Fulton Street Cemetery is the city’s oldest cemetery. Before it was established in 1838 outside of the village limits of Grand Rapids, a temporary burial location existed at the southwest corner of Cherry Street and Madison Avenue. The graves from this location were transferred after the dedication of the new cemetery.
The original six acres of Fulton Street Cemetery were acquired for $300 from Reverend James Ballard, the first pastor of the First Congregational Church, now Park Congregational Church. Those original six acres included sections 1, 2, 3, and 4, which are located in the center of the current cemetery grounds. As the city grew, additions were made between 1862 and 1864 to complete the current twelve acres.
Local historian Tom Dilley provides an excellent description of Fulton Street Cemetery in his book The Art of Memory.
Like its colonial antecedents on the eastern seaboard, Fulton Street Cemetery retains the pattern of comparatively neat rows of gravesites fitted within north-south and east- west roads and paths.
The size and design of memorial stones at Fulton Street were not restricted, at least by regulation, but the stones clearly evidence the early Victorian conventions of the time.
Many of the earliest stones are slabs of white marble . . . conveying the names and death dates of the deceased. . . . but they are otherwise free of most of the elaborate stylistic or decorative elements that were later to become so common.