Washtenong Cemetery

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Ann Arbor, MI
United States
Washtenong Cemetery

In 1929 land manager William Underdown and the newly created Washtenong Memorial Association brought the firm back to Ann Arbor, asking Olmsted Brothers to design a cemetery on 40 acres just north of Barton Hills. The acreage was mostly treeless, and the topography allowed for proper drainage. The association wanted the parcel of land divided into four, ten-acre parts, with the land along Whitmore Lake Road to include a main entrance, space for a chapel, interior drives, and walkways. The general plan, completed in 1931, used a curvilinear road system following the natural topography. An axis for a chapel, service area, and fountain visible from Whitmore Lake Drive cuts across the main interior curvilinear drives, providing a rectilinear counterpoint.

Interspersed among plots are groupings suitable for family lots or mausoleums. Pathways throughout were to be laid in gravel, or left as lawn, and groupings of evergreen plantings were used to direct views. The project was plagued by financial problems and while the drives within the ten-acre area along Whitmore Lake Road were built consistent with the plan, the remainder were not. The Cemetery Association added a chapel and an associated service building, but not in the recommended location. A detailed planting plan for the ten acres was executed under the direction of Harlow Olin Whittemore, chairman of the University of Michigan’s department of landscape architecture. Correspondence between the Olmsted Brothers firm and Whittemore indicate that he had planted according to the location and species shown on the Olmsted plans. Some of the chosen evergreens were not thriving in the clay soils, leading Whittemore to seek advice and alternatives. As late as 1959, Whittemore, by then serving as a private consultant, was still in communication with the Olmsted Brothers firm about honoring the planting design intent.