Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia

Date added: October 03, 2023 Categories: Virginia Cemetery
General view of cemetery looking north (1991)

Until 1832 there were no public burial places in Portsmouth except for several churchyards. Many people had private plots in their gardens, but for sanitary reasons this type of burial was forbidden in 1832 by the Virginia General Assembly. The legislature authorized the town trustees to prohibit burials within the city limits. Cedar Grove was purchased in 1832, laid out, and sold in lots. When the cemetery was established, it was located outside the city limits. Cedar Grove Cemetery was annexed in 1894. Throughout the nineteenth century, death was an ever-present concern and reality. Cures for many diseases had not yet been discovered and the sight of a hearse was common. The cemetery was viewed as the "resting place". The epitaphs referred to the deceased as being "asleep", "at rest" or "gone away".

The mortuary art found at Cedar Grove has distinct design features that contribute to the significance of the site. The symbolism exhibited on the gravestones reflects the values of the people buried there, as well as their occupations. This symbolism also reinforces the Victorian theme that monuments should be personalized to reflect the lives of the deceased, rather than identical to other markers. This creativity is found in elaborate funerary sculptures throughout the cemetery. Sepulchral sculpture, with its prone effigies and kneeling weepers, had been used in the past, but only for the rich and powerful. Now, for the first time, the average man could have the sort of tomb formerly reserved only for emperors.

In addition, the Victorians felt that personal achievement should be recognized. Artist-craftsmen employed symbolism that celebrated the life of the departed. Cedar Grove monuments reflect this concern. At the grave of Dr. William Collins is the effigy of a railroad engine reflecting his presidency of the Roanoke and Seaboard Railroad. At the obelisk of Thomas Alice Bain is an anchor reflecting his days as the captain of oceangoing vessels.

The military, especially Portsmouth's close association with the Navy, is represented also by monuments. When Lieutenant William B. Lyne of the USS Pennsylvania fell overboard and drowned on April 29, 1841, his shipmates purchased an elaborate monument containing effigies of cannons and eagle wings, both symbolic of the military. Portsmouth's Confederate Cemetery is located near the center of the grounds.

Service to the Church and to fraternal organizations is honored in Cedar Grove as well. At the grave of the Rev. James I. Fisher, an early Methodist pastor, is an open Bible effigy honoring his calling. In the midst of a plot bordered by wrought iron fence is the obelisk of Freemason Charles A. Grice, Grand Commander of the Grand Commandery. The notations on the monument represent his place within the fraternity.

During the nineteenth century, the cemetery was also a place of leisure. "While we shun cemeteries, the Victorian family delighted in them and could think of no better place, say, for a family picnic." Katherine B. Hatcher, historian of the Monumental United Methodist Church in Portsmouth, remembers picnicking at her Confederate grandfather's grave located in Cedar Grove.

Whether for family outings or solitary walks, Cedar Grove shares with other Victorian cemeteries the honor of being a precursor of the modern urban park.

Many of the individuals interred there were involved in the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War. Others were active in political and business ventures. Some of the more notable persons were: A. John L. Porter, (September 19, 1813 - December 14, 1893), who designed the Ironclad Virginia. The development of the ironclad ended the age of the wooden warship and changed naval history.

B. Judge James F. Crocker, (January 25, 1828 - December 1, 1917), a distinguished jurist, educator, writer, and soldier. During the Civil War, he became adjutant of the Ninth Virginia Infantry Regiment, was wounded and captured at Gettysburg, where he was captured in Pickett's Charge. He was subsequently imprisoned at Johnson Island in Ohio. After the war he was also a judge of the Portsmouth Hustings Court and author of Gettysburg--Pickett's Charge and Other War Addresses.

C. Dr. Thomas Williamson, (August 1, 1791 - January 12, 1859), the first surgeon in charge of Portsmouth Naval Hospital, the oldest U.S. Naval Hospital.

D. Captain Hugh N. Page, (September 28, 1788 - June 3, 1871), fought at the Battle of Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Page carried Commodore Perry's message "We have met the enemy and they are ours."

E. John H. Lewis, (October 15, 1835 - March 26, 1917), wrote the Civil War classic Recollections, 1860-1865 With Incidents of Complete Life Descriptions of Battles, the Life of the Southern Soldier, His Hardships and Sufferings and Life in Northern Prisons.

F. Dr. William Collins, (unknown - September 8, 1855), was trained as a physician, but developed a thriving career in business and public affairs. He was the auditor of the U.S. Treasury under President John Tyler, and President of the Roanoke and Seaboard Railroad.

G. Captain John J. Guthrie, (April 27, 1815 - November 15, 1877), executive officer of the sloop-of-war USS SARATOGA, took the slaver ship NIGHTINGALE and its 900 Africans up the Congo River. Guthrie freed the Africans in Liberia and then returned to New York City. In later years he joined the U.S. Lifesaving Service and died in 1877 while attempting to rescue the crew of the USS HURON.

H. James Wallace Cooke, (August 23, 1812 - June 21, 1869) first captain of the Ironclad CSS ALBEMARLE. In April 1864 Wallace and the ALBEMARLE working with Confederate land forces, lifted the Union grip on Plymouth, NC. The ALBEMARLE sank the Union gunboat SOUTHFIELD and caused three other ships to withdraw. After the war, Cooke brought the ship back to Portsmouth. A prize of war the ALBEMARLE was scrapped at the naval shipyard in 1867.

I. George W. Grice, (May 16, 1824 - November 12, 1875) first mayor of the incorporated city of Portsmouth. J. Brigadier General Archibald C. Godwin, (1831-September 19, 1864) served as assistant provost marshal at Richmond's Libby Prison and established a prison at Salisbury NC. Leading the 57th North Carolina Infantry on July 2, 1863, his unit and others briefly held Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg. He was killed in action in 1864 at the Battle of Third Winchester by a shell fragment.

K. Grace Phillips Pollard, (1873 - May 4, 1932) former first lady of Virginia, wife of Governor John Garland Pollard. She was influential in having dogwoods, the state tree, planted along state highways. She died in Richmond during the term of her husband, Gov. John G. Pollard. First Ladies of the state continue to maintain the Grace Pollard Garden on the grounds of the Governor's Mansion.

L. William H. Murdaugh, (August 27, 1827 - December 28, 1901) was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest honor, for his part in the 1850 naval relief expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, Arctic explorer. During the Civil War, he fought for the Confederacy and was responsible for sending much of the Gosport Navy Yard's ammunition and cannon to Charlotte, NC, before the yard was re-occupied by the Union.

Currently, there are approximately five burials at Cedar Grove Cemetery per year. During the spring and early fall, guided tours are given. The cemetery's close proximity to historic Olde Towne and Park View give tourists the opportunity to visit the historic residential areas in conjunction with viewing the mortuary art at Cedar Grove. Tourists learn about the lives of early residents of Portsmouth, their impact on local and national affairs, and the burial customs of our ancestors.

The City's Parks and Recreation Department maintains the cemetery.

Site Description

The Cedar Grove Cemetery is located near downtown Portsmouth. The 5.25-acre cemetery, which was established by an act of the General Assembly in 1832, is owned and maintained by the City. It is the oldest public cemetery in Portsmouth. When the cemetery was established, it was located outside the city limits. Cedar Grove Cemetery did not become a part of Portsmouth until it was annexed in 1894.

There are more than four hundred graves within the grounds. The monuments within the cemetery date from the late 1700s to the present. These monuments include small tablets, ledger stones, obelisks, columnar monuments and mausoleums. The intricate artwork carved in the monuments represents architectural motifs of the Victorian, Greek Revival, and Egyptian Revival periods.

Site Description

The Cedar Grove Cemetery is located near downtown Portsmouth. The 5.25-acre cemetery, which was established by an act of the General Assembly in 1832, is owned and maintained by the City. It is the oldest public cemetery in Portsmouth. When the cemetery was established, it was located outside the city limits. Cedar Grove Cemetery did not become a part of Portsmouth until it was annexed in 1894.

There are more than four hundred graves within the grounds. The monuments within the cemetery date from the late 1700s to the present. These monuments include small tablets, ledger stones, obelisks, columnar monuments and mausoleums. The intricate artwork carved in the monuments represents architectural motifs of the Victorian, Greek Revival, and Egyptian Revival periods.

The cemetery is bounded on the north and west by the Park View District. Within this district, the buildings are predominately residential structures. These structures reflect many of the architectural styles popular during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century. The cemetery is bounded on the south by the Midtown commercial district and on the east by the Olde Towne Historic District. The Portsmouth Naval Hospital is located within a quarter mile of the cemetery.

The cemetery is divided into lots measuring twenty by twenty feet, with twelve graves in each lot. A recent survey located more than four hundred graves within the cemetery's boundaries. The original graveyard contained about four acres but has been enlarged several times. There are two entrances, one off Cemetery Lane and the other from Fort Lee. There is only one paved road in the cemetery to connect the entrances. The remainder of the walkways are grass. The landscaping consists primarily of medium-sized evergreen trees and small shrubs.

The funerary art consists of architectural motifs of the Victorian, Greek Revival, and Egyptian Revival periods. The inventory of sculpture figures consists of life-sized weeping ladies, Celtic crosses, trees, and winged angels. Many of the monuments are handcrafted from marble and granite. They range in size from three-by-two-foot tablets to obelisks twenty feet high or higher.

Examination of the nineteenth-century mortuary art at Cedar Grove Cemetery reveals that familiar figures were frequently used symbolically. A lamb on an infant's gravestone symbolizes innocence. A slab headstone with three intertwined circles above an open Bible represented the Trinity and the Word of God. The Christmas rose symbolizing the Nativity and the Messianic Prophecy was carved on many monuments. Many obelisks included relief figures of hands with the fingers pointing up. Several monuments have carved replicas of trains or cannons that represent lives spent on the railroad or in military service. Other examples of artwork and symbolism present in the cemetery include:

1. Angel: Represents heavenly hosts or messengers of God to man.

2 Hand of God Pointing Upward: This symbolized the way to the reward of the righteous.

3. Torches Upside Down: This rare symbol represents mortality.

4. Wreath: Symbolized victory in death.

5. Bible and three intertwining circles: The open Bible symbolizes the word of God and the circles indicate the doctrine of the equality, unity and co-eternal nature of the three persons of the Trinity.

6. Rose: Symbol of love and family devotion.

7. Anchor: Symbol of hope and can also represent the seafaring profession.

8. Cannons: Associated with military service.

9. Corn: Represents the Body of Christ.

10. Eagle: The eagle can represent many different things, including the heavenly conveyer, military service, civil war casualties, and the United States National emblem.

11. Harp: Represents joy and music.

The symbols and artwork, when viewed collectively, make the cemetery a significant historic example of funerary art. The craftsmanship and the materials of the monuments are comparable to those found at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond and the Old Cemetery in Lynchburg, which were founded during the same period.

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia General view of cemetery looking north (1991)
General view of cemetery looking north (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Front elevation of crypt looking north (1991)
Front elevation of crypt looking north (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Gravestone detailed with Bible and three intertwining circles (1991)
Gravestone detailed with Bible and three intertwining circles (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Monument with sculpted kneeling woman holding cross on top of pedestal; detailed with wreath (1991)
Monument with sculpted kneeling woman holding cross on top of pedestal; detailed with wreath (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Headstone
Headstone "Dora", detailed with roses (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Obelisk detailed with anchor (1991)
Obelisk detailed with anchor (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Column detailed with stars on top of pedestal detailed with cannon (1991)
Column detailed with stars on top of pedestal detailed with cannon (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia View of two markers, with fences and other markers in background. Marker to right is sculpted angel (1991)
View of two markers, with fences and other markers in background. Marker to right is sculpted angel (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia
"McLean" monument: sculpture of woman with bowed head holding wreath (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Dr. Wm. Collins monument: detail of locomotive (1991)
Dr. Wm. Collins monument: detail of locomotive (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Detail of obelisk showing hand of God pointing upward and
Detail of obelisk showing hand of God pointing upward and "Faith" (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Iron fence; detail of corn (1991)
Iron fence; detail of corn (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Iron fence: detail of eagle (1991)
Iron fence: detail of eagle (1991)

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Portsmouth Virginia Iron fence: detail of harp (1991)
Iron fence: detail of harp (1991)