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.”