Feature Story

Burlington’s Most Endangered: Elmwood Cemetery


Elmwood Cemetery, Burlington VT, Mother's Day 2016

Sadly, as previous installments of "Burlington's Most Endangered" demonstrate, there are many properties in the Queen City that are threatened by neglect, inadequate maintenance, lack of funding, inappropriate development and even insensitive public policy. It's not just houses that are at risk however, but also commercial and industrial buildings, garages, landscapes, monuments, parks and even cemeteries.

Our historic burying places are worthy of as much attention and care as our greatest architecture. They fill gaps in archival records, give community context, and speak to our cultural standards and ideologies. Preserving them isn't so much about immortalizing the dead, it's about understanding the journey which brought us to the time in which we stand—and helping us set the course for future phases, those which our children shall navigate.

Elmwood Cemetery, located on the corner of Elmwood Avenue and North Street, is home to a number of significant Burlingtonians, including Fanny Allen (second wife of Ethan Allen and mother to the other Fanny, the first New England woman to become a Catholic nun and whose name the hospital bears) and Zadock Thompson (a naturalist, professor and Episcopal priest who published a number of tomes of Vermont history in the early 1800s). Gideon King, Timothy Follet, and Levi Allen also rest here. Elmwood, which is thought to have been used for burials as early as 1794, is also home to some lesser known (and downright shady) characters from our past…but those are tales best left for future issue.

The cemetery, which has long been closed to the public in an effort to stall decay, suffers from a number of ailments common to all historic burial grounds: invasive plant species; tree roots causing movement of grave markers; biological growth; poor or non-existent marker foundations; unvaulted grave sites; stones of varying quality (those of poorer quality being more susceptible to cracking and deterioration from freeze-thaw cycles, pollution, etc.); human intervention; and lack of adequate funding for critical repairs and maintenance. Unfortunately, cemetery conservation is neither easy nor inexpensive. Fortunately, there are several organizations dedicated to cemetery preservation that can offer critical guidance, such as the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Elmwood Cemetery is an important part of Queen City history, but without some much needed restorative care its treasures are at risk of being lost forever. For this reason, we are designating it as one of Burlington’s Most Endangered.

by Liisa Reimann Rivera, Spring/Summer 2014, The Sentinel, Preservation Burlington

About the author: Originally from England, Liisa has lived in Burlington since 2006. She earned her Master's in Historic Preservation from the University of Vermont and is a principal with Blue Brick Preservation. Liisa lives in a 1954 ranch house, whose historic wooden windows she thinks are of a genius design seldom seen since, in Burlington's New North End. Liisa's passions include historic industrial buildings, firehouses and little-known builder-architects of the vernacular landscape.