Thursday, July 6, 2017

Historic Valley Cemetery, Manchester, New Hampshire

Valley Cemetery, photo from the Manchester Historic Association Archives

Can you believe that there is a local cemetery I have NOT yet explored in Manchester, New Hampshire?  Well, I was avoiding the Valley Cemetery for years, but just last week I jumped at the chance to go on an informal tour. Why was I avoiding it?  What changed my mind?

Valley Cemetery covers 20 acres and 10 city blocks in downtown Manchester. It is located only one block east of Elm Street, and near the SNHU arena. This large piece of land was donated in 1841 to the city by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Corporation.  It was considered a “garden cemetery” and a public park for pedestrians and picnicking.   The first person buried here was Mary J. Baldwin in 1841.  Members of the Stark family (brother, sister-in-law and niece of Revolutionary War hero General John Stark) had their old fashioned headstones removed to Valley cemetery when the Christian’s Brook Cemetery was bought for redevelopment in the 1850s.

Valley Cemetery’s most interesting feature is a long valley running diagonally through the area.  This valley used to have a water feature, but the creek is now diverted under Elm Street through a culvert. This water feature had a carriage road, with two foot bridges for visitors. There were once benches and two gazebos located along the creek.  Impressive mausoleums and artistic monuments of all sizes could be seen from the bottom of the valley.  Stone staircases led from the lawns above down to the valley.

Valley Cemetery contains the grave sites of mill workers and also the mausoleums of the families who owned the mills and industries that made Manchester a great city in the 1800s.  Among the wealthy gravesites are also the mass graves from two cholera epidemics in the 1800s.  People from all races and ethnicities are buried here including Samanta Plantin (d. 1899) an African American washerwoman who left a large bequest to Tuskegee Institute.

Valley Cemetery Chapel - now boarded up
The cemetery chapel was built in 1932 by Manchester architect and MIT graduate, Chase R. Whitcher for $12,000. There is a receiving tomb built in 1888 for $4,000, and it can hold 75 coffins during the winter. There are 13 mausoleums, the most impressive is the Blood mausoleum near the Pine Street gate, which was built in 1897 for $40,000.  The Frederick Smyth Mausoleum was built in 1885 of white marble and can be seen on the edge of the valley above a steep precipice.

There is one known Revolutionary War veteran buried here – Archibald Gamble who died in 1844.  There are 65 Civil War veterans including 12 officers including Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Henry F. W. Little, Brevet Brigadier General Joseph Carter Abbott, and Captain John M. Caswell.   I saw several graves of veterans from other wars on my tour, but I have no idea how many are buried here.

[UPDATE July 6, 2017 11:30am - Manchester Historian Pat Van Den Berghe says there are 120 Civil War veterans buried here.]

Martha Bouton Cilley Clarke was buried here in 1926.  She was the founder of the Molly Stark DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) chapter here in Manchester.  In 1932 the DAR placed a bronze plaque in her honor near her gravesite.   Another famous Manchester resident, Samuel Blodgett, died in 1807 and was buried at Christian Brook Cemetery, and reinterred at Valley.  He was the original engineer of the Amoskeag Falls canal, and Derryfield was renamed Manchester, New Hampshire in his honor in 1810.

Valley Cemetery survived the devastating Hurricane of 1938 which uprooted many trees.  By 1953 the cemetery brook was diverted to a culvert and the gazebos were removed.  Since that time the cemetery has been overgrown and forgotten, a place of vandalism and a residence for the homeless.  In 2001 a group called “Friends of Valley Cemetery” was formed to restore the cemetery, but this effort seems to have been abandoned.  The “Friends” was instrumental in getting the Valley Cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the cast iron fence around the perimeter was restored, but not much else was renovated or cleaned up.

Valley Cemetery volunteers Mike Drelick and Michelle Caron

Recently, via social media, a new group of volunteers has formed to clean up the Valley Cemetery.  Headed by Manchester resident Mike Drelick and Michelle Caron, this group meets up at Valley several times a week to cut brush, pull weeds, and pick up trash.  They have done an amazing job this summer of uncovering long lost family plots, and clearing paths long forgotten.  They also meet up to just walk the cemetery, hoping that their presence will drive out the unwanted elements of vandals and drug dealers. 

Griffin Family Plot, nearly completely obscured by brush

According to Mike Drelick, he hopes that these volunteer efforts will spur the city into taking more care of this property so that people will return to Valley Cemetery for walking, bird watching and visiting.  The cemetery has a resident flock of turkeys, wildlife, and lots of birds to watch from songbirds to birds of prey.  Art lovers can enjoy the layout of the artistic paths, mausoleums and historic monuments and tombstones. Nature lovers can enjoy the specimen trees (all labeled) and plantings.  Please join Mike one day for a tour, or check out the amazing photos on his Facebook page “Save Valley Cemetery”.

More graves covered by brush and rendered inaccessible
right next to the stone steps going down to the valley

I think Mike’s plan is already showing progress.  Since he has started organizing the cleanup days, the city has come by daily to pick up the dozens of trash bags and brush collected by the volunteers.  A wood chipper was seen yesterday in the cemetery, with two city workers chopping branches and brush.  Carol Robidoux from Manchester Ink Link website has written up a feature article on Mike’s volunteer effort, and this has caused more people to volunteer.

Compare the condition of these stone steps in 2017 to the
antique photo of the valley at the top of this blog post

Mike grew up nearby the cemetery. He’s seen it through its worst phase and has confidence that Valley Cemetery can again become an asset to Manchester, instead of an eyesore.  He described to me how he could envision people visiting the site again for cookouts and concerts, walking tours and picnics. He wants to work together with the parks department to remove brush.  He describes the cemetery as “beautiful” and wonders why the DAR doesn’t place flags on the graves of veterans, and why no one comes to place flowers on the graves here.

I’m hoping that some genealogists, descendants and family members will see the overgrown family plots and be moved to complain to the city, or turn out for volunteer cleanups.  The graves decorated with Masonic symbols and veteran’s gravestones should be adopted by their fraternity and military brothers as community service.  The DAR should turn out to restore the home of their founder’s grave, like they did with Stark Park several years ago.  I also believe that the Manchester mounted police should patrol the paths and old carriage roads here.  The only police presence I saw during my tour was a cruiser who entered at the Pine Street gate, parked by the chapel for 2 minutes, and left.  People walking would feel safer knowing the mounted police were including the cemetery as part of their beat, and it would drive out the troublemakers.

Obvious and deliberate vandalism,
there are many toppled stones here, and graffiti 
I hope these are not your ancestors


If you are at all curious about saving this historic garden cemetery, look at the facts and links below:

Nine Manchester mayors are buried here:
Jacob F. James
Warren L. Lane
Frederick Smyth
Alonzo Smith
David A. Bunton
Darwin J. Daniels
Joseph B. Clark
David B. Varney
William C. Clarke

Two US Senators:
James Underwood Parker
Daniel Clark

Three New Hampshire Governors:
Frederick Smyth
Moody Currier
Ezekiel Straw

There are 13 private mausoleums:
Aretas Blood
E. W. Harrington
Frederick Smyth
Amos and Mary (Ayer) Gale
Nathan Parker
R. H. Ayer
J. W. Fellows and J. A. Moore
Josiah Crosby
Charles A. Gillis
F. Tenny & J. A. Chamberlain
R. J. Parker
George W. Bailey
W. D. Buck

The Artemas Blood mausoleum, now behind
a chain link fence barrier
The Smyth mausoleum 2017 (volunteers cut back the brush)
The Smyth mausoleum (white marble above the valley)
can be seen in this vintage photo courtesy of the
Manchester Historic Association


Photos of Phase I of the Valley Cemetery Restoration Project sign, which has the names of several men who are still aldermen or mayor of Manchester.  What happened to this project? Was there a Phase II in the planning?





Save Valley Cemetery Facebook page:

Carol Robidoux, “Saving Valley Cemetery”, Manchester Ink Link, June 23, 2017

City of Manchester, New Hampshire Valley Cemetery Page:

United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service
National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Valley Cemetery dated 2004:

Another volunteer effort “Taking Back Valley Cemetery”  headed up by Tanya Frazier, with website and online volunteer registration page at this link:

Other sources of information on Valley Cemetery:

The History of Manchester, by C. E. Potter, 1856

Manchester on the Merrimack, by Grace Holbrook Blood, Manchester Historic Association, 1975

“A Walking Tour of Valley Cemetery”, by the Manchester Historic Association, 2016:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9h0p6oTORE&feature=youtu.be 

“Autumn Foliage Manchester New Hampshire Cemetery Park”, by 67kneil, 2013:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1i3SD3xhaQ 

“Historic Places Manchester NH USA Valley St Cemetery”, by 67kneil, 2010:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8halNa9gqTw 


Are your ancestors buried here?  The FindAGrave website has photographed about 65% of the graves at Valley Cemetery.  There are still several outstanding photo requests.  With the volunteers uncovering plots under brush hopefully more will be uploaded to FindAGrave soon.  Here is the link for a list of Valley Cemetery graves listed at FindAGrave:  https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=103162&CScn=valley&CScntry=4&CSst=32&CScnty=1902&


---------------------------

Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Historic Valley Cemetery, Manchester, New Hampshire", Nutfield Genealogy, posted Jul 6, 2017, (https://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2017/07/historic-valley-cemetery-manchester-new.html: accessed [access date])/

3 comments:

  1. Loved this blog - the photos, the stories, the history -- all combined into a great story

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Joanne! It was a fun story to put together. I hope to visit the cemetery a lot this year and post the progress on my blog.

      Delete
  2. Very interesting. I will share this with a relative who lives not too far from Manchester. Thanks-Betsy

    ReplyDelete