If you ever visit the city of Rochester, N.Y., don’t leave without climbing to the top of a hill in section R of Mount Hope Cemetery.
The perch affords views of the oldest municipally owned Victorian cemetery in the United States, opened in 1838.
When leaves are off the trees, it also offers excellent views of the Rochester city skyline. That makes it a fitting resting place for Nathaniel Rochester, the city’s founder, whose gravestone sits on this hill with the Latin epitaph, “If you seek his monument, look around you.”
Resting place for history-makers
Mount Hope Cemetery is home to more than 350,000 graves, and is still in active use.
“There are more people buried here than the population of the city of Rochester,” said Pat Corcoran, vice president of the Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery, a nonprofit that helps the city maintain the cemetery and puts on tours and other events to boost visitation and preservation.
They include famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass and women’s suffragist Susan B. Anthony.
“People come from all over the world to visit these graves,” Corcoran said. “It makes you realize that these individuals are known everywhere.”
On Election Day 2016, with a female presidential candidate leading a major-party ticket, Corcoran said a procession of as many as 10,000 people came all day long, with many placing their voter stickers on Anthony’s grave to pay tribute.
The cemetery is expecting similar large groups in 2020, which in addition to being a presidential election year also marks the 100thanniversary of American women winning the right to vote.
Trees are a draw
In addition to the history represented by the hundreds of thousands of people buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, the trees at this 196-acre urban refuge add immensely to its appeal.
That is by design, as Mount Hope Cemetery is an example of the rural cemetery tradition that began in the Victorian era.
It’s a lot easier to maintain a cemetery with a flat grade, no trees and orderly rows of gravestones, but landscape architects of this era wanted these cemeteries to appeal to visitors, and believed that natural features such as rolling hills and greenery were important parts of achieving that goal.
The original section of the cemetery includes landscape features like wooded walkways, mature trees, curved roadways and both natural and manmade water features.
Such an intricate landscape isn’t always easy to maintain within the limitations of a city budget. That’s why Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery was founded in 1980—to help the city of Rochester maintain and restore the historic facility, and to create educational programs that would help the community to learn more about it.
Trees are a major focus of the Friends’ assistance in maintaining Mount Hope. Corcoran said the cemetery is home to about 3,000 trees, and 85 different species.
The cemetery is seeking certified arboretum status and is planting more trees, in the hopes of housing 100 different species, the requirement for Level II certification through ArbNet.
The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery are using Plants Map interactive plant tags to fulfill the labelling requirements as they seek arboretum status.
Their plant pages are maintained in part by a volunteer named Tom Jones.
“He is absolutely amazing,” Corcoran said of his care for the trees of Mount Hope. “You wouldn’t dare mistreat a tree in that cemetery, because he takes it personally.”
The cemetery’s Plants Map profile includes collections that delve into specific aspects of the cemetery, such as a guided walk around the historic 1912 chapel, and a collection of trees near the graves of notable figures buried at the cemetery.
Telling more of the story
Rochester has been called the “Flower City” because of its horticultural history.
In the nineteenth century, it was home to the largest nursery operation in the world run by George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry. Ellwanger is buried at Mount Hope.
Ellwanger and Barry donated 50 rare tree species to the cemetery in 1848. Four of them remain today, including a European weeping beech.
“On these trees, we pay to have them cared for every spring and fall,” Corcoran said. “We give them constant attention.”
The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery hope to turn more attention toward these trees with the tree tours they began giving last year.
These add to a diverse list of tour topics the Friends organize at the cemetery, from horticultural history, to women’s suffrage, to baseball.
It all adds up to a public landscape that holds a special place in the Rochester community.
“Every season of the year, Mount Hope is beautiful, and you can’t even believe you’re in the middle of the city,” Corcoran said. “Every day, people come to walk, bike, jog – you can just come in there and enjoy yourself.”