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History of Rose Hill Cemetery

In 1973 an application was submitted to the National Park Service to have Rose Hill Cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The application was accepted on October 9, 1973. The text shown below is taken directly from that application and provides the history of Rose Hill Cemetery along with a beautiful description by Simri Rose. 

 

Pictured: The Macon, Georgia home of Simri Rose, for whom Rose Hill Cemetery, 1840 is named.
Painted by Hermione Ross Walker, granddaughter of Simri Rose.

Used with permission of a family member.

Description

In 1840 the Macon City Council adopted a plan for a new 50-acre cemetery, Rose Hill. Its designer, Simri Rose, described it as:
 

"situated about a half mile above the city on the banks of the Ocmulgee River, mostly on elevated ground, the highest point being 142 feet above its bed. Its entrance is through a lofty arched gate, constructed after the Doric order of architecture. The area of ground comprised within the enclosure is about 50 acres. Another spot could scarcely be found in any section of our country so much diversified, and comprising so many distinct objects and combinations going to form a perfect picture of rural beauty. Many who have visited the cemeteries of the North, and even the far famed Mount Auburn, think it far inferior in natural beauty and location to Rose Hill. A prominent feature in its scenery is the Ocmulgee River, along which it extends nearly half of a mile. The banks are from thirty to sixty feet high, and generally rocky and precipitous, and form an impenetrable barrier to its approaches. The higher parts of the ground are nearly level, and laid out as places of interment; other places have been selected by many in the wildest parts almost overhanging the deep valleys. From the river deep and narrow dells penetrate the ground from fifty to two hundred yards, one of them divides it entirely near its centre, through which a rivulet murmurs over a steep and rocky bed to the river. This is supplied by four springs, one at the head, outside the ground and three within it. The water of one is reputed to be the coolest and purest in this vicinity. It is most beautifully located, and is the most attractive spot for visitors. The banks around it are high and steep, and thickly wooded. Above it, tower giant poplars and the shady beech, and the sun can scarcely penetrate a beam to enlighten this quiet and solemn solitude. Seats are provided here for visitors, as well as in many other parts of the ground. Two rustic bridges of rock and earth cross this valley; and in it a pond of about 80 yards in length, by 20 in breadth, has been excavated, supplied by pure water from the springs, and its banks neatly sodded with grass. Around it, are several cypresses and weeping willows and one rises from a mound it its centre. A variety of fine roses are also near it, and in perpetual bloom These are also scattered over the ground, and along the walks and roads, in great profusion. The ridges between the dells are steep, and generally terminate abruptly in rocky cliffs near the river. On their summits are most beautiful sites for burial lots, most of which are occupied. A broad avenue from the gate terminates on a rocky bluff at the river. Carriageways are laid out wherever necessary. One makes the entire circuit of the ground; another winds along the heads of the valleys, and presents most picturesque views. The entire length of the roads and footwalks is about 5 miles. Many of them have been constructed with great labor, being cut into steep sides of the river bank and hills, winding through every place that presents any object of attraction. The lots of families are of different dimensions, from 20 to 40 feet square, and at prices varying from 10 to 30 dollars. About 150 have been allotted for strangers. A record is kept of all the interments, by which the occupant of every grave can be designated. Many of the lots are enclosed with iron and handsomely improved with monuments, and the most choice shrubbery making it emphatically a "Garden of Graves." The first object that strikes a visitor on entering the gate, is a lot belonging to Macon Lodge, No. 96 handsomely enclosed, and planted with evergreen trees and shrubs, many of which are from far-off lands. The oriental cypress, from Asia, raises its graceful spire; the balm of Gilead, Norway and silver figs, the hemlock, arbor vitae, cedar, juniper, and wild olive, the broom and furze and even the humble thorn, from whose branches was plaited the crown worn on Mount Calvary. This sacred ground is appropriated as the resting place to strangers belonging to the Masonic order. The Odd Fellows have also their enclosure, and beside it "that ancient and peculiar people," the Jews, have also their resting place. Most of the Cemetery is thickly wooded by a young and thrifty growth, interspersed with the towering poplar, giant oaks, beech and sycamore; and it is worthy of remark that there is scarcely a tree, shrub, or wild flower, that is known in our country, that may not be found within this area of 50 acres. Among those that most adorn it are the wild honey-suckle in abundance, woodbine, golden hypericum, etc. These, with its improvements and diversified landscape, cannot fail to attract the attention and leave deep impressions on every visitor. The river, murmuring over its rocky bed, wheeling around immovable cliffs of granite and flint, rolling, on and on forever, like the tide of human life, to mingle in the unfathomed and undefined abyss of eternity, imparts an instructive lesson, while the beauties of the scene disarm death of half its terrors."

Some 130 years have passed since the above description of Rose Hill was penned; however the cemetery is according to Marshall Daugherty, Mercer University sculptor professor, a landmark of landscape gardening and finely carved 19th century sculpture that reflect much of Macon's history. Although the weather and vandals have taken their toll in the form of eroded and blackened surfaces and toppled monuments, the carvings in some of the "finest Carrara" amid abundant flora retain their 19th century character. The cemetery architecture is of varied 19th century monuments; many are characterized by delicate and finely carved detail while others are surprisingly simple in form. Some cost as much as $15,000 and were crafted by the best sculptors of Italy or America. All are designed with enough spaciousness to allow for a natural-ism in the overall effect. One specific example is the Johnston family plot (they were the builders of the Hay House on the National Register). The style of this toomb is in keeping with the Hay House "Italian" architecture and might have been built at the same time as the house by James B. Ayers, the master builder. Through the years graves have been added, including the hillside of some 600 Confederate and Union soldiers graves.

Significance

The burial ground of the nineteenth century was sometimes actually a burial garden, well-sited, with an abundance of natural and planted growth around the sculptured memorials. Rose Hill Cemetery, designed for the city of Macon in 1840 by Simri Rose, is one such example of the picturesque garden.

In Georgia, where a fine heritage of garden history had long existed, the greatest aesthetic achievements in gardening were reached between 1820-61 during the Classical Revival. The formality of the classical house dictated the development of a formal boxwood garden around which the naturalistic plantings of ornamental trees and flowering shrubs served as a setting for the house and garden. Too, a horticultural atmosphere - an interesting specimen planting - also pervaded the landscape work. However, most of the landscape gardening was mainly restricted to private grounds, planned in connection with residences; few of these remain today.

It is in view of these facts that the Rose Hill Cemetery should be put in perspective. Near the center of Macon, sited on the banks of the Ocmulgee River, Rose Hill served the whole community, not only as a cemetery, but as a planned city garden with a picturesque entrance gate, pathways, formally planned designs in stone and planted growth around memorial sculptures and natural growth of indigenous trees and shrubs.

 

The formal plan for Macon had been devised and surveyed in 1823 by James Webb, and according to the unpublished memoirs of Mrs. Hermonie Ross Walker, Webb was assisted by several others, including Simri Rose. "In 1838, when additional burial grounds became desirable, Simri Rose, with the idea of Mount Auburn in Boston in mind, chose a spot on the bank of the Ocmulgee above the upper ferry site as an ideal one. When the City Council finally decided to set this tract aside in 1840, Simri Rose, Jerry Cowles, J. Williams, and Issac Scott were appointed a committee to superintend the laying out of the cemetery. It is generally conceded that Rose superintended in person the clearing out and improvements of those grounds importing many kinds of shrubs and trees to add to the beauty of the place. It was only fitting, therefore, as it is recorded in the City Council Minutes published on May 27, 1840, that the new burial ground on the river above the city be known by the name of Rose Hill Cemetery and that the Council should further provide in May of that same year that Simri Rose be given a free lot in Rose Hill of his choice."

Simri Rose was a well-known Macon newspaper editor and horticulturist. Rose who came to Fort Hawkins in 1818 had learned the printing business when apprenticed to Harper and Brothers in New York City. After his immigration from his native state of Connecticut he had begun at Fort Hawkins a small handwritten newspaper called The Bull Dog. Circulation was by messenger boy to his subscribers who passed the paper from one to the other. In 1823 he became editor of the Georgia Messenger and in 1849 the editor of the Journal and Messenger. As a horticulturist, he served as vice president and president of a horticultural association during 1849-51.

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