The Northern Red Oak, or Quercus ruba

Among the 500 trees comprising 71 species at Riverview Cemetery is a majestic specimen of Northern Red Oak, or Quercus ruba, which can be found along Myrtle Avenue in Section E near the southern boundary of the grounds.

Known for its brilliant red fall color, the tree is native to the eastern and central United States; its range extends into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to the south and Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota to the west. It can reach 60 to 75 feet in height with a crown spread of 45 feet at maturity when open grown, and the oblong-shaped leaves are five to eight inches long with seven to 11 bristle-tipped lobes.

Our tree has a 60-inch caliper as recorded by B.W. Bosenberg and Company, landscape architects based in Far Hills, N.J., which translates to a circumference of nearly 16 feet. The Sunday Times-Advertiser of December 12, 1915, notes that “due to his extensive knowledge in the care of trees, [Isaac] Stephens was given entire charge of the planting of all the trees in Riverview Cemetery, of which he was one of the founders,” likely making it among the earliest planted on the grounds after the Cemetery’s incorporation on February 28, 1858, a feat all the more remarkable as I am told it survived a lightning strike a number of decades ago.

The Sojourn of Catharine Maloney

A “receiving vault” is a structure designed primarily to hold the bodies of the deceased during the winter months when the ground is too frozen to dig graves. They were also used to store a body that is to be transported elsewhere or a family mausoleum is to be constructed, and a notable instance of the latter is the sorrowful story of Catharine Maloney, daughter of Philadelphia capitalist Martin Maloney, whom found temporary rest in Riverview Cemetery’s receiving vault at the turn of the last century.

Born on November 11, 1848, Martin Maloney emigrated with his parents and siblings from Ballingarry, Ireland, when he was a young boy. He worked in the coal mines around Scranton, Pennsylvania, with his father, afterward apprenticing himself as a tinsmith, coppersmith, plumber and gas-fitter. He organized the Hyde Park Gas Company, the nucleus of a system that eventually provided gas to Scranton and surrounding areas, and subsequently organized the Maloney Oil, Gas and Manufacturing Company.

Maloney married Margaret A. Hewitson on December 31, 1868, and together they had seven children. All but three daughters—Margaret, Catharine (Kitty) and Helen—passed away in their younger years.

Sassafras, or Sassafras albidum

Riverview Cemetery has but one Sassafras tree in its plant collection, that being a weather-beaten specimen in Section K that is likely more than a hundred years old. A deciduous tree, Sassafras albidum is native to Eastern North America where it generally grows from 40 to 50 feet in height in its northern range. Larger specimens are found in its southern range.

Sassafras in Section K at Riverview Cemetery in summer and fall colors

Sassafras is unusual in having three distinct leaf patterns — unlobed oval, bilobed, and trilobed — on the same plant. The leaves are bright green in the summer and turn a brilliant yellow-orange and red-orange in the fall.

Richard E. Weaver Jr., in the January 1976 issue of Arnoldia, the quarterly bulletin of the Arnold Arboretum, writes “the color and the effect of the fall foliage is about as spectacular as that of any tree, the leaves typically turning orange with tints of yellow, red, and salmon, and for this reason alone the tree deserves more recognition as an ornamental.”

“The Last Voyage”

Among my cemetery research interests is the study of the Monumental Bronze Company and the “white bronze” monuments they produced. The Last Voyage, one of my favorite motifs, was among many that were used to embellish monuments. Modeled by sculptor Archibald McKellar and finished at the company’s art foundry in February 1881, it was first offered in their 1882 catalog.

The Last Voyage, modeled by Archibald McKellar and
offered in the 1882 catalog of the Monumental Bronze Company. Institution

This motif was taken from A Gentle Wafting to Immortal Life, a bas-relief marble sculpture by Felix M. Miller and a later engraving by William Roffe. As described in The Art Journal (1879), Miller portrayed the elder of two deceased brothers, Herbert Mellor, on the angelic mission of guiding his younger brother, Theodore, on his last voyage over the “sea of bliss.” They were the deceased children of J.J. Mellor, Esq., of the Woodlands, Whitfield, Manchester.

“Killed While Coupling Cars”

There’s no doubt that railroads played a pivotal role in the industrialization of the nation, allowing for unprecedented growth and prosperity. With it, however, came countless train accidents and the eventual call for safety on the rails and the protection of passengers and workers.

“An Act to Promote the Safety of Employees and Travelers upon Railroads by Compelling Common Carriers Engaged in Interstate Commerce to Equip Their Cars with Automatic Couplers and Continuous Brakes and Their Locomotives with Driving-wheel Brakes, and for Other Purposes,” which came to be termed the “Railroad Safety Appliance Act,” was enacted by Congress on March 2, 1893. Key provisions of the act making air brakes and automatic couplers mandatory on all trains were slated to take effect on January 1, 1898, after a five-year grace period.

The link-and-pin coupler then in use required a worker to stand between the cars and guide a link into a coupler pocket as the cars came together. A pin was then inserted to hold the link in place. The process of coupling cars was fraught with danger. Many brakemen lost fingers and entire hands, and still more were crushed to death when the cars came together too quickly.

Jenkintown Station, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, 1892
Library of Congress

On May 15, 1893, while working on the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad at a suburban Philadelphia station, Benjamin D. Simmins (1868-1893), just one month shy of his 25th birthday, was “Killed while coupling cars at Jenkintown, Pa.” as the inscription on his black granite gravemarker records.

The American Elm, or Ulmus americana

“Trees are the best monuments that a man can erect to his own memory. They speak his praises without flattery, and they are blessings to children yet unborn.” That’s what John Boyle, Fifth Earl of Cork and Orrery, said of trees in 1749.

American Elm along Valley Avenue at Riverview Cemetery

Whenever I have the occasion to walk the grounds of historic cemeteries, the mature trees dotting their landscapes bespeak the work of the nation’s earliest horticulturists. The idea of a “rural” cemetery for Trenton was conceived by Jacob M. Taylor in 1857. He introduced his plan to a group of the city’s leading citizens—William M. Force, John K. Smith, Isaac Stephens, David Witherup and William S. Yard—who together founded Riverview Cemetery on January 16, 1858. It was incorporated by an act of the state legislature of New Jersey on February 28, 1858.

The grounds of the then two-and-one-half-acre Cemetery were laid out according to a plan drawn by Smith, but the planting of the trees was tasked to Stephens. Indeed, the Sunday-Times Advertiser of December 12, 1915, described his residence, then owned by Charles S. Van Syckel, and its many specimen trees, noting: “Due to his extensive knowledge in the care of trees, Stephens was given entire charge of the planting of all the trees in Riverview Cemetery, of which he was one of the founders.”

Edward Ansley Stokes and the William Trent House

Stokes Monument
Edward A. Stokes (1869-1939), son of Trenton photographer Edward H. Stokes, was a lawyer, author and poet. He was also the last private owner of the William Trent House which he donated to the city in 1929. After extensive restoration it was opened as a museum in 1939.

The Trent House is the oldest of Trenton’s landmarks. An excellent example of Early Georgian Colonial architecture, it was built in 1719 on an 800-acre tract of land as the country estate of William Trent, a prominent Philadelphia trader and merchant, who laid out a settlement around his house in 1720 which came to be known as Trent’s Town, later Trent-Town, and finally Trenton.

Over the years the house has been known by several names. At one time it was named “Kingsbury Hall,” then “Bloomsbury Court,” and finally “Woodlawn.” It was occupied by Hessian troops in December of 1776, and has been the home of three New Jersey governors, Lewis Morris from 1742 to 1746, Philemon Dickerson from 1835 to 1838, and Rodman McCamley Price from 1854 to 1857.