Oakhill Cemetery reflects the changing fashions in cemetery design over the course of the Nineteenth Century. Unlike the older Fulton Street cemetery, which opened in 1838 and remained closer to the purely functional graveyards of New England, Oakhill north of Hall Street was developed by private entrepreneurs in 1859 as a rural park cemetery with a rolling terrain and curving drives.
In the same year that private developers began designing that property north of Hall Street, the city purchased forty acres directly south and managed it as Valley City Cemetery until the city bought out Oakhill in 1885 and merged the two in 1902 as Oakhill North and South. Today’s south section, where this tour is set, was developed in even less regimented fashion than the northern section and is bordered by Eastern and Paris avenues. The street entry to Oakhill South is south off Hall Street, west of Eastern Avenue.
Local historian Tom Dilley’s 2014 book, The Art of Memory states, that both Oakhill and Valley City cemeteries represent the “first firm foothold of the rural park cemetery movement” in Grand Rapids—that their wide “undulating drives” create “arrays and vistas of landscaped space, occasionally staged for dramatic and picturesque effect.”