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Among the many monuments, that from time to time have been erected by citizens and comrades to carry the honor of soldiers down to further ages, and perpetuate the memory of services rendered and sacrifices made by those who served their country in the time of her need and danger, the comely and stately one here described is worthy of a prominent place. The Kent County Soldiers' Monument Association was organized February 13, 1864, while our soldiery were in the very heat of the struggle for the preservation of the Union. The original incorporators were: Truman H. Lyon, Peter R. L. Pierce, Alfred X. Cary, George W. Allen, Eben Smith, Jr., Henry Grinnell, Thomas D. Gilbert: Henry Fralick, Wilder D. Foster. First officers: President, Thomas D. Gilbert; Treasurer: Ransom C. Luce; Secretary, Eben Smith, Jr. It was started on the dollar membership plan, and local societies were organized in the townships of the county; the proposition being to raise a fund of $5,000 for the purpose of erecting a monument to the memory of the soldiers of Kent county who died while serving the United States in the then pending war. Calls upon the purses of the people were at that time so numerous and urgent that but slow progress was made. Six hundred members brought $600 to the fund, when interest in the project flagged and nearly died out, and further action was held at abeyance for about twenty years, except the careful investment by Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Fralick of the fund in hand. Finally plans were solicited and a contract made with the Detroit Bronze Company, in 1885, for a monument to cost $3,500, to be in readiness for unveiling and dedication at the Annual Reunion of the Army of the Cumberland, held in Grand Rapids, April 16 and 17, 1885. Mr. Gilbert becoming personally responsible for any balance that might be needed when the work should be done. Success crowned the effort, and a great concourse of people were present to rejoice at the consummation of the work. The cost of this monument and its surroundings was $4,150. In connection with its payment is a striking illustration of the cumulative property of money judiciously invested. The original $600 with its increment of interest had grown to be $2,223. Then of the subscription raised to entertain the veterans of the Army of the Cumberland there was a surplus of $750, which was turned over to the monument fund. The balance needed — $1,117 — was provided by private subscription. The Soldiers' Monument is so placed in the triangular park at the intersection of Fulton, Division and Monroe Streets that the statue of the soldier at the summit of the shaft, faces northwest. The basin surrounding the base of the monument is sixteen feet in diameter and circular in form, built of native stone, surmounted by a coping of sand stone. The monument proper rests upon a base of native stone cut in the from of a Greek cross. From this rises the bronze base of the structure, ornamented in appropriate designs, with medallion portraits of Lincoln, Grant, Farragut and Garfield, and inscribed thereupon are the names and dates of the following engagements, all of which were participated in by Kent County soldiers: Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861; Fort Donaldson, February 16, 1852; Monitor and Merrimac, March 9, 1862; New Orleans, April 24, 1862; Atlanta, September 2, 1862; Yorktown, April 4, May 4, 1862; Fair Oaks, May 31, June 1, 1862; Vicksburg, June 22, July 4, 1863; Appomatox, April 8, 1865; Mobile, March 30, April 12, 1865; Stone River, January 2, 1863; Port Royal, January 1, 1862. This section has a height of seven feet from the stone base.
The next section is square in form, having on the front side in bas relief a scene representing a woman giving aid to a wounded soldier and the inscription "Woman's Mission of Mercy" — probably the first recognition in the history of soldiers' monuments of the work of women. The idea of doing so in this case was conceived by Mrs. Thomas D. Gilbert, and embodied in the plans by the committee. The other three sides of this section have three inscriptions.
"A Government of the people, by the people and for the people." — Lincoln
"The Union must and shall be preserved." — Jackson
"Let us have peace — This is a Nation." — Grant
"The war for the Union was right, eternally right." — Garfield.
Upon the next section, on the front, is the inscription, "In honor of the soldiers from Kent County, 1861-1865. Erected 1885." Above is a draped shaft upon which is the life-sized figure of a soldier in the uniform of a private, and standing at parade rest. Around the pedestal on which the statue stands are: "Petersburg," "Winchester," "Mission Ridge," "Antietam."
The height of the monument from the ground to the top of the soldier's cap, is thirty-four feet. It is one of the most elaborate, up to that time, made of this material, "white bronze," which is believed to be indestructible, and is of a rich gray color. When the water is turned on jets play from cannon peeping out of miniature embrasures into the lower basin, while four draped cherubs spout water into the upper basin. The park was formally set apart for this monument and fountain November 25, 1884, by action of the Common Council.
INDIAN BURIAL GROUNDS
When the white people came into this region there was an Indian burial ground on the West Side, nearly opposite the foot of the rapids. Its use as a cemetery was continued by the Catholic priest or missionary who came here, and near it the little church of Father Baraga was situated. Thus it became the early Catholic cemetery, and was used as such until after the Indians removed and other grounds were procured by the Catholics on the east side of the river. Another Indian burial place on the West side was further north, in some mounds nearly opposite the Pearl street bridge. Early settlers tell of burying large numbers of Indians in that southwest part of the city, at times of prevalence of contagious diseases among them. This whole ground of the mounds and burial places has since been very thoroughly dug up and leveled in making city improvements, and little remains but a dim remembrance of dead men's bones, and the ancient relics unearthed.
FIRST VILLAGE CEMETERY
The first piece of ground set apart for cemetery uses in this town, as appears by the "Plat of the Village of Kent," made by John Almy in 1835, was a parcel lying west of Livingston street, and between Walbridge and Coldbrook streets. It contained nearly eight acres, being 650 feet north and south by 510 feet east and west. A few graves were made there at an early day, and occasional burials down as late as 1855. It was never formally dedicated to the public other than by platting, though the City Council recognized it in 1853 by an order for fencing it. This, however, was not carried into effect, and a few years later the remains interred there were removed, chiefly to Fulton Street Cemetery. About 1855 a pest-house was erected among the bushes on or near the south end of this ground, and two or three victims of smallpox were buried there. There were the no residences near it. Afterward the interest of the public in the ground was allowed to lapse and it reverted to its original owners.
A TEMPORARY BURIAL PLACE
In the early village days a parcel of ground near where is now the corner of Madison avenue and Cherry street was used occasionally for burial purposes. Subsequently the remains which had been placed there were removed to the Fulton Street Cemetery. There was a story to the effect that a man named Baker, familiarly known as "Big Baker," on account of his large frame (he was very tall and weighed 260 pounds), was buried there and that at the removal of his coffin was found empty. The daughter of Samuel Baker afterward discredited this, so far as was related to the place of burial. She thought he was buried at Fulton Street Cemetery, but the family were unable to find his remains or even any appearance of a grave at the spot where they saw him buried.
FULTON STREET CEMETERY
July 9, 1838, the Trustees of the Village purchased of James Ballard six acres of ground comprising what is now a part of the Fulton Street Cemetery. The purchase price was $300. It was to be reserved and used expressly as a cemetery for the Village of Grand Rapids, one-third of it for the Roman Catholics, and was to be kept in order and repair at the expense of the Village. Twenty years later this ground was found too small for the needs of the then rapidly growing city, and additions were made to it of parcels adjoining, by deeds of Thomas D. Gilbert and others, in 1862, 1863 and 1864. In the early part of 1868, the "Fulton Street Cemetery Association of the City of Grand Rapids" was incorporated, under the law of the State relating to such associations, by the owners of lots in that cemetery, and the following officers were elected: President, Thomas D. Gilbert; Clerk, James B. Willson; Treasurer, J. Frederic Baars; Sexton, John Suttle; Directors, L. R. Atwater, A. Lamont Chubb, Alonzo Platt. At the same meeting by-laws were adopted and an assessment of $600 was levied on the members for the improvement of the grounds. Since that time they have been well cared for by this association. The present officers are: President, George W. Sones; Secretary and Treasurer, J. F. Baars; Sexton, John Ringold. The grounds with their alleys and carriage ways are well laid out and carefully and neatly kept, and in them are a considerable number of handsome and costly monuments. The trees and shrubbery, judiciously and tastefully trimmed, give the place much the appearance of an attractive park. The area of this cemetery is nearly twelve acres.
MOUNT CAVALRY CEMETERY
The Catholic cemetery on the west side of the river is known as Mount Cavalry — a plat of about seventeen acres just west of the city at the junction of Walker avenue and West Leonard street. It was purchased by the Rev. I. G. Ehrenstrasser, the pastor of St. Mary's Church, April 10, 1882, and soon after was formally consecrated according to the Roman Catholic ritual. The land was purchased by the pastor with his own money, and during his life he gave four acres to the church, and on his death December 6, 1886, he left the remainder of the plat to the congregation of St. Mary's church, his intention, as expressed, having been to reside on the portion withheld, should he become superannuated before his death. In connection with the Parish of St. Mary's, the cemetery is used by the Parish of St. Adelbert, the Polish Catholic Church. The first member of the parish buried in this "city of the dead," was Frank Berles, August 5, 1884; although prior to this several children of Polish families had been buried there. Among the monuments in the course of construction, is a very elegant mausoleum to the memory of Father Ehrenstrasser, costing five thousand dollars. There are many small but tasty monuments, among which are noticed those of Frank Berles, Peter Kreider, Frank Roetz, Charles Greulich, John Goebel and Peter Beierly, mainly the work of Charles Schmidt, a member of the Congregation.
ST. ANDREW'S CEMETERY
The St. Andrew's (Catholic) Cemetery, situated on the east side of Madison Avenue between Prince and Jones streets, and comprising about ten acres of ground, was deeded to Bishop Peter Paul LeFevre in December 1852. Previous to that time the Catholic burial ground on the east side of the river was in the gore between Cherry street and Lake avenue, and east of the city line. The grounds are well platted, and contain several fine monuments. That of the Reverend Father Andrew Viszocsky bears Latin, French, German and English inscriptions. The John Clancy vault is the object of much interest to visitors.
VALLEY CITY CEMETERY
Situated about a quarter of a mile east of the fair grounds, in the town of Paris, is the Valley City Cemetery, being the east part of the north half of the northeast quarter of Section 6 in that township, about forty acres of ground. This was purchased by direction of the Common Council in February 1859, and was dedicated by the city authorities to cemetery purposes December 17, 1860. The grounds are handsomely laid out in a grove of natural oaks, with convenient walks and drives, and are well kept. It has a number of fine monuments, and a city vault of capacity to receive twenty-four caskets, the latter built by a California gentleman.
THE HEBREW BURIAL PLACE
The first meeting of the Hebrews in this city was held September 20, 1857, to take action regarding the death of one Jacob Levy. Joseph Houseman was Chairman, and David L. Newborg, Secretary. Those present resolved themselves into a Benevolent and Burial Society, and authorized the Chairman to procure suitable grounds for a cemetery. These he secured, by deed from Joseph J. Baxter and Julia A. Baxter, his wife, dated September 20, 1857, conveying that parcel of land which is the southwest quarter of Oak Hill Cemetery. This was the first ground dedicated to such use in that neighborhood; Oak Hill and Valley City Cemeteries being established later. It is owned and used by the Congregation Emanuel as the Hebrew Burial Ground, and is neatly, sweetly and carefully cared for.
OAK HILL CEMETERY
In the southeast corner of the city is Oak Hill Cemetery, comprising about forty acres, in square form. The original plat, made by W. L. Coffinberry, shows 1,350 lots, averaging 16 by 30 feet in size. Its central avenue is 40 feet wide, the circular drive ways are 24 feet wide, and that around the outside is 20 feet wide. It has an estimated capacity for 21,600 graves. This cemetery was dedicated October 25, 1859. The southwest quarter of this ground constitutes the burial place of the Hebrews.
A little northwest of the city, in the township of Walker, is a cemetery tract of twenty acres called Greenwood. It was purchased by the city in February 1859, and was dedicated as the city cemetery December 17, 1860. It is tastefully laid out and nicely cared for. Near the center is a neat family vault of moderate dimensions. The ground has several miles of walks and driveways, the latter bordered by strips of lawn; and many of the lots are marked with monuments of granite and marble.