Spring Valley's mausoleum construction history shared during fall tour
Monday, December 31, 2012 3:52 AM
The people in the walls sleep in a trend, but one can still hear them speak...
Spring Valley Cemetery Association secretary Sharon Jahn gives a tour of the Spring Valley Cemetery mausoleum.
"It was a trend or fad - the mausoleum was built in 1911," said Spring Valley Cemetery Association secretary Sharon Jahn, touring the Spring Valley Cemetery mausoleum, a monument to the people of the day who wished to rest eternally above ground, including Charles H. Smith, who initiated the construction of the solid structure visible from midtown hilltops.
The Spring Valley historian elaborated, "The president of the cemetery board, Mr. Charles H. Smith, was the town banker."
Businessman Smith was born April 15, 1855. He married Hannah Strong, whose father was William Strong, builder of the William Strong House, the red mansion on Huron Avenue in Spring Valley with the Mansard roof and widow's walk. Charles and Hannah resided in what is now Bill and Deby Bires' home, directly to the north. The family of bankers also owned the local electric company.
Jahn explained that Smith's endeavor to build a mausoleum was grander than the means the mausoleum company had to do the job. "He started digging the foundation, and somewhere in the process, the mausoleum company went bankrupt. The mausoleum was an eyesore on the property, so Mr. Smith decided to complete the project."
During the years that the Smiths resided in the Spring Valley area, their family members were interred at the mausoleum, inside the marble walls that stand still and silent, cold even in the midday.
"He and his family owned the mausoleum on cemetery land until the 1970s, when they moved to California. Mr. Smith died - some members of his family are buried here."
Smith died Aug. 11, 1945, after which the mausoleum's fate became tenuous. "Some crypts were sold, and the trend died down. The upkeep was not done since it was very difficult to maintain, and by the 1970s, we had to renovate or tear it down ... it was crumbling. The Smith family wanted to tear it down or deed it to the cemetery association."
Jahn continued, "There had been few recent burials, but it would've been a lot of removing and re-burying, so they had a fundraiser that brought in $40,000. They completely stabilized the building and did maintenance on the roof. It was deeded by the family to the cemetery association in 1976, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places."
The incredible architecture that distinguishes the building is the result of the purchase of blueprints from an architect who designed it based on the size of the town in which it would be constructed.
"A lady contacted us and said that a relative of hers was the architect who designed the mausoleum. The blueprints were for different size mausoleums for different size towns, like Carnegie libraries. She saw this and wanted to see the inside, and was sure it was the design. They must've sold the blueprints - there were big ads in the paper to get people to buy crypts."
The mausoleum features original mosaic tile, brass doors and Vermont marble walls. "It makes me think of a chapel ... the brass doors are beautiful. If a tornado took it, it couldn't be replaced. At one time, it was used for storage of people who died in the winter. They were buried in the spring. The state law changed, requiring people be given the option of burying their family members in the winter. Almost all of them decided to do casket burials. It has been used to get families out of the cold weather during funerals, but not often."
The sidewalk leading to the cemetery is crumbling, but it bears reminders of the citizens and businesses who comprised Spring Valley's population at the turn of the last century; names were engraved into the walkway that leads to the mausoleum doorway.
"On Memorial Day, they'd have a walk to the cemetery on the sidewalk to the main gate - each cemetery block had a name of an organization, such as a Ladies' Aid, business people and more."
Citizens laid to rest in the mausoleum encompass members of the Friemark, Ostrander, Turner, Kumm, Drummond, Graling, Moore, Lobdill, Groby, Wallace, Chipman, Michener, Bartlett, McNeir, Sattler, John and Caroline Barr and Joseph and Emily Mlinar families, including notables such as S.C. Lobdill, who is buried alongside his second wife.
Mausoleum interment isn't as popular as it once was. Jahn related, "We sell very few crypts - we had a couple burials - the last was in 2009. It's not any more expensive than a grave burial, but you don't need a tombstone. All you need to do is have the caretaker open and close the crypt."
A rope-and-pulley casket lift stands in one corner of the mausoleum, unused due to the fragility of its mechanisms. "The lift was part of the building - it was part of the price of the mausoleum. It's not steady after 100 years, so we encourage and sell bottom crypts for less."
Jahn concluded that while most people choose to be interred in the cemetery or cremated, the mausoleum is still relevant to Spring Valley's history.