“Round the corner there may wait a new road or a secret gate.”
What you are looking at is the original entrance on the western side of Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse, NY.
When the cemetery was dedicated in 1859, the entrance looked much different. This gate was not a part of the plan. There were train tracks running above in full view. In 1882, James J. Belden gave this new gateway to Oakwood. His gift allowed the old rail bridge to be replaced, and covered almost completely with a beautiful granite disguise as you will see in the postcard below.
Belden was a man of many hats in Syracuse. He went into banking and construction; was president of the company that produced the local newspaper. He also owned a hotel, served as Mayor of Syracuse, and was elected to congress for several terms. In 1904, he was interred at Oakwood.
In 1902 when the granite entrance gate was completed, visitors would pass through and encounter the Gatekeeper’s Cottage, and greenhouses filled with a collection of tropical plants. Further up the road was the mortuary chapel and receiving vault. And then there was Dedication Valley, the soul of the original plan of Oakwood’s designer Howard Daniels, and still a remarkable example of Victorian funerary architecture. The cottage and greenhouses are long gone, but the chapel remains, as well as what is now called the Old Office. Both are in serious disrepair, although there is a current campaign to bring the chapel back to it’s former glory.
I’ll go back to the beginning of my story, and explain why Mr. Belden’s gate looks like it does today. In the 1960’s, Interstate 81 was built through the city of Syracuse. In the name of progress, the gate and the surrounding area was filled in, and permanently closed to the public in 1964. A new entrance, smaller and nowhere near as grand, was created at the opposite side of the cemetery on Comstock Avenue.
Fifty two years have passed. Cars whiz by on the highway, lighted at night by street lamps that reach out into the dark. The gate is covered with ever changing patterns of graffiti, and beer cans litter the ground underneath.
In the past year, I’ve seen efforts to clear the brush and trees that have grown in over time. The grass is mowed.
Government studies are being done to determine the future of Interstate 81. It’s possible that the highway that rides above and divides the city of Syracuse may be taken down. Perhaps Oakwood’s original entrance will live again. But, we all know how government works. It could be another fifty two years.
Color photograph of original entrance taken at Oakwood Cemetery, Syracuse NY May 2016. This photograph or any written copy may not be used in any other format or publication without the express written permission of Christine Shephard Photography.
Black and white post card from Onondaga County Public Library collection