Last fall my husband and I decided to start taking Saturday afternoon and Sunday drives. Our destinations became cemeteries, specifically those in Kalamazoo County. There were a few that I knew well that we could cross off our list, but what remained was a substantial number of cemeteries on the many lettered and numbered roads of this county. Starting in September of 2020, we spent more than six months visiting 40 cemeteries. Social distancing was not a problem on our travels, to say the least. Here are five of my favorites.
U.S. 131 at Lyons Street, Schoolcraft
It’s easy to forget as one walks through this township cemetery that a major highway is on its east side. It’s quiet and peaceful except for the occasional car horn in the distance. According to the county history, within 30 years after this cemetery’s opening in 1843, it added close to 200 more lots. Many recognizable names of village residents can be found on the variety of tombstones. Dr. Nathan and Pamela Thomas, who operated a station on the Underground Railroad at their house in the middle of the village, are buried here along with three of their children. Despite the car exhaust emitted close by, most of the cemetery’s marble tombstones are in excellent condition.
Gull Road and Riverview Drive Kalamazoo
You name it and Riverside Cemetery has just about everything one could see in a cemetery, including three types: the garden cemetery, the urban cemetery and the memorial park. Purchased in 1861 by Kalamazoo Township, the cemetery was planned with three to four “serpentine” walks following the rise and fall of the land. St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church purchased land in the cemetery from the township in 1862, as did the Congregation of Moses in 1907. There also are several military sections for soldiers from the Civil War to the Vietnam War, including a soldier’s monument erected in 1901 in a section with Civil War tombstones. By far the largest cemetery in the county, Riverside has a wide variety of marble, granite and metal tombstones. It is now owned and maintained by the city of Kalamazoo.
South 10th Street, south of West U Avenue
Prairie Ronde Township
It would be easy to miss this small cemetery located off a dirt section of 10th Street. This cemetery, nestled among fields, contains many marble tombstones, including ones for Bazel and Martha Harrison, the first permanent settlers in Kalamazoo County. They came from Ohio in November of 1828 to Prairie Ronde Township. Both of the stones have steel frames to support them. Many of the marble tombstones have symbols like weeping willow trees, signifying mourning, or clasped hands, signifying fidelity. Many of the tombstones here and in other area cemeteries state the exact age of the person when they died to the year, month and day. This space is peaceful and quiet due primarily to the lack of nearby traffic.
East RS Avenue, near South 41st Street, Climax Township
With many Harrisons buried here, it is more than likely someone with that surname donated the land for this modest-sized cemetery. The most prominent tombstone is a treestone — a memorial carved to resemble a tree stump — that’s situated prominently in the middle of the cemetery. It’s for farmer Alexander Harrison and his wife, Elizabeth Roe Harrison, who both died in 1887. Alexander’s mother, brothers and some of his 13 children also are buried here. In county cemeteries such as this one, some of the dead may have initially been buried on their farms and then reinterred in the cemetery years later. The cemetery tombstones also boast a number of unusual first names, such as Mehetable and Bersheba, both of which can be found in the Bible.
Oak Grove Cemetery
North 36th Street, Galesburg
Traveling north up 36th Street from the center of Galesburg will bring you to the Oak Grove Cemetery. In 1874, the Galesburg Oak Grove Cemetery Association, a private organization, purchased 20 acres of land, described in the 1880 County History as having “graceful undulations with little vales that wind in pleasant paths between them.” This cemetery is a perfect example of the 19th century garden or rural cemetery, where the roads follow the contours of the land. There is a wide variety of markers here, including some to memorialize Civil War soldiers buried elsewhere. The mausoleum for William M. Hill, who died in 1904, is very impressive, but there’s a mystery behind it: The mausoleum has room for 11, but only William Hill is interred there. His wife is buried nearby, but not in the mausoleum.