Historic photo of Woodland Cemetery's entrance with stone buildings flanking the entrance drive.
Historic photo of Woodland Cemetery's entrance. Photo courtesy Wright State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives

Woodland Cemetery celebrates 175th anniversary

In Historic Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum, NAHA News /

DAYTON, OH—Thursday, February 18 will mark the 175th anniversary of the beginning of historic Woodland Cemetery, the final resting place of the Wright brothers, Paul Laurence Dunbar and many other prominent Daytonians.

It was on that date in 1841 that civic leaders created the Woodland Cemetery Association of Dayton to establish a rural cemetery. The association’s formation was a crucial step in an effort begun in 1840 and led by John Van Cleve to address the diminishing amount of burial space in the growing community.

Approximately one mile south of town, Augustus George owned a 40-acre tract of wooded land crisscrossed by steep hills and ravines. He was willing to sell it at $60 per acre. Van Cleve calculated he would need to find 50 subscribers willing to invest $100 each to form an organization, purchase the property and have enough money left for labor and materials.

On Feb. 27, 1841, the association elected Van Cleve president. It received the deed to the George property in April and started work on May 17, 1841. Van Cleve himself saw to the surveying, the platting and the preparation of business records. He also wrote Woodland’s Articles of Association.

The rural cemetery was a dramatic departure from the early regimen of church burial grounds. It was the forerunner of the landscaped, garden-style cemetery movement. Important principles in this movement were the use of landscape design, highlighting unusual features of the topography, use of the natural flora as scenic backdrops, curvilinear roads and arrangement of burial lots to be easily accessible yet complementary to the whole.

The Ohio General Assembly passed Woodland’s charter on Feb. 28, 1842 and the association adopted it on April 10, 1842. Woodland’s trustees gave public notice that the cemetery would be open for the sale of burial lots on June 7, 1843.

By 1867, Woodland Cemetery was a local attraction—the place to go for a Sunday stroll in a quiet, landscaped setting with wrought iron benches for rest and contemplation.

Today, Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum is one the most visited historical sites in Dayton. It is one of a few nineteenth century rural garden cemeteries in America that continues to offer historical, educational and recreational resources in southwest Ohio and the nation. The front gateway, chapel and office are on the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places, and 105 acres are on the National Register as a Historic District.

Most recently, voters in Dayton.com‘s “Best of Dayton” contest rated the cemetery Best View of Dayton. Trip Advisor awarded it a certificate of excellence in 2015 for consistently earning “great” reviews from visitors. Additionally, the cemetery and arboretum received two State Champion tree awards as designated by the Ohio Department of National Resources, Division of Forestry for recognition on the Ohio Champion Tree Register.

Woodland Cemetery continues to be not only a beautiful and peaceful cemetery serving families of all faiths but a legacy to the city of Dayton and its history,” said Sean O’Regan, president and CEO of Woodland. “We offer families a beautiful park-like setting in the heart of Dayton and will continue to serve the community for yet another 175 years. We hope that you will visit the cemetery and arboretum and take advantage of the beauty offered by Woodland, and join us over the course of this year to celebrate not only this milestone but celebrate the lives of those that made it great in Dayton.”

For more information about Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum and their history, programs, events and tours, visit their webpage at woodlandcemetery.org; find them on Facebook at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum; or call 937-228-3221.