A Brief History

and overview of the people and love behind Woodbine's grounds
Aerial Photo Showing Downtown and Harrisonburg
 
As told in J. Nelson Liskey's, "History of Woodbine Cemetery"


“Woodbine Cemetery Company of Harrisonburg, chartered by the Virginia General Assembly March 19, 1850, is a non-denominational, non-profit, community cemetery, open to all. For over 148 years Woodbine Cemetery has served the City of Harrisonburg and surrounding areas as a sacred burial ground.”


“Judge James Kenney, in his diary in 1871, wrote that in 1849 Dr. Peachy Rush Harrison, recognizing the need, started developing interest among local citizens for a general burial ground in Harrisonburg. Dr. Harrison also supplied the name “Woodbine” – source unknown- and was buried there 5/22/1852. Due to his influence, a charter was applied for and granted by the State, with the following being the original persons forming the corporation:

John Kenney, Edward Smith, Abner Smith, John H. Wartman, N.C. Smith, William McK. Wartman, O.C. Sterling, P.R. Harrison, Isaac Hardesty, William Stevens, William Reherd, M. Harvey Effinger, G. M. Effinger, Nevil Rogers, William Miller, Henry T. Wartman

This charter, found in the found in “Acts of the Virginia Assembly 1849-50″, page 587 (James Madison University Library) provides the establishment of a Cemetery Company in Harrisonburg, election of officers and trustees, the right to own land, etc. This original charter was first ammended in 1902 with Joshua Wilton, J.H. Ott, William M. Bucher, T.O. Jones, L.C. Myers, J.H. Neff, George E. Sine, P. Bradley, and T.H. Haas, named as successsors to the originial corporate members. The main changes in the new charter seems to be increasing the acreage from 15 to 50, and giving the Cemetery the right of eminent domain not to exceed 10 acres (Acts of the General Assembly 1902, page 587, JMU Library).”

“The Cemetery Company now had land and the leadership to get started, and it’s interesting to note the relationship of the Cemetery leaders to those of the town. Harrisonburg first became an incorporated town in 1849, with four of the first Trustees also on the town council. Also, Mr. Isacc Hardesty was Harrisonburg’s first Mayor, being elected 3/3/49. In any case, the Trustees got busy and employed the County Surveyor, Mr. Henry B. Hershberger, to lay off the 2.5 acres in 18′ x 25′ lots, which resulted in 104 lots, 33 of which were soon sold and the money was used to pay Mr. Hardesty.

The first person buried in Woodbine was Mr. George Conrad, retired first postmaster of Elkton and great-grandfather of Laird Conrad, a prominent Harrisonburg Attorney, and Dr. Charles E. Conrad, first pediatrician at Rockingham Memorial Hospital. Mr. Conrad was buried 11/11/1850. The old minutes show this was prior to the Trustees formally approving the Hardesty land purchase, which approval was not granted until 12/3/1850.

Also at this 12/3/1850 meeting, committees were appointed to prepare bylaws, to secure proposals for building a stone wall across the front of the property, and the secretary was urged to immediately call on members to pay for their lots.

Later minutes show that the wall was built by Martin Holmes and Michael Ward. This was the first section of the stone wall which surrounds the Cemetery and have done so much to protect the Cemetery and add to its beauty and dignity.”

“Woodbine Cemetery has existed, grown, and been a place of grace, serenity, and beauty for nearly 150 years. This has not come by accident, but by the cooperative efforts of many lot owners and the dedication of the Trustees, especially the leadership of the Presidents and Secretary-Treasurers.

All of the Presidents over the years have exercised good judgment and guidance, but special recognition should go to those who served for long periods: Thomas Bell, 21 years; Samuel Shacklett, 16 years; Judge T.N. Haas, 13 years; and C.G. Price, 42 years.

Perhaps deserving even more recognition are the Secretary-Treasurers who put long years into this office with hardly a week going by that something didn’t happen requiring their attention: William Henry Tams, 14 years; W.M. Bucher, 13 years; J.C. Staples, 19 years; A.U. Lewis, 16 years; E.S. Ashby, 18 years; and Victor J. Smith, 24 years. We do indeed owe these men a debt of gratitude.

Woodbine Cemetery now contains 18 acres and 11,550 grave sites. Of these, [~1000+] are yet to be sold located mostly just west of Reservoir Street and the remainder scattered throughout the Cemetery. Latest count shows that approximately [9000] people are buried in Woodbine.”

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Since 1992, Ms. Lisa Batchelder has served as the Superintendent of Woodbine Cemetery, and still proudly occupies the position today.

Today, positive growth and success continues under the leadership of the current Board of Trustees, the staff, and the volunteers who help contribute their time to maintaining this special place.

Woodbine boasts a few areas of special interest including a designated area for those who served in World War I and World War II, otherwise known as “Little Arlington.” We honor those buried here at the peak of the hill in front of the Community Mausoleum with a birds-eye view of the Blueridge Mountains and an American Flag.

The cemetery also has a section of Confederate Soldiers, recognized under the Virginia Civil War Trails program. Among the points of interest are the graves of Joseph White Latimer, Boy Major (VMI) in the Civil War; Confederate General John Robert Jones (Harrisonburg’s only Civil War general).

For more detailed information, the “History of Woodbine Cemetery” may be purchased at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society, P.O. Box 716, Dayton, VA 22821, or checked out for no charge at the Massanutten Regional Library in Harrisonburg.

The cemetery is open daily from dawn to dusk.



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