Evergreen Cemetery: The Inception (4/14)

BY BRIAN KENNELL / April 2014

In the 1830s, a rural cemetery movement began in the United States, paralleling Europe’s creation of cemeteries on the outskirts of cities and towns. The first garden cemetery established in America was Mount Auburn Cemetery in the adjoining towns of Watertown and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Created in 1831, Mount Auburn would set the trend for northeastern United States cemeteries. The entire concept differed from the church graveyards typically found in the cities. Landscaped with gardens, trees, ornate sculpture and avenues, cemeteries would help to create an environment for reflection, rest and even recreation.

In November, 1853, prominent citizens of Gettysburg met with the intent to create a cemetery for Gettysburg. Attorney David McConaughy organized the committee that agreed to purchase the first hill on the western side of the Baltimore Pike. The name Ever Green was adopted and the Ever Green Cemetery Association was officially established in April, 1854. The name Ever Green was eventually changed to Evergreen though cemetery minutes do not specify an official act to do so. Consistent use of “Evergreen” began to surface in the cemetery’s minutes between 1880 and 1881.

The original board of managers of the Evergreen Cemetery Association could be regarded as the most distinguished board in the history of Adams County. Among those serving on the board were Charles P. Krauth, Pennsylvania College’s first president; Reverend Samuel S. Schmucker, founder of the Lutheran Seminary and Pennsylvania College; Michael Jacobs, Professor of Science and Mathematics at Pennsylvania College and Henry J. Stahle, editor of the Gettysburg Compiler newspaper. David McConaughy served as president of the association from 1854-1864.

In August, 1854, rural architect James Belden laid off the grounds for burial and on November 1, 1854, Mary Beitler was interred becoming the first citizen to be buried at Evergreen Cemetery. A public opening was held six days later and work began on beautifying the cemetery with the planting of trees, some which would live through the 1980s. The last of the original trees to be taken down at the cemetery was a spruce tree next to the gravesite of James Gettys, founder of Gettysburg. The tree was hit by lightning in July of 1996 and removed later that year. Though no witness trees to the battle remain at Evergreen, a large boxwood planted in the 1850s on the north side of the Gatehouse still survives.

On Sept. 1, 1855, the cornerstone was laid for the Evergreen Cemetery Gatehouse, the same day Peter and Elizabeth Thorn were married. The Thorns, who both emigrated from Germany, moved into the Gatehouse in February, 1856 after Peter was hired as the first caretaker of the cemetery for an annual salary of one hundred and fifty dollars. Unlike many of Gettysburg’s notable historic buildings, the Gatehouse, to this day, is still used for its original purpose: to house the caretaker of the cemetery.

Philadelphia architect Stephen Button gave Gettysburg its first example of funerary style architecture as the Gatehouse was built to represent the gates of heaven. The Italianate structure’s brick and stonework were painted burgundy and the cornice a dark chocolate brown. Included on the building were wreaths painted green and a white urn. Built for a cost of $1,025, the Gatehouse would eight years later become the most identifiable architectural landmark from the Battle of Gettysburg.

Brian Kennell currently serves as the ninth caretaker of Evergreen Cemetery. He is the director and producer of the upcoming documentary “Beyond The Gatehouse: Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery.”