemetery Association.
Mary Gladwin (d: 1939) – Worked with the Red Cross as a nurse in the Spanish-American War, Russo-Japanese War and WWI. Buchtel College’s School of Nursing is named after her.
Elizabeth Hawking – A survivor of the Titanic sinking. She was struck by a streetcar while crossing a street in Akron and killed two years later. One other Titanic survivor is also interred there.
Capt. Charles Richard Howe – Chief engineer of the Ohio and Erie Canal.
John Henry Hower – Industrialist.
David L. King – son of Judge David Leicester King.
Samuel A. Lane – Historian and author of Fifty Years and Over of Akron and Summit County.
Marian Mercer (1935-2011) – Actress and Akron native.
The Mustill family of the Mustill store.
Col. Simon Perkins Jr. (d: July 1887) and family.
Ferdinand Schumacher (1822-1908) – AKA: The Oatmeal King. Born in Hannover, Germany and founder of the German Mills in Akron. It became part of the Quaker Oats Company.
Frank A. Seiberling (d: 1955) Co-founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.
Maj. Minor Spicer (1776-1855) – Namesake of ‘Spicer Town’ in Akron.
Major Gen. Alvin Coe Voris (d: 1904) – Civil War veteran.
There also lie buried there representatives of the Revolutionary War; Civil War; War of 1812; Spanish-American War; WWI; WWII; Korean War; and the Vietnam War.
First proclaimed: “Just some very fascinating stories within that cemetery and they don’t all have to be big names, but everybody has a story. We have our founders and all those people doing all those great things, but we also have all these other people who are buried up there.”
Contributions to support the Bell Tower renovation can be sent to: Friends of Historic Glendale Cemetery, 150 Glendale Ave.; Akron, OH 444302. Friends of Historic Glendale Cemetery is a tax-exempt charitable 501 (c) (3) organization.
Visit www.glendaleakron.com for further details.