Spring Hill Cemetery, located on a hilltop overlooking Charleston, is noted for its Victorian design and sweeping vistas of the Kanawha Valley. The burial complex is the largest in West Virginia. It totals about 175 acres, including the Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery, the B’nai Israel Jewish Cemetery, and the privately owned Mountain View.
Although a few farm family graves date back to 1818, Spring Hill was formally dedicated as the Charleston municipal cemetery in 1869. Intended by its Victorian planners as a park-like place for quiet walks and meditation, the roads and walkways offer breathtaking views of downtown Charleston and the capitol. Civil engineer A. J. Vosburgh, who had come to West Virginia during the Civil War, designed the elaborate Old Circle, which is the centerpiece of the cemetery’s historic section. Geometric patterns distinguish Vosburgh’s plan, including a quatrefoil feature that resembles a flower when seen from above.
Before Spring Hill, Charleston’s first public burying ground was located on the old James River & Kanawha Turnpike, next to the Kanawha River near the present intersection of Kanawha Boulevard and Elizabeth Street. Some of the more affluent citizens arranged for their family graves to be moved from the old graveyard up to Spring Hill.
Spring Hill’s classic monuments tell visitors of the history of the Kanawha Valley. Epitaphs abound, as do virtually every style of memorial from Greco-Roman to art deco. Judge James H. Brown’s 35-foot obelisk is the grandest, towering above its neighbors in the Old Circle. Erected in 1900, the shining granite monument needed more than 20 horses to pull it up the cemetery hill. The cemetery’s 1910 mausoleum, done in the Moorish architectural style, contains more than 500 crypts. As Charleston grew, Spring Hill gradually acquired adjoining property. Two of the larger tracts were the Wehrle and Jefferies farms in 1926.
Spring Hill holds the grave sites of many prominent citizens. They include Dr. John Peter Hale, historian, inventor, and businessman; Governors Atkinson, Wilson, and MacCorkle; Judge George W. Summers; and historian Julius DeGruyter. U.S. Sen. John Kenna lies within the Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery; merchant Moses Frankenberger in the B’nai Israel; and Gov. Walter Eli Clark of Alaska rests in the private Mountain View.
Civil War veterans are interred throughout the cemetery. Graves of the famous Confederate Kanawha Riflemen abound, and Union veterans are not uncommon, especially the 7th West Virginia. A few years ago a group of ten or more unknown Civil War graves were discovered and a monument was placed on the site in the Old Circle. Veterans of virtually all of the nation’s other wars rest throughout the complex, and on Memorial Day many flags attest to their service.
In 1998, the management of the cemetery was placed in the hands of a nine-member board of commissioners, and the cemetery was renamed Spring Hill Cemetery Park. Various trees, shrubs, and flowers grace the landscaped grounds, and the natural setting has attracted numerous species of wildlife, making the cemetery a key nature preserve and greenspace. The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Read the National Register nomination.
Written by Richard A. Andre