The Memorial Cemetery of St. John's Church
The Memorial Cemetery of St. John's Church is situated along Rte. 25A in Laurel Hollow approximately one mile west of the Church. The cemetery is distinguished for its landscaping by the Olmsted brothers beginning ca. 1911 as well as the notable personalities who are commemorated there. The site’s use as a cemetery dates from 1862 when it was founded by John Divine Jones, initially for his own family. This section, containing significant monuments to the Jones and Hewlett families, is immediately adjacent to the present chapel and columbarium near the cemetery’s entrance.
By approximately 1912, land bought by the DeForest family, an area of about ten acres further west bordering Cove Road, was joined to the initial area. Subsequent increments brought the cemetery up to its present size. The cemetery’s informal landscaping, using mostly native plantings sited to enhance scenic topographical features sustained the 19th century premise of park-like cemeteries. This approach is associated with the Olmsted firm which was brought in by the DeForests for whom they had done estate garden design. Further, the Olmsteds were in certain instances engaged by other families to do landscape designs on individual plots. Their work is typified by the creation of fairly large areas laid out in patterns of wide arcs bordered by low stone walls, with dense plantings of laurels and rhododendron, shaded by tall oaks and conifers. Steps and winding paths lead from one secluded bower to another, and each family area comprises a distinct environment unto itself. The early 20th century sections done by the Olmsteds also typically restricted the heights of gravestones to about six inches, so the memorial tablets tend to be flat and set close to the ground.
Among the many notable persons interred in the cemetery are Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., Chairman of General Motors; George Cortelyou, Secretary of the Treasury under Theodore Roosevelt; David F. Houston, Secretary of Agriculture under Woodrow Wilson; Otto Kahn, banker and philanthropist; Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War under Taft, FDR, and Truman; William Adams Delano, architect, of the firm Delano & Aldrich; William S. Paley of CBS fame; and the American Modernist painter Arthur B. Dove.
The New York Times (October 26, 2008) stated: “A sense of seclusion and natural beauty pervade this 1862 burial ground. Such beauty is no accident, as the site was designed by the firm headed by the son and stepson of Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture. Spread over 37 hilly acres, the grounds are organized to provide privacy.” It may also be noted, that a veritable stylistic history of the American decorative arts and architecture is suggested by the varied carving on monuments which span over an almost 150 year period.
The cemetery is administered the Vestry’s Cemetery Committee and managed by the resident superintendent, John Papa. A staff of four maintains these extensive grounds. Considering the size of the property and the fact that the land is extensively planted rather than open, their positive accomplishments are remarkable. The landscaping, beautifully designed at the outset, continues to be admired because of this respectful care. Due to limitations of space, burials are limited to St. Johns’ parishioners, clergy and the immediate family of plot owners.
Memorial Cemetery of St. John's Church
Photos by Michael Fairchild