Green Lawn
A Very Special Park
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History of Green Lawn

Cemetery Founding & Incorporation

A skeleton and the "Belle of Columbus": How Green Lawn Cemetery came to be

By Leslie Blankenship

On Tuesday afternoon 16 November 1909, a detail of convicts excavating the Ohio Pen made a grisly discovery. Assigned to dig out the floor in Bolt Shop No. 5 in preparation for installing a new piece of machinery, the laborers were astounded when they uncovered a "full-sized skeleton" of a man.

The skeletal remains were pronounced to be those of the first victim of the cholera epidemic that struck the Ohio Pen with great savagery in July of 1849. This verdict was rendered by the penitentiary physicians -- who took the skeleton for examination -- because the bones were discovered close to the old prison graveyard.

Just 36 hours later, across the river to the southwest another death was mourned. The day after The Columbus Evening Dispatch reported the convicts' gruesome find it carried a front-page headline of local interest: "Mrs. Wharton, One Of True Pioneers Dies of Old Age." The headline went on to extoll the deceased woman's life -- "Lived on Old Homestead, Famous for its Hospitality for the Past 89 Years."

It was a curious, but fitting, coincidence that these two seemingly unrelated events occurred within a day of one another. While separated by 60 years, these events were nevertheless linked in the flow of history. Both contributed, in their way, to the early development of Green Lawn Cemetery.

 

The need for "an ample place of sepulture"

In March of 1848 the Ohio Legislature passed a law incorporating a group of local men into an association they entitled the "Green Lawn Cemetery of Columbus." This forward-thinking group had ambitious plans to develop a new type of cemetery to serve the growing city.

Columbus, like many other burgeoning cities in the mid 1800s, was facing an urgent need for expanded burial space. Prior to this time, the custom had been to locate a burying ground near a church such as the Franklinton Pioneer cemetery, which was at one time near the First Presbyterian church in Franklinton. Actually, burials had taken place in that area even before the church was built. Burying grounds also took shape near the residential heart of cities, such as the old North Graveyard, which is located under the site of today's North Market.

But bulging populations quickly outstripped available space, and cemeteries became obstacles to city development. With the arrival of the canals and railroads and the need to locate transportation hubs near the business districts of the central city, the old burying grounds became far too valuable to lie fallow. Consider the predicament of Columbus' old North Graveyard:

The North Graveyard was for many years the principal burying ground of the city. It comprised 10 and one-half acres on the near north side an eighth of a mile from the train station. The cemetery was too large a chunk of urban land to ignore, however, and the Columbus City Council passed ordinances in 1856 and 1864 prohibiting further burials there.

Another consequence of the unprecedented crowding created by mid 19th century urban living was the sanitation nightmare it produced. Lines of privies, dripping their foul contents into the same rivers that supplied the community's supply of drinking water, were a dangerous source of contagious diseases, among which cholera loomed largest. The great cholera epidemics that resulted from these conditions produced so many dead in such a short time that disposal of the bodies also became a hazard for the living. During the cholera epidemic of 1833, for example, Columbus residents had to seek burial sites for more than 100 bodies within a few short months. Overcrowding of diseased grave sites further contaminated the underground water tables. Something had to be done.

 

"Where Art, guided by Taste, might be united with Nature"

Attitudes toward death were also changing in the 19th century. Romantic ideals celebrating the union of death and nature in a cycle of rebirth began replacing the grim concept of death as a fearful judgment day before the Stern Master that had dominated 17th century thinking.

Hand in glove with this 19th century elevation of death to an art form arose the concept of rural garden cemeteries. The earliest of these "Victorian Cemeteries" was the famous Pere La Chaise in Paris founded in 1804. In Boston, Mount Auburn was established according to this model in 1831. Kensal Green in London in 1832 and in 1838 Mount Hope in Rochester, New York followed in the tradition.

The idea of a park-like cemetery away from the city center with ample green-space and fewer hygienic problems appealed to the Green Lawn Cemetery Association. They pictured a cemetery well planned, developed, and maintained that would accommodate artistry as well as expansion.

The Association was governed by a board of seven trustees elected by the stockholders or lot owners. The first Board of Trustees, elected August 30, 1848, established its office in Columbus where it held monthly meetings. Early Columbus historian William T. Martin described the business of these meetings:

. . .where all the financial affairs of the association are attended to, and a register of all interments is kept by the Secretary.

The best contemporary description of the Green Lawn ideal was offered by Joseph Sullivant, President of the Association, at their third annual meeting January 13, 1852 in which the annual reports of the officers were presented. Mr. Sullivant's reading of the annual report was subsequently printed by the Ohio State Journal as a matter of public record. It began as follows:

The necessity of providing an ample place of sepulture for our rapidly increasing population, and a strong desire to furnish a spot where Art, guided by Taste might be united with Nature in distinguishing and adorning the last resting place of those bound to us by the strong ties of affection and love, where we could show our regard for the memory of the dead, originated Green Lawn Cemetery Association.

But in 1848 with the Association in its infancy, establishing a cemetery beyond the jurisdiction of Columbus and entirely independent from its city authorities offered a unique challenge. Where could an appropriate site be found? And could it be secured at an affordable price?

 

"The most unique character Ohio has ever seen"

When Mary Miner Wharton died on 18 November 1909, she was highly regarded as the oldest living settler of Franklin County - a title that gave her great pride. Her Dispatch eulogy made much of this fact:

In the same house where she was born 89 years ago, and in the same bed where she had slept for nearly half a century, Mrs. Mary Wharton, oldest living settler in Franklin county, belle of pre-war time days, daughter of a one-time legislator and supreme court judge and friend of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, died at 10:15 Thursday morning. Death came upon her in the old homestead built 103 years ago in the then wilderness at Greenlawn avenue and the Jackson pike. It is a homestead built of brick and solid walnut, undoubtedly the oldest in Central Ohio.

Only three years earlier at the age of 86, Mrs. Wharton had hosted a large party to celebrate the "Centennial Of the Miner Family" marking her father Isaac Miner's arrival in Franklin County in 1806 from New York state. She personally addressed 250 invitations and presided over the festivities at the Miner homestead, which sat upon a hill far back from Greenlawn avenue and which the neighbors referred to as "the house of a hundred years."

A millwright by training, Isaac Miner attempted to establish a mill business near today's Georgesville Road when he came to Franklin County in 1806. But the business did not flourish, and two years later moved further west. Isaac Miner settled at last on a large tract of land he purchased from the Indians near what would become London in Madison County. At one time Mr. Miner owned 6,000 acres and was one of the largest landholders in that county.

With his "eccentric" brother Jeremiah, who joined him in 1807, Isaac spent 16 years raising cattle and horses. In the days before the railroads, the Miner brothers were the first in Central Ohio to organize massive overland cattle drives to supply Philadelphia and New York with beef. These were risky ventures, considering the hazards getting uncooperative cattle across the Allegheny Mountains, but their efforts proved quite lucrative. Both brothers made considerable fortunes and even attracted successful imitators such as Michael Sullivant, the second son of Franklinton founder Lucas Sullivant.

In addition to his prodigious financial achievements, Isaac served as State Legislator from Madison County, Judge of Franklin County as well as Judge of Madison County, and president of the canal board. He moved back to Franklin County in 1823 to settle in a house built for him by Dr. Lincoln Goodale near what became Greenlawn avenue.

Contrary to the Dispatch account, Mary Miner Wharton was actually born in Madison County in January 1821 and was two years old when her family moved into the Greenlawn house. Isaac and his wife Hannah (Stowel) eventually had eight children.

Mary was only age 11 when her father died; her reactions to this loss are not recorded. As the daughter of a wealthy family, Mary grew up with many advantages. She had the opportunity to obtain an education and attended a Quaker Seminary in Philadelphia. Mary Miner soon became celebrated as the "Belle of Columbus" for her wit as well as her beauty. She seems to have inherited her father's legalistic mind as well as his devotion to civic duty as she personally lobbied through the Ohio Legislature a bill to erect a bridge at Green Lawn avenue as well as a flood wall to protect the west bank from the river's flooding.

At the age of 19, Mary Miner became the wife of Englishman Henry Wharton in 1839, eight years after her father died. A sickly man, Wharton died in 1852 of consumption. During a sojourn in Tennessee, Mary somehow became friends with a black woman named Hattie who had been held in bondage before the war. Mary and Hattie developed a deep personal friendship, and the two of them lived on the Old Miner Farm together for the remainder of Mary's life. The Dispatch reporter, author of Mary's eulogy, seemed rather surprised by her choice to live with Hattie instead of acquiring another husband:

Mrs. Wharton was probably the most unique character Ohio has ever seen. From the time her husband, Henry Wharton, an Englishman, died, more than a quarter of a century ago, Mrs. Wharton had lived in her big home, with a colored servant as her only companion. She managed all her own affairs.

 

The Old Miner Farm

Whether the Green Lawn Association came to Mary Wharton in 1848 to inquire about locating their cemetery on her land or whether she approached them is not recorded. But the Dispatch eulogy noted that "It was she who donated to the city the land now used as Green Lawn cemetery."

Columbus historian Alfred E. Lee also credits Mary Wharton as ". . .one of the owners of Green Lawn."

Yet another source, We Too Built Columbus, states that Mrs. Wharton ". . also gave the county the right away through her land when Green Lawn Cemetery was being planned."

Whatever the arrangements, the Old Miner Farm offered the perfect site. By the time of Isaac Miner's death in the fall of 1831 at the age of 53, he had accumulated 1,000 acres, and much of the land was still dense, virgin forest. Two and one-half miles west of the Statehouse, the Old Miner Farm was located well outside the city limits yet not too far removed to create a hardship for mourners. It is recorded that over the next couple of years the association made several purchases of land in that area until they had acquired 83 acres at a cost of $3,750. (Today, such a sum would purchase only one single berth within the Mausoleum's Garden Crypt.)

On May 23, 1848 the Green Lawn Association held a well-attended public "Pic Nic" on the new cemetery grounds with the purpose of persuading the attendees to help clear part of the area so landscaping could begin. Soon afterwards, the esteemed engineer and architect Howard Daniels was hired to lay out the lots and avenues. Mr. Daniels was eminently qualified for the project having previously designed Spring Grove, a premier Victorian cemetery in Cincinnati, as well as the stately Greek-Revival structure of old Montgomery County Courthouse in Dayton.

President Joseph Sullivant seemed well pleased with Daniels' efforts as he described the appearance of the cemetery to the Association at their meeting in 1852:

Within the space of three years, which have elapsed since our organization, eighty-three acres of ground, suitable in every respect for our purpose, have been purchased, and a large portion laid out into convenient lots and several miles of avenues and walks constructed, winding by graceful curves in every direction through the primitive forest - that great Temple of Nature.

Writing ten years after Green Lawn was incorporated, fellow Green Lawn Cemetery trustee, William T. Martin also provided a favorable description of the Daniels' legacy:

In the arrangement of the grounds, irregularity or variety seems to have been one object aimed at. The sections all vary in size and shape; the lots also vary in size from one hundred to twelve hundred square feet, and all kinds of shapes; and the improvements vary according to the taste of the lot owners. The lots are kept clean and in neat order, which shows not only a becoming respect for departed friends, but strips the place of half its gloom.

 

The oldest grave in the cemetery

With great enthusiasm a large crowd of residents attended the formal dedication ceremonies on the Green Lawn grounds the afternoon of July 9, 1849. The event was presided over by none other than Reverend James Hoge, pioneer pastor of Franklinton.

But between the day of the public picnic and that of the formal dedication, an agent of death had smuggled itself into Columbus. It started with one Allen W. Turner who arrived unnoticed by stagecoach from Cincinnati toward the end of May harboring the silent killer within him. He died on May 27th inaugurating a new wave of the dread cholera.

The panic began in earnest on June 21 when four members of the same family died within 24 hours of one another. Memories of the great epidemic of 14 years earlier were revived in horror. As it happened in 1833, the cholera soon spread its deadly fingers of contagion over the wall of the Ohio Pen where 413 men were doing time. On June 30th the first case of cholera was reported among the prisoners. Within nine short days, 396 of the inmates had contracted the disease and 21 deaths had resulted - perhaps one of them the skeleton uncovered in 1909. The plague raged for 16 days and nights.

A desperate call for help went out to recruit additional doctors to aid the beleaguered prison physicians Dr. H. Lathrop and Dr. William Trevitt. Dr. Benjamin. F. Gard was among those who selflessly answered the call. July 9th saw 16 additional deaths in the Pen. The next night, after long hours of combating unspeakable horror, two of the physicians were struck down soon after they wearily made their way home. They never returned. Dr. Gard was took ill at 11:00 pm that night of July 10th and died at 1:30 the next afternoon. Dr. Lathrop fought for his life four days and nights. In the end the cholera won.

On the 12th of July an additional 12 prisoners died. That same day, Dr. Gard was buried in Green Lawn. It was the cemetery's opening day, and his became the oldest grave in Green Lawn. The inscription on his tombstone reads:

Dr. B. F. Gard
Died of Chol., July 11, 1849

 

The death toll in the penitentiary peaked on July 22nd with 22 deaths in a single day. Eight days later on July 30th - one month to the day of the cholera's arrival - the last death in the prison was recorded. While the disease had subsided in the penitentiary, the deadly cholera persisted in Columbus, confining itself during the last four weeks among the unfortunate German immigrant population on the south side of the city where the disease had first appeared.

By mid-September the shadow of the epidemic had passed leaving 162 deaths in the city and 116 deaths in the Old Pen, among them three physicians. By providing so many new burials so hastily, the cholera swiftly enshrined Green Lawn Cemetery into the grieving hearts of many Columbus families who would now associate the site with their most sacred and deeply personal of memories.

Today the terror and misery of the dread cholera is forgotten. Little remains of the Old Miner Farm, and there is scant trace of Mary Miner Wharton. Only a short street bearing the name Wharton jutting perpendicular into Harmon Avenue north of its Green Lawn intersection gives any clue of the remarkable Columbus woman. Mary Miner Wharton made Green Lawn Cemetery possible and in the process created a haven for wildlife and for many tangible symbols of those who came before us and who created our city's heritage through the many details of their daily lives.

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