Brookside Cemetery, One Of New York’s Most Compelling Cemeteries
Brookside Cemetery, a short distance to the south of Watertown, N.Y, would have its dedication in June of 1854. It would be the third cemetery for the then village, the first being the cemetery located on Court Street behind the old Trinity Church and upon land donated to the village by one of its founders, Henry Coffeen. The second being the Arsenal Street cemetery.
The Brookside Cemetery, however, was a much different spectacle from the get go. Owing its initial design amongst hills and ponds to engineers Howard Daniels and George R. Parsons, the tranquil setting is a place of beauty and full of life amongst the resting souls.
Even in its early years, the Brookside Cemetery had a rich heritage of who’s who amongst early Watertown settlers. Adriel Ely, the early lawyer who resided on Washington Street where the Watertown Daily Times now stands, was one of the first presiding officers of the Board of Trustees for the cemetery before passing away in 1859.
10 years later, railroad millionaire Henry Keep passed away, arguably become one of the most influential persons to be buried at Brookside Cemetery. His wife, Emma Woodruff Keep, later remarried as Emma Woodruff Keep Schley, would purchase a plot of land for $283.70 a few months later, according to the Watertown Daily Times, and hired famed architect Otis L. Wheelock, who designed many of Watertown’s buildings after the great fire of 1849, to come from Chicago to build a Mausoleum that would stand the test of time… or would it?
The Watertown Daily Times would note in a September 9, 1973 article–
In a book about Roswell P. Flower written by his daughter and published in 1930, Emma Flower Taylor said that “a few years ago” the Henry Keep mausoleum had to be rebuilt because it was originally constructed on quick-sand.
She does not give any more detail than that, but the reference to the “rebuilding” may hold the answer as to why the windows are not in the positions described in the newspaper account of 1872.
The article itself was written in part as a retrospective piece based on the then vandalism that occurred in the mausoleum. The mausoleum, which cost $75,000 to build in the early 1870’s, was once described as the “finest mausoleum on the continent” befitting of the man who left an empire worth in excess of $4,000,000 to Roswell P. Flower to manage for his wife, Emma Woodruff Keep, who was also Roswell’s sister-in-law.
In the September 5th edition of the Watertown Daily Times, State Police theorized Henry Keep vault intruders were after jewelry–
State Police BCI investigators theorize “grave robbers” may have been responsible for the wanton destruction of the Henry Keep Mausoleum at Brookside Cemetery over the Labor Day weekend.
Inv. John M. Washburn, Bureau of Criminal Investigation, said today that the careful moving of a bust of Mr. Keep from atop the vault, which the vandals cracked open, and the lack of destruction to other items such as statues in the mausoleum lends credence to the grave-robber theory.
He emphasized, however, that a definite motive has not been established.
State Police are trying to determine if Mr. Keep, famed financier, was wearing any jewelry when he was buried, but records at the time of his death in 1869 are sketchy.
The ornate stained-glass window which was broken to gain entry was believed to cost as much as $5,000 to replace, if possible at all.
The vandals managed to also tear open a passageway in the floor to the reach the basement where other bodies were buried, however, it was reported those caskets are buried in the wall and an attempt to chisel into one of them failed. The tombs of his wife and daughter on either side of him were not disturbed.
State Police investigators were also planning to ask the county coroner, Dr. Richard S. Lee, to examine the remains of Henry Keep for signs of disease the vandals may have contracted while handling them. No suspects were ever identified or apprehended in the desecration of the mausoleum and remains.
On June 20, 1891, the Watertown Fire Department would celebrate their unveiling of its monument in memory of the fire heroes. The department had back in 1860 purchased a number of lots at Brookside Cemetery for future use amongst what was described as “beautiful city of the dead.” The Daily Times would report–
This morning a committee of members of Central hose and steamer company No. 2 visited the cemetery with a generous supply of flowers and decorated the graves of deceased members of that company; also those remains that were buried in the firemen’s lot.
The line formed on Stone Street and shortly after two o’clock it moved through Arcade to Arsenal, to Public Square and along Washington to Brookside, where the ceremonies took place.
The monument has a height of 16 1/2 feet of pure Barre granite, beautiful finished and engraved. The Fire department purchased lots numbered 34 through 47 in lot “A.” A sketch and photo of the monument is included in the photo gallery. If you have photos of the cemetery you’d like to share, you can add them at the end of this post!
The Gates of George W. Flower
In 1905, the Brookside Cemetery association would negotiate the purchase of addition land from Phillip F. Hanlon’s farmland amounting to about 22 acres that stretched between the old Cemetery’s road and where it currently begins. As the Watertown Daily Times reported–
This purchase will result not only in a considerable increase of land for the future needs of Brookside, but also in a marked improvement in the approaches to that picturesque burial place. It gives the association control of property at the entrance to the cemetery, where the macadam road constructed through private generosity begins.
It makes possible the location of the beautiful memorial gates to be erected by Frederick S. Flower at the summit instead of at the foot of the hill, at a point where it will be seen by the hundreds of people who pass through Watertown Centre daily on the four roads which meet at that point.
In addition to the gates, Frederick also commissioned the design to enclose the entry in a semi-circle as well as additional landscape work. This would include extending a stone wall on each side of the granite wall flanking the gates and the planting of about 50 elm trees.
The Emma Flower Taylor Funeral
One of the largest funerals to take place at Brookside Cemetery was for Mrs. Emma Flower Taylor who passed away in 1934 after a brief illness caused her to relocate to Miami, Florida during the winter months where her health would continue to fail.
One of the wealthiest women in the United States, Emma’s generosity and philanthropy are part of a legacy that still stands prominently today. Among the numerous causes Emma gave to include, but not limited to, the creation of the Flower Memorial Library and donating several hundred thousands of dollars to the Flower Hospital in New York City where she had spent part of her youth and which her father helped to finance its beginnings.
It is among these charitable works and Emma’s humble nature that lead to “fully 10,000 persons” visiting Brookside Cemetery the day of her funeral to pay their respects to someone who gave so much to them.” As the Times reported–
From 4 in the afternoon to dusk there was a steady stream of automobiles entering and leaving the cemetery. As a result of the heavy traffic, it was necessary to have two state troopers on duty at the entrance of the cemetery.
The caretaker of the cemetery estimated that approximately 3,000 automobiles were driven to the cemetery following the burial of Mrs. Taylor.
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