Houston’s Silent Garden Excerpts
Houston’s Silent Garden
Glenwood Cemetery, 1871-2009
by Suzanne Turner and Joanne Seale Wilson, 2010
It has been my great pleasure to be chairman and president of Glenwood since June of 1977. During that time, many things about our cemetery have changed dramatically. We have increased the size of our operations by acquiring control of neighboring Washington Cemetery and through land reclamation along Buffalo Bayou; we have added architectural interest to the grounds in the form of the Belvedere, guard house, and additions to the office cottage; and we have made extensive horticultural and structural improvements to the property. All these matters are described in this book, and I hope you will enjoy the story of how we reached the fortunate place we hold.
Suzanne Turner and Joanne Seale Wilson have collected a tremendous amount of information from many sources and presented it as both a history and a contribution in landscape architecture. We are grateful to the authors for their rich compilation of historic, artistic, horticultural, and current material. A single work cannot possibly tell the whole story of Glenwood’s development over more than 137 years or profile all the significant individuals buried in sixteen thousand graves. There will be other books to be written about Glenwood. Executive Director, Richard A. Ambrus, has been fully involved in the implementation of every major project we have undertaken during his twenty-five-year association with our cemetery. The boards of both Glenwood Cemetery, Inc., and the Glenwood Cemetery Historic Preservation Foundation have been invaluable to our progress. We appreciate their support and wisdom. It has been a wonderful experience for me to be a part of the development of such a special place.
A new family seeking permanent refuge for deceased loved ones is always welcome at Glenwood. We love this place and want others to discover it. In the silence of a starry, starry night it almost seems as though Glenwood reaches up to the heavens.
F. Carrington Weems, Chairman and President
Glenwood Cemetery, Inc. Page XV
Monuments and Sculpture: Early Markers
From Chapter 6 (Page 148)
Cast concrete was introduced during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and became a popular choice for curbing, steps, and lot enclosures, offering a tremendous cost savings. Granite remained popular for these uses as well. Around the turn of the century, wrought-iron and cast-iron fences and living hedges were discouraged because labor costs had risen, resulting in fewer workers and shortened work weeks. Two antique cast-iron fences remain, one of them surrounding the Weems family lot with its arched headstones for Houston attorney Wharton Ewell Weems (1889-1961) and his wife, Mathilde Booth Weems (1896-1978). Also on the lot are the small tombstones of four babies who died between 1878-1883, the first four children of Captain Benjamin Francis Weems and his wife Maria Nash Carrington Weems. Both Virginians, the couple met in Texas after the Civil War, married, and remained in Houston. Captain Weems was on the staff of Terry’s Texas Rangers [as Adjutant General to Brigadier General John Austin Wharton]. He was a grandson of Mason Locke Weems, commonly known as Parson Weems, who wrote the story of George Washington and the cherry tree.15
15. George Fuermann, Peden—1965: 75 Years and Just a Beginning (Houston: Press of Premier, 1965), 28. Most of the ironwork surrounding earlier tombs is undated and unsigned.
Some Glenwood Biographies: Business & Commerce
From Chapter 7 (Page 217)
Henry S. Fox, Sr. (1833-1912) was an early arrival in Houston and a member of the 1868 Houston Ship Channel Company, formed to dredge the bayou to a minimum depth of nine feet. Improvements made through the company included removal of the bend at the foot of Main Street, which greatly increased the capacity of the port. Fox was private banker whose ships ran the Union blockade in the cotton forwarding business during the Civil War.34 He was on the first Board of Directors of Houston’s Cotton Exchange and Board of Trade in 1874, and in 1885 chaired the Committee of Banking and Insurance, along with A. P. Root of the First National and Captain B. F. Weems of the Bank of Houston.35 Fox was founder and president of Houston’s second oldest chartered bank, the Houston National Bank, and vice president of the Glenwood board in 1892.36
34. WPA, Houston: A Complete History, 134; Johnston, Houston: Unknown City, 67.
35. WPA, Houston: A Complete History, 259; William A. Kirkland, Old Bank-New Bank: The First National Bank, Houston 1866-1956 (Houston: Pacesetter Press-Gulf Publishing, 1975), 44.
36. Record of Meetings Commencing 1904, 61-62.
The Glenwood Cemetery Association:
Four Decades of Leadership by F. Carrington Weems II
From Chapter 4 (Page 106)
In 1977, F. Carrington Weems became president of Glenwood.73 He had joined the board in 1971, a hundred years after the cemetery’s founding, and he set to work to ensure a flourishing second century. President Weems effected significant changes in structure and staffing that would help Glenwood keep pace with accepted best practices in both business and management. In 1984, Richard Ambrus became the general manager of operations at Glenwood; he became vice president in 1994 and is the executive director. Gene Norman became the investment counselor, and Allied Bank became the trustee. Dale Arnold was named superintendent in 1984, and in 1987, Julian Ramón was hired as assistant superintendent.
The combination of Ambrus’s appointment and Weems’s chairmanship led to further modernization and professionalism of the cemetery organization and its operation. This experienced leadership team put in place numerous security enhancements and development projects. The first of these projects, in 1985, was the construction of an archival vault to protect maps and irreplaceable records. At this time, heating and air conditioning were installed in the Victorian cemetery office.75
Once the space for staff and records storage was improved, landscape restoration was the next priority, including the brick entry piers, the ornamental ironwork, and the fish pond area near Washington Avenue.76 Live oak trees were planted in the entry area and along roadways in historic sections. The three-tiered bronze fountain was moved closer to Washington Avenue and placed in the pond. In 1996, the guard house folly, planned by Mary Ann and F. Carrington Weems as an entry feature, was constructed at the entrance to the cemetery.77
Between 1988 and 1990, Glenwood continued its renaissance with the development of what is now called the Valley. An area that had formerly been a wooded ravine in the eastern half of the property, between section L and East Avenue, was reclaimed and recontoured into hillside terraces platted for burial. This development of the Valley effectively united the new sections, which had heretofore been isolated, with the historic sections. The center of the Valley is adorned with the Belvedere (Figure 4.16), a white summer house, designed by the Weemses and funded by the Heitmann and Strange families.78
Figure 4.16 The section known as the Valley was developed between 1988 and 1990. A wooded ravine between Section L and East Avenue was contoured into hillside terraces, connecting the historic and newer sections of Glenwood.
Numerous other landscape beautification and architectural improvements to the property were undertaken, including eight miles of brick curbing, repaving of the streets, instigation of a tree care program that included lightning protection, and planting of more than two thousand new trees and hundreds of shrubs. A plant nursery was developed along with a maintenance area with space for equipment repair and storage. The former superintendent’s cottage was rehabilitated for new maintenance facilities. In 1989, a water well was installed, making Glenwood independent of the city water supply; the project also involved a new water plant and replacement of most of the irrigation system.79
Reserve C, a ten-acre area previously held under a spoils easement by the Harris County Flood Control District, was acquired by Glenwood in 1992 through renegotiation with the district for future burial sites near Buffalo Bayou. This was land that Glenwood had sold to the city during the rechanneling of the bayou in the 1950s.80
In 1995, the Victorian office cottage was completely renovated, enlarged, and adapted to make room for an expanded staff.81 Under consideration at this writing are additional office and storage for achieval records; restoration of the 1888 superintendent’s house on Washington Avenue for future use by a Friends of Glenwood group; construction of a chapel; and promotion of public events such as bird and horticultural walks. Today, Glenwood has some 16,800 interments, including removals from other cemeteries and cenotaphs. A historic landscape report is being considered for Glenwood’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
73. Record of Meetings Commencing 1904, 222, 255.
74. Minutes of the Board of Directors, August 29, 1984.
75. Ibid., February 6, 1985. 76. Ibid.,June 25, 1986, and August 29, 1984.
77. Ibid., June 6, 1996.
78. Ibid., June 29, 1988, June 6, 1996.
79. Ibid., March 1, 1989.
80. Ibid., 1992.
81. Ibid., March 1, 1995. Architectural work was by Kerry Gingrich and Associates; redecorating was professionally done by Mary Ann Weems; and Glenwood purchased a 162-piece set of monogrammed china from the Tejas Club for historical and decorative purposes.
The Glenwood Cemetery Association:
Consolidation, Restoration, and Preservation
From Chapter 4 (Page 108-109)
The various historical documentation projects addressed the goal of preserving the cemetery’s story for the future, but as ever, physical preservation of the cemetery’s land and landscape was a continuing challenge. To address this complex and resource consuming task, in 2002 the board of Glenwood Cemetery appointed a long-range planning committee, chaired by director Paul Gervais Bell, Jr. The group’s purpose was to consider the future of Glenwood and Washington cemeteries combined, comprising eighty-five acres, and to guide the development of land held in reserve, approximately eighteen acres.
The committee commissioned the SWA Group, landscape architects and planners, to develop a master plan to guide the cemetery’s next several decades of development. Bell shepherded the process of consultant selection and the development of the plan, which was completed in 2007. It included identification of undeveloped or underdeveloped areas that would be played for new burial sites, with the revenue from the sale of these new spaces invested to produce income to maintain the cemetery in perpetuity. To ensure that invested funds are as productive as possible, an investment committee was appointed. It has been chaired by William R. Lummis, William T. Carter IV, and Edward K. Neuhaus, with members including William Conner, Wallace S. Wilson, F. Carrington Weems II, and Richard Ambrus. Susan Garwood and Wallace Wilson co-chair the Capital Campaign Drive. In addition, Glenwood received a very substantial multi-year grant from the Huffington Bicentennial Endowment Fund Foundation. During the Weems presidency, the endowment of Glenwood Cemetery has risen from $2.7 million to $15 million.
Construction of two projects proposed in the SWA master plan began in late 2007. The Stream Garden section near the Kane Street gates consists of approximately 1.5 acres, some of which is reclaimed land previously lost to erosion along a gully in the northern part of the cemetery. Erosion in this area has been halted through the project funded by the Glenwood Cemetery Historic Preservation Foundation; the second phase of this project includes protection of land along the gully to the west of the Stream Garden. Another two-acre erosion control project near Washington Avenue is designed to reclaim land along the gullies on East Avenue as an extension to the Stream Garden. On the western borderline between Glenwood and Washington Cemetery, 1.5 acres of a five-acre parcel are being developed as Oakdale West, an extension to the existing Oakdale section.
Because the level of activity and interest in Glenwood began to increase with the addition of new projects involving Glenwood’s history and preservation, the staff began to grow over time. In 2008, there were seven office staff and a landscape crew of fifteen. In addition, two skilled part-time stonemasons were employed by the cemetery to stabilize and restore historic monuments and gravesites.83
Carl W. Schumacher Jr., the longest serving member of Glenwood’s Board of Directors other than President Weems, noted in a recent tribute that Weems had worked tirelessly for decades to secure a strong future for the cemetery and to steer it through some of the most significant changes in its history: “Carrington Weems and the team of Glenwood officers and directors that he has carefully assembled have successfully looked both forward with imagination and backward with respect and admiration, striving to make Glenwood a cemetery that its founders would recognize today and that the residents of Houston will always be grateful and proud to have in their city.”84
83. Staff in 2008 consisted of Richard Ambrus, executive director; Martha Peterson, projects coordinator; Kathy Fanchi, accountant; Loy Anderson and Mary Ann Thompson, administrative assistants; Bonnie Ambrus, landscape supervisor; and Jeff Ambrus, foreman. Vandalism led to security personnel being added during the 1990s.
84. Carl W. Schumacher, tribute to F. Carrington Weems, Glenwood Archives.
F. Carrington Weems II for Glenwood Cemetery
Vice President, 1976-1977
Chairman, Board of Trustees, Historic Preservation Foundation,