Riverview Cemetery’s Receiving Vault

The Receiving Vault at Riverview Cemetery
A “receiving vault” is a structure designed to hold the bodies of the deceased during the winter months when the ground is too frozen to dig graves, but they are sometimes used to store a body that is to be transported elsewhere, or a family mausoleum is to be constructed.

With the charter of the Riverview Cemetery Corporation in 1858, the company began construction of a receiving vault into the hillside along what is today Valley Avenue. It was completed the following year. Built of stone and brick, it has four arched-ceiling vaults, two on either side, each of which originally had wooden shelves capable of storing three caskets. Above the iron door is found “Receiving Vault 1859” on the lintel.

The receiving vault found use during the blizzards of both 1888 and 1899 as noted in the Trenton Sunday Advertiser of February 19, 1899. “Whether the blizzard of last week was more severe than the one in March 1888 has been a topic of discussion. There are two classes of men, however, who are satisfied that 1899 outdid 1888. These are the undertakers and the sextons and grave-diggers at the cemeteries.”

In 1888, “several funerals were announced to take place and the undertakers endeavored to carry out the arrangements, but when they got on the outskirts of the city it was found that the roads were so blocked with snow that it was impossible to reach the desired cemetery.” Each made their way to Riverview Cemetery where “four bodies were placed in the receiving vault awaiting interment in other cemeteries.”

In 1899, though widely thought to be worse, just two bodies were transported to the receiving vault, namely, Sarah J. Hill, who was later interred in the churchyard of Saint Andrew Catholic Church in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and Ida Wittenborn, interred at Riverview Cemetery.

Mechanization has all but eliminated the need for the receiving vault, yet it stands as a testament to an earlier era when graves were dug by hand.

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