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Locust Hill Cemetery & Arboretum

Locust Hill CemeteryLocust Hill Cemetery is a beautiful spot, high on a hill, that was once known as Lamasco. It is located north of Diamond Avenue just west of North First Avenue.

Locust Hill Cemetery History

Looking at the early historical records of what would become Locust Hill Cemetery and Arboretum, it is said that in 1835 the area was a beautiful spot, high on a hill, and was homestead to a Robert Smith Family, with the acreage later acquired by the Kirkpatrick family.  On May 22nd, 1855, the Plat of Locust Hill Cemetery was recorded in Vanderburgh County by the Clerk of the Town of Lamasco City, Daniel Chute. This newly formed cemetery was described as a plot set aside for a little country cemetery where both friends and neighbors could intern the deceased.  Mr. William Kirkpatrick had charge of this cemetery for a great many years and, in fact, was identified with it almost from the time it was started.  Today, the now sixty-seven-and-a-half-acre facility is well within the boundaries of the City of Evansville after the eastern portion of Lamasco City was eventually merged with Evansville in 1857.  Around 1905, Locust Hill Cemetery was deeded over to the City of Evansville, becoming the second city owned cemetery to Oak Hill Cemetery and Arboretum with its own roots dating back to 1853. 

Locust Hill Cemetery and Arboretum is truly a jewel hidden within the City of Evansville’s northwest side, with over 30,000 internments.  Early on it was described from records as being “on beautiful rolling ground covered with natural forest trees”.  This led the current cemetery leadership to establish The James Bethel Gresham Arboretum at Locust Hill Cemetery on November 3, 2017.  It was awarded a Level I Accreditation by the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and the Morton Arboretum.  Locust Hill’s Arboretum was named after the facility’s most famous interment to honor his memory on the 100th anniversary of his passing in World War I.  The arboretum seeks to provide a quiet and healing landscape for mourners, respect the history and dignity of those interred at Locust Hill Cemetery, and promote public awareness and appreciation of urban greenspaces by providing a safe, serene, and beautiful setting. A core goal is to protect and cultivate existing trees and woody shrubs, augmenting the historic landscape by selecting and appropriately locating new acquisitions.  Today, there are now over 50 individual tree species represented within the Gresham Arboretum.

Thousands have visited the cemetery grounds during its 169 years of existence, but probably the most solemn time of year is on Memorial Day.  When reviewing the history of this day within Locust Hill, one can look back well over 100 years to what it looked like in the early 1900s.  Records from that time state that thousands of flowers bore witness to the tribute paid to the valor of veterans of the Civil War who have answered the last roll call and the Spanish-American War.  In 1910, more than 2,000 people were present at a Memorial Day service held at 9am on the grounds.  The crowds started to gather around 7am, when members of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) and those who accompanied them first arrived; however, hundreds of graves were already found to be decorated by those who were unable to be present at the ceremony, or who went early to avoid the jam of crowds in the street cars.  At the service, D.H. Ortmeyer delivered the main address of the day.  Following a medley of national airs by Warren’s band, the services began with the recitation of the opening service from the ritual of the G.A.R., by S.V. Commander Green B. Fields a with a prayer offered by Reverend M.W. Sunderman.  This was followed by a recitation of Lincoln’s address delivered at Gettysburg and another selection played by the band.  The speech of Mr. Ortmeyer was then delivered, which was enthusiastically received by the gathered audience.  Then followed the decoration of graves by the members of the G.A.R., after which taps were blown by post bugler Phillip Klein.  The services were then closed with a benediction by Reverend Sunderman.   As one can see if you attend a modern Memorial Day service at Locust Hill, not much has changed since that time; for the roots for this hallowed day run very deep within the facility. 

Many don’t realize that the last Union Veteran to be buried in Vanderburgh County is interred at Locust Hill Cemetery.   Corporal George W. Winlock was born a slave in Logan County, Kentucky in December of 1845.  He enlisted as a Private in Company C, 115th U.S. Colored Infantry on August 15, 1864, was promoted to Corporal in 1865, and served until February 10th, 1866, He was the last surviving member of the Grand Army of the Republic, Fort Wagner Post #581at Evansville, Indiana.  He died on June 10, 1939, at the age of 91. His grave is in the Veterans Section of the cemetery. 

The most prominent person buried at Locust Hill is James Bethel Gresham, the namesake of the arboretum.  He was born on August 23, 1893, in a one-room cabin in McLean County, Kentucky to Alice Bethel Gresham and Green Gresham.  When he was 21, Gresham enlisted into the U.S. Army, seeing the military as a means to support his mother and younger siblings.  On November 3, 1917, Corporal Gresham with Privates Merle Hay and Thomas Enright were killed by the German Army near Artois, France. Two days later (11/5/1917), the three men were buried near the battlefield where they fell. An inscription marked their graves: "Here lie the first soldiers of the illustrious Republic of the United States who fell on French soil for justice and liberty.”  In July of 1921, Gresham's body was brought home to Indiana.  After lying in state in the rotunda of the statehouse in Indianapolis, his body was returned to Evansville.  Finally, at home and in peace, Corporal Gresham is buried among the sacred dead in the Veterans’ section of the cemetery.  Additionally, on November 13, 1937, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Evansville to address the Woman's Rotary Club. While here, she accompanied Mayor William Dress and Congressman John W. Boehne, Jr. to Locust Hill Cemetery, where she laid flowers on the grave of James Bethel Gresham.  The picture taken during this event is the most famous ever from within the grounds of Locust Hill Cemetery and Arboretum to date.  During the recent 101st Anniversary of the United States entering World War I, the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library honored Locust Hill Cemetery and Arboretum with the official national designation as a "WWI Centennial Memorial". 

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