Riverside Cemetery opened on July 8, 1876, in what was then a pastoral setting. The new cemetery occupied 100 acres that was once a working farm, and the property was noted for its location on a bluff overlooking the Cuyahoga River.
It was an early example of what became known as a garden cemetery—rural landscaped cemeteries located outside a city’s urban core. This design motif involved curving drives and ornamental lakes and an atmosphere that encouraged visitors to linger. This design was a marked contrast with traditional cemeteries with tombstones arranged in orderly rows and very little attention paid to landscaping or other embellishments.
Cleveland pioneered this type of design with the creation of Lake View Cemetery in 1869, located on what was then the city’s far east side.
West siders saw a need for a similar facility on the west side. At the time, the Monroe Street Cemetery, with graves daring back to the early 1800s, was the only public cemetery on the west side.
Ohio City was the west side urban center in the 1800s, with farms in the outlying areas on land deemed perfect for a rural garden cemetery. In October 1875 Titus N. Brainard, who owned 140 acres on Pearl Street and Scranton Roads, offered to sell roughly 102 acres of his farmland, which was the composed of cropland, wooded hillsides, open land, ravines, and waterways (Brainard kept about 38 acres for his home and farm buildings).
The eastern edge of the farm overlooked the Cuyahoga River, so it is assumed that is how Riverside Cemetery got its name.
Landscape architect and engineer E. O. Schwaegerl, conducted a topographical survey and prepared all plans.
The new Riverside Cemetery was embellished by a chapel and a gatehouse by the end of the 19th Century. The chapel came first, constructed in the late 1870s as one of the new cemetery’s first permanent buildings. Designed by the architectural firm of Bruch & Monks as an example of Gothic Revival Style, the chapel was dedicated on November 9, 1876.
The structure cost $ 3, 855, the equivalent of almost $ 100,000 in today’s money It was followed by a gatehouse constructed in the late 1890s.
The gatehouse was designed by local architect Charles Hopkinson in a combination of the Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival Styles.
Construction began in July 1896, and it was ready for use early the following year. The final cost of the building was reported as $18,000 to $20,000, the equivalent of $600,000 in today’s money.
Both buildings were substantial structures built of stone, and both continue to serve the cemetery today.
Artificial lakes followed, creating an altogether different look to the former farmland.
Many well-known figures from Cleveland’s past lie in Riverside Cemetery, ranging from Linda Eastman who led the Cleveland Public Library from 1918 until 1938 and was the first woman in the U.S. to head a metropolitan library; to Robert Lockwood Jr., the renowned musician known for his mastery of the blues; to John Daykin, a stonemason-turned railway man who was the conductor of President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train from Cleveland to Cincinnati while it was en route to Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois; and Fred Bloetscher—the first Clevelander to die during World War I.
Flourishing in three different centuries despite drastic changes in its surroundings thanks to interstate highway construction, Riverside Cemetery continues to serve Cleveland nearly 150 years after it was first envisioned.