Maple Hill Cemetery
The cemetery in 2006
|Location||203 Maple Hill Dr., Huntsville, Alabama|
|Area||100 acres (40 ha)|
|NRHP reference #||12000523|
|Added to NRHP||August 22, 2012|
Maple Hill Cemetery is the oldest and largest cemetery in Huntsville, Alabama. Founded on two acres (8,000 m²) in about the year 1822, it now encompasses nearly 100 acres (400,000 m²) and contains over 80,000 burials. It was added to the Alabama Historical Commission's Historic Cemetery Register in 2008, and to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Its occupants include five governors of Alabama, five United States senators, and numerous other figures of local, state, and national note. It is located east of the Twickenham Historic District.
The original two acres (8,000 m²) of the cemetery were sold to the city of Huntsville on September 14, 1822 by planter LeRoy Pope. Though early burials are difficult to document, there is substantial evidence that the land had been in use as a cemetery for some time prior to its official establishment. The oldest grave with marker intact is that of Mary Frances Atwood, infant daughter of William and Martha Caroline Atwood, who died September 17, 1820. Headstones are sparse in the oldest section, many having decayed over time and been discarded, and it is likely that many unmarked graves share a similarly early date.
The cemetery was expanded at some point after 1849 to include the two acres (8,000 m²) on which LeRoy Pope and his family were buried. There are some indications that this land, which had until then remained a part of the Pope estate, may already have been in use as a burial ground. Pope's son-in-law John Williams Walker had died in 1823, Pope's wife Judith in 1827, and Pope himself in 1844. It is known that the Popes maintained a private cemetery on their plantation, but it is unclear whether the Pope graves were moved to their present location following the sale of the Pope estate in 1849, or whether this property in fact contained the existing Pope cemetery. Several other monuments in this section suggest its use at least as early as 1844.
During the Civil War, Maple Hill Cemetery became the burial site of 187 unknown Confederate soldiers and an uncertain number of Union soldiers. Most of the Confederate soldiers, buried in the Confederate section on the north side of the cemetery, died early in the war of disease or accidents while training in camps close to Huntsville. The names of many of them are known, but it is unknown who lies in which grave. Numerous Union troops who died during the federal occupation of Huntsville are believed to have been buried in unmarked graves throughout the oldest section of the cemetery. Most of the Union graves were moved to Chattanooga National Cemetery in 1867, though some may have been missed.
In 1873, the cemetery was further expanded through the purchase from James J. Donegan of 12.45 acres (50,380 m²) that had previously been a part of the Pope estate. In this new addition were two sections consecrated for religious congregations, a Hebrew burial ground and a Catholic burial ground.
To accommodate increasing growth in Huntsville because of industrialization, the city purchased an additional 3.2 acres (13,000 m²) in 1881 from Morris and Henrietta Bernstein. In 1903, it purchased another 6.14 acres (24,800 m²) from Mary Y. McClelland of St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1901, the cemetery, which had until then been called only "the burying ground," was given its official name.
Automobile magnate Albert Russel Erskine made a substantial gift to the cemetery in 1918 of about 12 acres (49,000 m²). Erskine, a descendant of several prominent Huntsvillians buried in the cemetery, had acquired the land from a neighboring residential development, probably prompted by the death of his mother in 1915. On a circular plot in the center of the addition, Erskine constructed an imposing mausoleum to contain the remains of his parents, his wife, and himself. The cemetery's stone entrance and the wide road proceeding from it to the mausoleum were also funded by Erskine. Three additional properties, purchased in 1920, completed the Erskine Addition.
The purchase from James B. Stevens in 1924 of 59 acres (240,000 m²) on the east side of the cemetery more than tripled its size and gave it its present shape.
In 1987, a private company, Maple Hill Cemetery, Inc., developed a cemetery adjacent to the cemetery proper on land formerly used by the city of Huntsville for athletic fields.
In 2007, the city owned part of the cemetery had virtually run out of available plots and attempted to enlarge the cemetery by first removing playground equipment and picnic tables of an adjoining city park with a plan to create burial plots on the park land. This was met with extreme resistance from residents in nearby neighborhoods. The public outcry of city actions without the proper due process was enough to stop the encroachment into the park and neighborhoods.
The Huntsville Meridian intersects Maple Hill Cemetery. Plotted in 1807 by surveyor Thomas Freeman, it is the longitudinal line from which all land in North Alabama was surveyed. Freeman died in 1821 and is buried in the cemetery. The tallest monument in the cemetery was erected on the meridian by another surveyor, Richard W. Anderson, "in memory of deceased relatives and to perpetuate the Huntsville Meridian."