Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An Ambling History Lesson

I grew up in Grand Rapids, which means I'm often immune to the things I pass everyday. Sunday I took the time to actually get out of my car and walk through one of Grand Rapids' historic cemeteries during a Grand Rapids Historical Society Tour.

Oak Hill, located on Hall between Madison and Eastern, is a Park Cemetery, meaning it rejects the rigid structure of a traditional graveyard. It is a landscaped site of reflection where the visitor is encourage to amble amongst it's inhabitants. 

Sunday's tour was led by Thomas Dilley and about 170 guests attended (about 400 attended the same tour on Saturday). It was a beautiful day to spend walking among the city's oldest and most prominent families. The cemetery is almost a map of GR's heritage neighborhood, families opting to be buried next to their neighbors—spending eternity next to the friends they spent their life with. 

And while it was an architectural lesson in the significance of cemetery markings, it was also a mini Grand Rapids based Soap.  I learned about the notorious murders of John and Hannah Peck in 1916, and where EGR's San Lu Rae Drive got its name. 

The Celtic Cross on the Lowe Family Plot–the largest plot in the cemetery. The richest family in GR in the early 1900s, Lowe was successful in the lumber and foundry business, but also a great philanthropist, bringing the Salvation Army to Michigan. In the distance, the top of the Bissell family Obelisk. 
This very ornate stone marks the site of David Kendall and his first wife. Kendall was a wildly successful furniture designer. His second wife funded Kendall College of Art in his memory. 
Romanesque revival mausoleum for the Morris Family. 

Egyptian Revival mausoleums of lumber baron Marcus Brown

Spending three hours wandering around a cemetery is one of the more unusual ways I've spent a Sunday morning, but it feels amazing to get a little but closer to the history that surrounds me every day. Dilley is an endless stream of stories and facts—a book is in the works, and, based on their popularity, I suspect there will be more tours in his future too.


  1. My parents are friends with Tom Dilley and we talked about this last week - sounds interesting!

    1. Dilley was an excellent docent. Mass amounts of knowledge. Good stuff.