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History of Green Hill Cemetery

Disclaimer: All historical information is public domain and accessible through internet archives and recent news reports

Green Hill Cemetery, l851 to the present. It is the second oldest cemetery in Martinsburg and resting place to many war veterans, ranging from the Revolutionary War and on. The simple iron fence with cast posts survives. It was placed in position on Nov. 1, 1902. The present Shingle Style lodge is from the same era. The Virginia General Assembly incorporated the cemetery co. on March 4, 1854, and in April of the same year fifteen and a half acres were acquired for the new cemetery. The land covered all sides of a cone shaped hill, and both that hill and other hills viewed from it were and are verdant. The landscape design evidently evolved from sketches made by Martinsburg artist David Hunter Strother. He had sketched a cemetery in Paris that he liked, and he and surveyor J. P. Kearfoot translated the French design to a Virginia, hillside.

The cemetery had been sufficiently developed to be dedicated on Nov. 11, I854, and presumably was soon used, 'the crest of the hill, viewable from the entrance was initially topped with a chapel of unknown design.' At one point, there was a working fountain at the top of the hill that had Koi fish swimming around. Now the hill is crowned with a neo-Classical Revival stone mausoleum, built 1917. It has stained glass and bronze entrance doors. In one end is a conventional pastoral rendering in stained glass, in the other the same scene in a most abstract and colorful rendering. These panels are excellent, and unsigned. From this site and from almost any site in the cemetery there are truly magnificent views. Those of Chambersburg and of downtown Martinsburg are particularly agreeable. Among notables buried in the cemetery are the architect David Strothers, Capt. E. G. Alburtis, who commanded the Berkeley Company at Harpers Ferry during the John Brown raid, Alien C. Harrmond, a Confederate States Senator, the actor Robert H. Barratt, and numerous mayors and military men, including 30 unknown Confederate soldiers. Ezekiel Showers, Mayor of Martinsburg and the man on whose land the cemetery was established, is buried here as are Dr. and Mrs. Newton D. Baker, parents of the Woodrow Wilson cabinet member and Mr. Benjamin and Mary Boyd, parents of Belle Boyd confederate spy.

Green Hill is an important outdoor museum of the sculptors and stone carver’s art, dripping in Victorian opulence and symbolism. Among the notable stones are; The H. H. Deatrick marker, c. 1891, an exceptionally fine cast metal monument on a stepped base with classical, sheaf of wheat and draped decoration all in a soft gray. It is topped by a cast statue of dark metal with pointing finger and masonic symbols; the Lillie Gatzen- dararaer marker, ca. 1881, is also metal with fine casting, though the top. is now broken; David H. Swigert's stone, c. 1892, features well detailed clasped hands; 3 Kilmer stones of the 1850s feature fine deep carving and foliar motifs; the William L. Taverner angelic child. Taverner died in 1914 at the age of 4. It is a fine sculpture signed *Kantner ; the John and Sarah Small stones with their multifoil and wreath carvings, c. 1880, are signed "Turner"; Mary E. Swartz's marker, c. 1856, features a scroll urn with garlands and doves and lily bouquet in deep relief. It is signed "A. Gaddes, Bait."; Alex. Kratz's marker has a fluted truncated column, c. 1819, signed "Young & Turner; the Zepp stones of the 1880s with their deep sheaf of wheat carvings and fine tops are signed "T.M. Turner"; fine turn of the century cast-iron encloses the Williams plot; the Thomas and Ruth Robinson markers of the 1860s, one with a square, the other with a round column, have urn toppings and large classical bases and is one of the first obelisks erected at Green Hill; "Crump", in rustic twigs, is on the base of the Wm. Wallace Crump monument, ca. 1891, which features a magnificent angel recording Crump's name in the book of life. It is signed "C. Mezger & Son, Baltimore"; Lillian Louise More, 5 years old, is also memorialized by an angel, with a bouquet and ivy wreath; the Wegenast plot has fine iron surrounds and impressive stones; the obelisk on tall pedestal of Mrs. John Weller, "died MDCCCLIV(1854), Age XIS,(19) signed "W. S. Anderson, Frederick, Hd."; the Seibert stones of the 1860s feature a deep bas-relief pointing finger; the Hodge obelisk signed "Mud era & Kantner" is late 19th century with a foliar frieze and "Free at Last" inscription; the Strother plot contains the "artist, author, soldier, Born Sept. 26, 1816, Died March 8, 1838" and his two wives. The stone of Anne Doyne Wolff, who died in 1859 would have been selected by Strother. It was carved by "Diehn and Bro.", has a rounded top and a rose in full bloom; Nancy Van Metre is remembered by a stone featuring a weeping willow with tasseled rope surround, c. l85ii and one of the earliest in the cemetery; the Godleib and Elizabeth Noll markers of the 1880s feature lace, laurel leaf surrounds and the pointing finger over the legend "Gone Home."

To the east of the mausoleum and reverted into the hillside is the brick receiving vault, possibly mid-19th century. It once featured iron doors with star and half-moon cut outs. These astrological signs seemed unusual in a cemetery such as this. It adds depth to the variety of the symbolism and art. Record books now in the cemetery lodge for l854-1915 indicate a great deal about the area, cemetery and local folkways and more. Such entries as "Greek", "Italian," or Slav appear, as do "suicide," "Diphtheria," ''Small pox," and "killed on electric wire. Beside the funeral of Mrs. Samuel Watson, Jan. 12, 1914 the cemetery superintendent recorded "coldest weather ever in Martinsburg, thermometer registered 20 degrees below zero! Railroad entries are frequent, such as "killed in railroad yard," "Killed at Opequon by B & 0," and "killed at Couchman's curve. If perhaps the most poignant entry is "Tramp burnt at lime kilns." The history embodied here is important, the mausoleum and receiving vault good architecture. The monument collection is superb, the landscape architecture open and well suited to the site, and the vistas superb, as might be expected from a hillside cemetery in the Valley of the Virginias.

Historic African American Addition

During the early 19th century, land on Water Street was used as a burial site for the cities’ African Americans.  However, in the mid-1850s the City of Martinsburg decided to repurpose the property on Water street for a public water system.  In 1856, City Officials set aside one and a half acres of land that the city owned. This land was located directly adjacent to Ezekiel Showers land, which had sufficiently developed Green Hill Cemetery by 1854. This addition of land was deemed by the city for use by “the colored people of Martinsburg”.  Although not part of the original design, this new section was added to Green Hill Cemetery in 1856. 

The Historic African American Addition is located on the slope on the east side of the cemetery extending down to the trace of the recently re-graveled old Shepherdstown Road.  The first burial in this section was in 1856, with the last taking place in 1872.  Due to the short period of time that it was active, the total number of interments in the historic African American addition was unknown until recently. It is now estimated that there were over 200 interments. 

Funerary Art Symbolism

Green Hill Cemetery is abundant with a variety of funerary art and lore. Most people who visit seem to always say that there is no other place like it that they have ever been to. Green Hill Cemetery was established in 1854 during the Victorian and Antebellum era of the mid to late 1800’s. During this time, cemeteries were just beginning to be established in the United States. Although symbolism has gone on for centuries it seemed that during this period, cemetery symbolism hit an all time high. Artisans were called upon to construct stones for loved ones that were carved into works of art and beauty. The carvings were very elaborate and had a special meaning to each person. As symbolism and iconography grew increasingly popular, the public had a multitude of ideas that could have been chosen from.

This guide will help you identify and interpret some symbols that come from cemetery carvings. Please enjoy this publication and use it in other cemeteries to see if your ancestors carried on this tradition.


Sheaf of Wheat

A sheaf of wheat symbolizes longevity and fruitfulness. It denotes that one has lived a long and fruitful life.


The Palm

The Palm symbolizes victory or triumph over death. It characterizes the triumphant entry and the resurrection.


The Morning Glory

The Morning Glory symbolizes the Resurrection since the flower blooms in the morning and is closed by afternoon.


The Weeping Willow

The Weeping Willow symbolizes immortality. This was one of the most used symbols of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for cemetery symbolism.


The Laurel Wreath

The Laurel Wreath symbolizes victory in death and remembrance.


The Tree Stone

The Tree Stone symbolizes life cut short. This particular tree stone shows two out of one trunk symbolizing marriage of the two. But most tree stones were made for the fact a person did not live a long life. The woodman of the world used this style stone for their organization to have them stand apart from other stones


The Dove

The Dove symbolizes peace and purity. The dove can also be seen diving from the heavens with an olive branch or a cross in its beak, this action symbolizes the Holy Ghost


The Lamb

The Lamb symbolizes innocence. The lamb has been used in Christian symbols for many years. It usually marks the graves of children.


A Book

A Book symbolizes the Bible or how ones life is recognized. An open book (pictured) can be compared to a person with an open heart and that their thoughts and feelings were open to the world and God. A closed book can signify that ones life is completed and that the story has been told.


The Cross and Crown

The Cross and Crown symbolizes passion or sovereignty of the Lord. As there are many crosses that can be found in a cemetery the cross with the crown can be seen in different forms but is still revealed as ones passion to the Lord


The Hand With Finger Pointing Up

The hand with a finger pointing upward symbolizes that the soul has gone to the heavens.


The Handshake

The Handshake symbolizes matrimony. These hands are seen as one female and one male. Hands that seem the same when looking at the cuffs, indicate an earthly farewell.

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