ABOUT GROVE HILL
It's interesting what can come from a Sunday afternoon walk in the country. In 1853 when John T. Ballard and Marion C. Taylor strolled a short distance from Main Street in Shelbyville, KY, across the bridge over Clear Creek, up Mount Eden Road to a bluff that overlooked the creek, they commented on the beauty of the spot. So lovely, so restful, it would make an ideal spot for a cemetery. Shelbyville's existing cemetery was running out of burial lots and a new location was needed.
The walk led to talk, the talk led to action, and by March the following year, the Kentucky General Assembly had passed an act that approved the incorporation of the Shelbyville Cemetery Company with sixty stockholders. The grounds for the original approximately 25 acres of the cemetery respectively came from landowners Josephus H. Wilson, Daniel Lively, and Mark Hardin as a gift, through a trade (for a burial plot), or following a nominal payment. By 1856, citizens who believed in the project had purchased over 40 lots.
We're not sure why the name Grove Hill was selected for the cemetery, but seeing the beauty of the trees that occupy the cemetery now, the name fits perfectly. It is appropriate to note that Grove Hill was not named for the Louisville, KY, engineer who was commissioned to design and lay out the cemetery, Benjamin Grove. His work followed that of the surveyors Stonestreet and Ford.
Early Photos of Main Street - Shelbyville, KY
Historians cite Rev. James H Logan, (1799-1856) a Presbyterian minister as the first person interred in Grove Hill, burial January 3, 1856. Judge Thomas J. Throop's infant son, George Benjamin (burial January 20, 1856, followed. However, in creating the online database for Grove Hill cemetery, Grove Hill superintendent Mark Brooks discovered the burial date of Dr. John G. Bryan, Sr. (1793-1855), burial September 21, 1855.
We do know that several families had deceased members removed to Grove Hill from other cemeteries; many of whom had passed away as early as the 1700s. Some families commissioned stonemasons to create cenotaphs to memorialize their loved ones whose remains for various reasons could not be reinterred in Grove Hill.
Two such notables so remembered are Revolutionary War heroes: Col. John S. Hardin and Aquilla Whitaker. Col Hardin, who fought valiantly in the Revolutionary War died in the Northwest Territory in 1792 fighting in Anthony Wayne's legion. Whitaker's cenotaph, like Hardin's, is topped with a majestic eagle. Following the war Whitaker's contributions to his country included laying out the town of Shelbyville and the route to Louisville from Leestown (today's Frankfort), the Midland Trail.
Every war of our Nation's history has a veteran interred in Grove Hill. Like so many Kentucky communities, Shelby County sent many of its sons to fight in the Civil War. Following the war, the trustees of Grove Hill donated 12 lots to the War Department for Union soldiers' interment. The federal government provided and erected their headstones. In the years that followed veterans of the Confederacy were granted permission to rest with those they once called their foe.
The Bedford Stone Chapel that is the centerpiece of Grove Hill was designed by Shelby County's leading architect of the 1800s, Lynn Gruber and was dedicated in 1893. The stonework was done by the firm, Peter & Melcher of Louisville, KY. Betty B Matthews raised the money necessary to finance a major, chapel restoration project from 1996-98. The sum needed was 10 times greater than the chapel's original construction cost.
The stately, stone gateway entrance from Old Mt. Eden Rd was erected in 1913 by the Peter Burghard Stone Company. The same firm built in 1916 a mausoleum in section "P" of the cemetery. It was not until 1916 when automobiles would be allowed to drive through the cemetery.
The brick entrance off Hwy 53 and the sexton's home with cemetery office were built in the 1960s. Grove Hill sextons through the years, were Patrick O'Brien, Frederick Moesser, Wm. Phillip Elwanger, Spencer Bond, and Andrew Johnson. In 1981, Mark Brooks was appointed superintendent of Grove Hill.
Over 20,000 persons rest in Grove Hill but its capacity is more than double that number with over 26 acres of the grounds undeveloped and hundreds of lots available in the original park environment. Grove Hill's park environment entices visitors to respectfully walk its grounds, participate in its historic tours and remember its role as silent servant to Shelby County.
Grove Hill Cemetery is owned and operated by the Shelbyville Cemetery Company and is a non-profit cemetery, operated by a Board of Trustees, elected by the lot owners. Lots in the cemetery may be purchased by anyone without regard to race, ethnic origin, or religion. Ownership of the cemetery is not vested in any public or government institution but instead by those who have purchased lots in the cemetery. The cemetery is organized as a 501(c)(13) institution under the Internal Revenue Code.
Shelby County Historical Society
History Moment on Grove Hill Cemetery
Hosted by Bonnie Burks Gray
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