When people travel, there are certain preparations everybody makes. Toothpaste? Check. Plane ticket? Check. Cemetery map? Check.
Well, maybe not everybody when it comes to that last one.
As I prepared for our family summer vacation to Denver this past summer, I hopped online to see what cemeteries were in the area. Denver has a number of cemeteries, but I kept going back to Fairmount. I didn’t know then that it had a tie to Georgia.
As the second oldest large cemetery in the city, Fairmount opened in 1890 when Denver was still quite young (established in 1858). At 280 acres, the cemetery was the largest developed landscape west of the Mississippi. The grounds were designed by German-born architect Reinhard Schuetze, who I’ll talk about more next week.
Fairmount is still a very active cemetery, has a funeral home, modern offices and a crematorium. Not long ago, they added space for meetings and events as well. They even hold popular movie nights on one of their greenspaces.
A week before our trip, I took the risk of calling Fairmount’s office to find out if they gave tours. I use the word “risk” only because some cemeteries do not take kindly to crazy visitors like me who ask a lot of questions and want to write about their cemetery.
Fortunately, that was not the case at all with Fairmount (which is still blessedly independently owned and operated). I left a message and within a few days, Fairmount’s director of business development Michael Long called me back.
I did explain that I was coming from Atlanta so I wouldn’t be buying a plot because I didn’t want to take up his valuable time without disclosing that. Thankfully, this didn’t bother him in the least and he even offered to take me on a golf cart tour of Fairmount’s grounds. I nearly dropped the phone, I was so surprised and pleased.
After we’d been in Denver a few days, I dropped off my husband and son at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and headed over to Fairmount. Diane Kandt, who I later discovered is manager of first impressions, greeted me in the office. Whoever came up with that title had Diane in mind because she is excellent at her job, making me feel at ease while I waited for Michael.
It was already in the 90s with bright sunlight when our tour began, so I apologize for the quality of my photos. Some of the pictures I took with my phone came out blurry so I borrowed some from Fairmount’s web site.
Despite ongoing renovations, Michael showed me the inside of the chapel, designed by Henry Ten Eyck Wendell. A New York native and Cornell graduate, Wendell also designed Fairmount’s Gate Lodge and several Denver homes.
One of those homes was the Henry Treat Rogers house (since torn down) at 1739 E. 13th Ave. The house is said to be the inspiration for the 1980 film “The Changeling” starring George C. Scott. I watched it once and it scared the bejeebers out of me. The house was located near Cheesman Park, which was built over what was originally Denver City Cemetery (a story for an entire blog post).
Now here’s where the Georgia connection begins. Wendell arrived in Augusta, Ga. around 1908 during a building boom. He was soon busy designing homes for prominent families and the new St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which had burned in 1916. It was halfway through construction when Wendell died at the age of 55.
Despite having a home in Augusta, Wendell was staying at the local Albion Hotel the night he was served a warrant for his arrest, the charge thought to be for a “moral indiscretion.” The bizarre story of his death, which involved him jumping over a stair railing, is worth reading.
Built in 1890 when Fairmount opened, the Little Ivy Chapel is a prime example of 13th-century Ecclesiastical French Gothic architecture and was designated a historical landmark by the City of Denver in 1976. Michael hosted a short video about it that you can watch here.
Dr. James Bratton, Professor Emeritus of Denver University, designed the chapel’s organ for Stephen E. Watson of the Watson Memorial Co. The pipes were custom made in Germany, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Ohio. It was built by Norman Lane, Denver’s first resident organ architect-builder since the late 19th century. Originally designed to be placed in Mr. Watson’s home, it was installed in the Little Ivy Chapel in 1977.
After seeing the chapel, we began our golf cart tour of the grounds. Nearby is the imposing but beautiful Iliff family monument. I found out later that it weights a whopping 65 tons!
An Ohio native, John Wesley Iliff turned down an offer from his father for an interest in a local farm and headed west at the age of 21. In Kansas, he helped organize Ohio City Town Company in 1857 and built the first store there. He moved to Auroria (now Denver), Kansas Territory, in 1859 with a wagon load of goods and opened a successful general merchandise store amid the Colorado gold rush that brought fortune seekers from around the country.
In 1861, Iliff sold the store and bought cattle weakened after the long trek across the Plains. After nursing and fattening the cattle, he sold them for a substantial profit. He married his Ohio sweetheart Sarah Elizabeth “Sade” Smith in January 1864, but she died a few months after giving birth to their only child, William, in 1865.
In 1868, Iliff moved to Cheyenne, Wyo. to better manage his operations selling beef to railroads there. He owned 15,500 acres in 54 sections (always near water) throughout Colorado. Later, he returned to Denver where he had successfully invested in real estate and banks, as well as shares of Chicago’s Union Stockyards.
In 1877, Iliff become ill with a gall bladder obstruction created by his many years of drinking alkali water on the Colorado plains. He died in 1878. His second wife, Elizabeth Frazer Iliff, continued running his large business operations and raising their children. Eventually, she sold his ranch holdings and invested the proceeds. After marrying Bishop Henry White Warren in 1883, the couple later donated $100,000 to endow Iliff School of Theology (located by the University of Denver).
John Iliff was originally buried at Denver’s oldest cemetery, Riverside. But in 1920, his daughter Louise had his remains re-interred at Fairmount. The 65-ton Iliff monument was also moved. Elizabeth (whose second husband died in 1912) died in 1920 and was buried in the Iliff plot at Fairmount with her first husband, John.
Next week in Part II, I’ll continue my tour of Fairmount. It includes a visit to the mausoleum, which has one of Denver’s finest stained glass collections.