One Thousand Curbs Installed (1859 – 1875)

December 6, 2014

Throughout Mount Auburn’s historic core you will find ornate curbs, borders, buttresses and posts.  Over 1,000 family burial lots were enclosed in granite during the short period of 1859 – 1875.  By 1870 the ratio of enclosed lots (iron fences and granite curbing) rose to 57%. This trend created a “maze of structures which encumbered the grounds.”  Following this burst of popularity, few granite borders were added, and in the early decades of the 20th century there was a sweeping removal of most of these massive decorative pieces.  Many removals were initiated by the Cemetery as evidenced in this excerpt from a letter dated November 13, 1952 from the Cemetery superintendent to a lot representative:

We are writing to ask if you would cooperate with us in improvement for [the lot you represent].  As you perhaps know this lot and the adjoining lot… are surrounded by a granite curbing.  Would you approve of the removal of this granite curbing if the entire expense of the work were borne by the Cemetery?  Many lot owners have cooperated with the Cemetery by ordering the removal of the curbing from their lots as they realize that this unnecessary stonework does defeat the very plan of Mount Auburn which is to be a garden cemetery.  Since 1876 no further granite curbings have been permitted because at that time it was felt that the erection of this heavy stonework was having a disastrous effect on the landscape.

The letter then goes on to explain that an additional reason the cemetery would like to remove curbs is that it makes cutting the grass simpler and therefore is more economical.  In the 1956 Annual Report President Oaks Ames states that due to changing aesthetic tastes over 569 curbs were removed in the 20th century.  “Great have been the beneficial effects on maintenance costs and the appearance of the landscape. The return to the original concept of a garden cemetery is bearing fruit” he proudly wrote.  Today you will not find curbs in newly purchased family lots but we are also not removing historic curbs.  We are committed to preserving the remaining examples in the landscape.

Lawn Avenue ca 1870s

Lawn Avenue ca 1870s

Ornate Curb ca 1870s (nonextant)

Ornate Curb ca 1870s (nonextant)

About the Author: Jessica Bussmann

Education & Volunteer Coordinator

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2 Comments

  1. Frances Doyle says:

    How interesting to see these old photos. The multitude of curbs certainly gives the cemetery a different look which is way to fussy. I’m glad they went out of style.

  2. Eleanor Doe-Matheson says:

    I approve the removal of granite curbing to return to the original concept of a garden cemetery. I do not approve of removing any historic curbs.

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