In 1903 Sarah A. Gallagher, at the age of 81, published “Early History of Lambertville, N.J.” She concluded the work with a remarkable poem in which she contemplates the industrialization of her city “while resting on Mt. Hope’s green hillside.” With its view of the city beyond the headstones and memorials, the seven-acre Mount Hope Cemetery at Lambertville is still an appropriate spot to reflect on local history. Every day many residents traverse Mt. Hope, now restored after a period of neglect during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
John Holly, the cemetery’s president since 2001 (the first president was Mayor Samuel Lilly, M.D.), created the website that includes a map from the late 1800’s and burial records of more than 4,000 people. John gave us a tour, beginning at the northwestern entrance, where the terrain slopes steeply down toward Swan Street.
This is “Strangers Ground,” where the poor were buried in unmarked graves, with no caskets or records. We estimate 300 people were buried here over 80 years, beginning around 1848 when the cemetery was incorporated and its charter stipulated free burials for the poor. Mt. Hope was actually established in 1801 and there were burials here before 1848. The myrtle ground cover helps prevent erosion, as do the trees. Although there are no headstones, Strangers Ground is not an abandoned field—it is an integral part of the cemetery, and it must be protected. A fence and a sign about its significance would be welcome.
We start to walk up the hill.
This area is called Goat Hill. Goats were likely the original mowers here—the grass is the kind you would feed goats, a visitor from Johnstown, PA told me. We mow part of the grounds every day, as long as the grass is growing. Last year we mowed from April into November.
The first of Mt. Hope’s 14 “grand monuments” we see is the Boozer Bench. J. Fenimore Boozer, who died in 1887, was reportedly a wealthy man who handed pennies to local children and lectured them about obedience, which the inscription on the bench emphasizes. Past that, there is the holding vault, where the dead were stored during the winter until they could be properly buried in springtime. The cemetery’s tallest monument is the Moore family obelisk, with an engraved tribute to “Charlie,” who died when he was 25. The Johnson family obelisk is massive, making one wonder how they hauled it up the hill. The Larison memorial is made of zinc. Asher Ege’s impressive monument reads in 1875 at the age of 43 he “died suddenly, yet prepared.” The Taylor mausoleum, built in 1900, features stained glass windows. I placed a contemporary sculpture between it and the grave of Jamie Fox, the prominent politician who died in 2017.
We look down the hill.
The cemetery is organized in an alphabetized grid of rows that were called “ranges and divisions.” There are intermediate aisles or “alleys” originally for horses and carriages—today we can use these spaces for new burial lots. Some of the lots still have intact copper piping that demarcates the space but makes mowing difficult. You see many shade trees here, which is unusual for a cemetery. Lots of ash trees and Norway maples.
We walk down the eastern side.
JP Miller, who wrote “Days of Wine and Roses,” is buried here. A number of headstones feature the symbol of a chain link, which mark the interred as members of the Odd Fellows, the fraternal society very popular in the 1800’s. John Hart Ott’s headstone notes that his grandfather, John Hart, signed the Declaration of Independence. One gravesite is for a reputed witch who may have been exhumed—there is a faint pentagram on the stonework.
Erosion or vandalism have affected some of the lots, as you can see when the stones are toppled over or tilted. The cemetery doesn’t own the headstones—the families do—so we cannot correct them. Next to a black walnut tree, you can see the squirrels have used the nearby headstones as a table to crack the nuts. They have laid out the shells neatly, as well.
Four large birds walk to us.
These are the Guinea Fowl we keep here. They have a shed where they sleep. They are invaluable because they eat deer ticks, and we get a lot of deer. Other wildlife here includes groundhogs, skunks, foxes, and opossums. Years ago I saw a coyote, who snatched a Guinea Fowl. There have been many bear sightings, though I’ve never seen one.
We walk to the grave of Sarah Gallagher, who died in 1907, four years after writing her history of Lambertville, and had played and dreamed on these grounds before the canal and railroad were built. Another local historian and past president of the Lambertville Historical Society, Yvonne Warren, is buried up the hill. In touring Mt. Hope and seeing many familiar names of local families, you are reminded that a strong love of Lambertville transcends many generations. We thank John for the tour and his preservation of the cemetery.
I know what my headstone might say: “I certainly hope someone is mowing this grass.”