Mount Avon Cemetery
Mount Avon Cemetery is significant as the first cemetery platted in Oakland County, Michigan. It is the burial place of many pioneer settlers of Oakland County, with graves dating as far back as 1817. The cemetery is the final resting place of four known Revolutionary War soldiers. It also contains a statue, locally known as "Billy Yank," that was dedicated in 1911 to honor Union soldiers who served in the Civil War. The cemetery has expanded from its original one-acre parcel to 22 acres in size. It is still an active cemetery today and is operated by the City of Rochester, Michigan.
Backstory and Context
In 1826, Mount Avon became the first officially platted cemetery in Oakland County. The "Old Ground" or "Historic Acre" contains head-stones dating from 1817, the year the earliest settlers arrived in the area. The older sections are laid out as an "afternoon cemetery," meaning that the headstones face west toward the afternoon sun.
Some members of the Graham family, Rochester's founders, are buried in Mount Avon, including James Graham (1818-1839), thought to be the first white child born in the county. Although originally buried in a family cemetery on their farm on Crooks Road, the remains of some of the Grahams were re-interred at Mount Avon in 1926 when the family cemetery was vacated. The cemetery is also the final resting place of four Revolutionary War soldiers: George Horton, Cyrus Chipman, Nathanial Baldwin, and Benjamin Loomis.
In 1911 a statue of "Billy Yank" was erected in memory of Oakland County's Civil War veterans by the Women's Relief Corps No. 227 (William E. Everett Post). The organization offered the monument to the Avon Township Board of Trustees in 1910, and the board accepted the gift in its meeting of July 23, 1910.
The cemetery's acreage was expanded four times through additions made in 1853, 1875, 1904, and 1930. Today, it covers a total of 22 acres and is bounded by First Street on the south, Wilcox Street on the east, Taylor Street on the west, and Third Street on the east.
The Rochester Era described the condition of the cemetery as follows in 1877:
Our Cemetery is a lovely spot just now, and we are glad to notice that many are beautifying their lots there and making the last resting place of their loved ones attractive instead of repulsive. Every lot having been sold in the old grounds many have taken up lots in the new part, which, by the way, will, when properly arranged and set out with trees, make our Cemetery one of the finest in the State. One thing we wish to all special attention to, and that is the necessity for a well upon the grounds. One was dug in the old Cemetery some years ago, but it is now dry and has been for along time, owing, it is said, tot he fact that the grounds have been traversed by five or six underground drains seven and a half feet deep. Before these drains were dug the sexton found it almost impossible to dig a grave without having it fill, or partially so, with water. The drains while they obviated this difficulty are said to have been the direct cause of the well drying up. Now we think a well might be sunk on the new portion, although quite likely it would require a greater depth than that of the old one, still we deem it a necessity for the benefit of those who have lots there to keep in order.
. . .
Many new tombstones and monuments of chaste and beautiful designs have recently been placed in the Cemetery, which add greatly to the attractiveness of the spot. If each lot owner will beautify his or her lot and take some pains in keeping everything about them neat and clean, a more lovely or charming retreat for the living to steal away to for meditation—not for mirth or idle gossip—count not be found.
In 1909, a local bond issue was passed to build a receiving vault in the cemetery. Local citizens campaigned for a receiving vault because Michigan's cold winters meant that burials could not take place during the months when the ground was frozen. This necessitated that remains be stored until the ground thawed, and because Mount Avon had no facilities, remains of Rochester area residents who died during the winter were usually sent to one of the Pontiac cemeteries until burial was possible. The new receiving vault in Mount Avon Cemetery had space to store ten caskets over the winter months.
In 1925, the Flowers Mausoleum Company of Toledo, Ohio, took subscriptions for a community mausoleum. in which ten crypts were reserved as receiving vaults. The former receiving vault was repurposed for use as an equipment shed. After the years took their toll on the small building, it was restored by the City of Rochester in 2013. The mausoleum was also restored by the the City of Rochester in 2013.
Mount Avon Cemetery was listed on the Michigan Register of Historic Sites in 1979. A Michigan Historical Marker stands just inside the Wilcox gate to the cemetery.
Seneca Newberry to Avon Township Board of Health, 27 December 1851, Record of Deeds, Oakland County, Michigan, Liber 44, pp.67-68.
Seneca Newberry to Township of Avon, 05 November 1875, Record of Deeds, Oakland County, Michigan, Liber 116, p.556.
Enos R. Matthews and Mary Matthews to Township of Avon, 18 June 1904, Record of Deeds, Oakland County, Michigan, Liber 211, p.13.
"Sale of Cemetery Lots," Rochester Era, July 6, 1876, p.4.
"The Cemetery," Rochester Era, May 31, 1877, p.4.
“Vote the tax to build the receiving vault in the cemetery,” Rochester Era, April 2, 1909, p.1.
Avon Township Board of Trustees. Proceedings, vol. 1896-1915, pp.324-325.
"About the Cemetery: The Story It Tells," Rochester Clarion, June 1, 1923, p.1.
"Community Mausoleum To Be Erected by Flowers Mausoleum Company in Rochester Cemetery," Rochester Clarion, November 14, 1924, p.1.
"Cemetery Gets 8-Acre Addition," Rochester Clarion, April 19, 1929, p.1.
"Work Progressing on Cemetery Addition," Rochester Clarion, August 23, 1929, p.1.
"Rochester Cemetery a Beauty Spot for Memorial Day: Sexton N. Wilcox, Aided by Mother Nature, Has Grounds in Fine Shape," Rochester Clarion, May 29, 1931, p.7.
"New flag pole dedicated here Memorial Day: American Legion makes presentation to Avon Cemetery," Rochester Era, June 3, 1938, p.1.
"Cemetery Wrecked," Rochester Clarion, June 6, 1974, p.1.
"Mt. Avon: Village Graveyard to Modern Memorial Park," Rochester Clarion, November 27, 1975, p.3.
Roseborough, Kevin. “Reward offered for cemetery vandals,” Rochester Eccentric, January 31, 1980, p.1.
Williams, Letha D. “Billy Yank WIns a Fresh Lease on Life,” Rochester Eccentric, May 29, 1980, p.1A.
Mount Avon Cemetery (Rochester, Mich.: Joint Project of Rochester Historical Commission and Avon Township Public Library, 1982).
Almond, Mary Beth. "Mount Avon Cemetery Mausoleum, Vault in Disrepair," Rochester Post, March 20, 2012.