Center Ridge Marks Evolution of Cemetery Design

Since 1870, Sullivan’s Center Ridge Cemetery has adapted to meet community needs and ever-evolving theories of cemetery design and best practices.

Center Ridge Cemetery, Sullivan

Preserving the Peace

Situated on a ridge near the western edge of Sullivan, Center Ridge Cemetery presents a visual record of the evolution of cemetery design. Throughout its history, the burial ground continued to adapt to the changing values of cemetery planning and the development of the city — a contributing factor in the site’s recent nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

The establishment of Center Ridge Cemetery in 1870 coincided with two major movements in the history of cemetery design, both of which influenced planning for the new burial ground. The cemetery’s peaceful setting on the outskirts of the city speaks to the influence of the public-health conscious Rural Cemetery Movement, but the emerging Lawn Park Cemetery movement — which calls for symmetry and wide expanses of lawn — dictated the layout of Center Ridge.

By the early 1900s, Center Ridge Cemetery proved so popular that the cemetery association expanded the grounds and invested in a new limestone arch at the property’s main entrance, a Romanesque-influenced gateway to define the peaceful resting place.

Center Ridge Cemetery entrance, Sullivan

Despite an expansion in 1908, just a few years later the private assosciation operating Center Ridge floundered, and the cemetery fell into a state of neglect.

The cemetery association transferred ownership to the city in 1918 to ensure maintenance of the grounds and continued operation. The city updated and expanded Center Ridge Cemetery once again in 1926, and two years later worked with Sullivan Monument Works to hire local architect John Gaddis to design a community mausoleum – an increasingly popular burial method.

Center Ridge Cemetery Mausoleum, Sullivan

Known for monumental architecture, Gaddis designed the Clay and Putnam County Courthouses as well as several important structures in Vincennes. You can see his style even in the modest office he designed for Center Ridge.

By 2014, the mausoleum needed repair, and cemetery superintendent Dick Crook approached Indiana Landmarks’ Western Regional Office for help. We supplied a grant from Indiana Landmarks’ Partners in Preservation Program to help nominate the cemetery to the National Register, status that will qualify Center Ridge for state preservation grants. The Indiana Historic Preservation Review Board recently approved the nomination – the first step in official listing. The nomination now moves on to the National Park Service for final approval. We expect a decision this fall.

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