Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester is one of the City’s most unique and treasured historic resources. Encompassing historic landscape features (trees, pathways, iron fencing) and historic structures (mausoleums, a chapel, tombstones, and a gazebo to name a few) and covering more than 110 acres, Mount Hope is also an extremely complex resource. Stewardship by the City of Rochester and the Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery over the last few years illustrates the diverse strategies and funding sources that coalesce to make preservation on such a large scale successful.
Read on to learn more about Mount Hope and recent and ongoing efforts by the City and the Friends to preserve this incomparable resource for the continued enjoyment of Rochester’s residents and visitors alike. And, next time you walk the dog or head out for a leisurely stroll, think about exploring the beautiful landscape, architecture, and recent rehabilitation projects at Mount Hope Cemetery.
Dedicated in 1838, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, Mount Hope Cemetery is the oldest municipally operated Victorian cemetery in the United States. Mount Hope is a rare example of rural Victorian cemetery design, a uniquely preserved urban park, a year round recreational resource and arboretum, a historic outdoor museum and, often most notably, the final resting place of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Of its 110 total acres, 86 represent the earliest land acquisition history of the Cemetery, reflecting the rural cemetery style. The geology of Mount Hope is complemented by the original forest in which Mount Hope’s design carefully took shape. In 2009, more than 20% of the trees in Mount Hope were characterized as historic, reflecting 250 year old oak trees, as well as rare specimen trees gifted to the Cemetery in 1848 by famed 19th-century horticulturists George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry.
The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery, established in 1980, have served alongside the City of Rochester, as stewards of Mount Hope Cemetery. The Friends have advocated and lobbied for New York State and Federal investment in Mount Hope, as well as leveraged private support. Grants, obtained by both partners, include support from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, the Preservation League of New York State, the Rochester Area Community Foundation, the Davenport Hatch Foundation, Eastman Kodak Charitable Trust, the New York State Quality Communities Program, the federal Save America’s Treasures program.
Much of the recent rehabilitation work in Mount Hope was implemented as a result of recommendations from a 2009 Cultural Landscape Report completed by Heritage Landscapes LLC, Preservation Landscape Architects & Planners and Wendel Duchscherer Architects & Engineers,PC.
Since 2000, the City of Rochester under the auspices of the New York State Historic Preservation Office, has dedicated more than $1,000,000 to preservation and rehabilitation projects within Mount Hope. The Friends contribute thousands of volunteer hours through educational tours, adopt-a-plot efforts, and annual clean-up projects.
Major initiatives in the Cemetery have included: the repair and replacement of the 1874 Cemetery Gatehouse slate roof, 1862 Chapel roof stabilization, 1912 Chapel roof replacement and exterior rehabilitation, ADA improvements & front porch replacement to the Cemetery’s 19th century farmhouse which functions as the Cemetery office, hosting of the Historic Cemeteries Summit, microfilming and preservation of historic internment records, restoration of significant monuments and completion of historic road and wrought iron fencing assessments, a Cultural Landscape Report and Tree Inventory in 2009, and most recently a Save America’s Treasures funded initiative intended to highlight Mount Hope’s period of significance within the Cemetery’s northern and oldest section. The Save America’s Treasures initiative included façade and stair masonry repair and rehabilitation for the 1862 Cemetery chapel designed by Henry Searle, the ca. 1867 Gould Mausoleum, and the ca. 1911 Rau Mausoleum, as well as significant repair work on the stone wall and iron fence that surround the ca. 1930 Yaky Family burial plot located near the north Gatehouse.
On average, 3,000 visitors annually participate in guided tours of Mount Hope offered May through October. Many thousands more utilize the self-guided tour materials and enjoy the Cemetery as an historic recreational resource or outdoor museum year round.