Cemetery represents ‘our past and future’


With new tours, improvements, and a push toward reestablishing its arboretum status, the City of Delaware is aiming to position Oak Grove Cemetery as a “welcoming and accessible” place for people to search for loved ones and learn.

Cemetery Administrator Amy Wright said the cemetery came into existence in the 1850s when the city realized its existing cemetery by Selby Field would not be sufficient and purchased the 50-acre property, which was then-Kilbourne Farm, for $1,550 and converted it to a cemetery.

Wright said that at the time, it was customary for municipalities to have cemeteries outside of town and said that Oak Grove’s position one mile from downtown Delaware meant that, at the time, it was considered “outside of town.”

“The city has grown up around it,” she said.

Wright added the cemetery later purchased property all the way to Liberty Road. The cemetery, she said, was run by a private association for many years until 2012, when the Oak Grove Cemetery Association dissolved and requested the City of Delaware take over operation of the cemetery.

Wright said for more than a decade, the city has been working to improve and preserve the 70-acre cemetery, including maintaining its 21,000 gravesites, formalizing rules and regulations, and working on digitizing records for a database and map.

“Part of the goal is to share this amazing place with the public,” Wright said. “People are fascinated by cemeteries. (We want Oak Grove) to be a welcoming and accessible place for people to search for loved ones, explore, learn and to enjoy. We want people to be able to come out here, enjoy the setting, enjoy the peace, find rest, find restoration, learn something. … I think we’re chalked full of opportunities for that whether it’s historical or about nature.”

Wright said this year the city started offering a monthly tour through the cemetery, with each tour focused on different subjects, including a bird-watching and nature tour earlier this year, a Black history tour last month, and an upcoming tour about the trees in the cemetery, as the city works to complete the final steps to reestablish the cemetery as an arboretum.

“Any cemetery is an open air museum, but this one, specific to Delaware, tells the story of our community…” Wright said. “These are the people that built Delaware. They are the pastors, educators, doctors, businessmen, lawyers, the laborers and of course their families. Every stone represents a story. Our records don’t tell all those stories. They make me wonder more about their family and their life.”

Wright said the city also recently built Veterans Plaza West on the Liberty Road side of the cemetery. The goal, she added, was to revamp that section so it would be a welcome place for veterans to host ceremonies and hold services. Wright said the city worked with Delaware County Veterans Services on the plaza to ensure it would be accessible for ceremonies.

“We’re excited about what this will be for the future,” Wright said. “Our veterans are owed that.”

Looking ahead, Wright said the city worked with a consultant in 2018 to do a master plan of all the undeveloped space in Oak Grove, and it plans to develop those spaces to allow for different options.

“We have space for about 100 years yet,” Wright said. “(We plan to) develop that and with that, include options. The funeral industry is shifting and changing. Everybody wants different things. Cremation presents a myriad of options. … A cemetery is the ultimate paradox between temporary and permanent. People have this concept that whatever you do out here can or should last forever. But things change over time. Materials deteriorate, ground shifts and changes. All of those things, that all plays a role out here.”

Wright said the team at the city’s parks department is committed to maintaining the cemetery’s park-like setting.

“We’ve got a good team, and everybody is onboard with doing what we can to take care of it, and in some senses, restore it and in other senses set it up for the future,” Wright said. “I feel fortunate to have landed here in a time when we have a team of good people and we’re all onboard with what our plans are, where we’re going to go, what we’re going to do, and what the goals and objectives are; a park-like setting where people would want to come rest. … (Oak Grove) is our past and future.”

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903.

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