Spring Grove Cemetery beautifully expresses a lawn plan cemetery design that integrates bucolic natural landscape with classical architecture. The first rural cemetery beyond the eastern states featured natural topography and a picturesque wooded setting with the winding road plan by Cincinnati architect Howard Daniels, Spring Grove’s first superintendent. Adolph Strauch, landscape gardener, was appointed superintendent in 1854. By the end of his service in 1883 Strauch had transformed the cemetery with an innovative “landscape lawn plan” that enhanced the natural landscape with a design that turned its back on traditional cemetery layout. Instead of imposing plot fencing and a myriad of headstones, Strauch emphasized land contour and light, water, wood, and rock to achieve a peaceful balance between the man-made and the natural. Spring Grove Cemetery is the model for the lawn plan concept, the dominant trend in American cemetery design from the mid-nineteenth century well into the twentieth century.
Perhaps influenced by his European background, Strauch preferred spacious boulevards and vistas. This is reflected in his widening of the front entrance that leads to the cemetery. Following the lines of Daniel’s existing curvilinear roads, often hidden by hills, Strauch converted swampy areas to scenic lakes with islands and created wide, open views by removing fences and hedgerows. To maintain the harmony and tranquility of the plan, Strauch restricted monument placement to one per lot and strictly regulated the materials used to build them. He asserted similar control over the design and materials of the cemetery’s main buildings and structures, most of them designed by well-known Cincinnati architects. These include the rock-faced stone Romanesque Revival public vault designed by Alfred Mullett and completed in 1859. Four years later, James Keys Wilson designed the Norman Gothic main gate and gatehouse, using coursed rock-faced stone to unify the structures with their environment. The cemetery chapel was added 1879–1881, designed by Samuel Hannaford. It blended seamlessly with the stone construction and carved trim of the earlier Romanesque Revival vault and gatehouse. Additional large-scale, architect-designed mausoleums and vaults were classically inspired and interspersed with smaller ones to maintain the balanced, harmonic environment envisioned by Strauch.
While Strauch’s lawn plan cemetery design was considered radical at its inception, it eventually achieved widespread appreciation and acceptance. Cemeteries across the country were built or re-configured to embrace the concept of a peaceful and natural setting in which to reflect and mourn the dead. In 2007, Strauch’s innovative design plan and Spring Grove Cemetery’s significance was nationally recognized when it became a National Historic Landmark.
Clouette, Bruce, “Spring Grove Cemetery,” Hamilton County, Ohio. National Historic Landmark Inventory-Nomination Form, 2005. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.
Gordon, Stephen C. “Spring Grove: Rural City the Dead and the Emergence of the Landscape Lawn Plan.” Timeline 23, no. 2 (April-June 2006): 2-19.
Ratterman, Heinrich A. Spring Grove and Its Creator. Edited by Don H. Tolzmann. 1905. Reprint, Cincinnati: Ohio Book Store, 1988.
Sambi, Margaret A., “Spring Grove Cemetery,” Hamilton County, Ohio. National Historic Landmark Inventory-Nomination Form, 1975. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.
Vernon, Noel Dorsey. “Adolph Strauch: Cincinnati and the Legacy of Spring Grove Cemetery.” In Midwestern Landscape Architecture, edited by William H. Tishler, 5-24. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Vernon, Noel Dorsey. “Strauch, Adolph (1822-1883).” In Pioneers of American Landscape Design, edited by Charles A. Birnbaum, FASLA and Robin Karson, 384-387. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000.