History of Riverside Cemetery
Appleton’s first cemetery was laid out in 1850 in the northwest half of what is now the Post-Crescent block, just south of the railroad tracks. It didn’t take long for citizenry to come to the conclusion that this location in downtown Appleton was inappropriate for a city cemetery as the soil was poor and there was little room for expansion.
Within a short time this ground fell into disrepair and became more suited as pasture land for stray cows than a sacred place for burials. Joseph E. Harriman, Judge and Appleton leader, is given credit for promoting and founding Riverside Cemetery in 1870.
In 1872 the city set aside twenty acres of land on the Fox River for cemetery purpose if the newly formed Appleton Cemetery Association would take charge. Captain N.M. Edwards designed the original layout and Dennis Meidam, lumberman and florist, became the first manager of grounds. On November 25, 1872 the body of Rev. T.W. Orbison, pioneer and Methodist minister, was first to be interred at the new cemetery.
In 1877 the cemetery Association began operating Riverside Greenhouse, which was then located in the cemetery just south for the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) burial plot and managed by Mr. Meidam. In 1905 a new building for the greenhouse was built at the present location. It was noted in Appleton newspapers that all bodies were moved to Riverside from the old cemetery by 1884, however bones were still being dug up at the old site as late as the 1930’s.
Riverside has been described in multiple ways since its conception including “Appleton’s most beautiful Cemetery” and “Appleton’s silent city”. In its early years it was also referred to as “Appleton’s Popular resort” since it was considered a place for the living and the dead. Commonly one could see hundreds of people picnicking on Sundays amongst the stones on the high bluff overlooking the Fox, where a view up and down the river presented itself. The road beneath the cemetery proper, running along the river, was vernacularly known as “Lover’s Lane”.
In 1910 the stone entrance to Riverside was erected. This impressive “door” to the cemetery includes a chapel, office space and winter storage for bodies, used at a time when winter burials were not possible. It has been a long standing tradition that on Memorial Day parade bands and spectators march down Pacific Street through the Riverside archway to the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) plot to participate in a ceremony honoring military dead. In 1988 a freestanding garden mausoleum was built to the north of the main entrance offering above ground crypts for traditional burials and niches for cremains.
Today, Riverside encompasses about ninety private acres of land, dotted by the plethora of tree varieties, spreading their branches over the dead and grieving. A walk through the grounds reveals stately family mausoleums and monuments as uniquely different as the individuals buried at their feet.
Grave stones rise from the ground in multiple shapes and size, made of a variety of granite and marble lending character and charm to the grounds. Interestingly, an historic study of neighborhood communities in comparison with Riverside burials, reveals that it is not unusual to find those who were neighbors in life, remain so in death.