Cemetery Viability Project: Rochester, New York

City Parks Forum Case Study


In today's concept of parks, cemeteries are not often considered part of a city's open space assets. But in the Victorian era, cemeteries commonly served as memorial parks — cultural resources that provided a park setting for paying respects to departed loved ones and for enjoying a respite from city living. Families would often bring a picnic and make an afternoon in the memorial park.

Rochester, New York, is home to one of these rare places. Mount Hope Cemetery, a 196-acre glaciated landscape with an esker and four glacial kettles, opened in 1838 as a municipal cemetery. An incredible cultural resource, Mount Hope has approximately 300,000 monuments and is the final resting place of Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglas, and other historic figures. In the 1970s, about two-thirds of the cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places based on the historic figures buried there and the impressive and rare Victorian architecture represented in the sculptures, tombs, and headstones.

However, maintaining memorial parks is a difficult and expensive task. To cover operation losses, the cemetery division of the city's department of parks, recreation, and human services in the past had received subsidies from the city's general fund, much like any other municipal parks operation. In 1982, however, due to constrained finances, the city established an enterprise fund with the intent of creating a self-sufficient operation requiring no subsidy from the city tax levy. But the cemetery was not able to generate enough revenue from plot sales to cover expenses, and the perpetual care funds for existing burials were not able to produce sufficient interest for continued upkeep. Mayor William Johnson wanted to reverse that trend.

In order to identify a solution to this problem, the city of Rochester, in cooperation with the Rochester Cemeteries Heritage Foundation, held a historic cemeteries conference, funded with a grant from The City Parks Forum. For three days, 62 participants discussed the specific issues facing historic cemeteries, toured Mount Hope, and brainstormed ideas to help Mount Hope as well as their own cemeteries. The conference resulted in several fundraising and marketing ideas for Mount Hope to pursue; it also created the spark for the group to meet on an annual basis and continue their network of support.

Mount Hope also developed a brochure, "Your Adventure Begins Where History Never Ends," to market the cemetery on a regional and national level. With a strong emphasis on the historic interest of the park, and the serene park setting, the brochure has been designed to attract tourism on a broader scale than previous marketing efforts. It also provides people with contact information about genealogical research opportunities. Perhaps in the near future you will have an opportunity to have a picnic there and enjoy the tremendous beauty of Mount Hope Cemetery.


Nancy Hilliard
Cemetery Director
Mount Hope Cemetery
1133 Mt. Hope Avenue
Rochester, NY 14620
(P) 585-428-7969