|The rural cemetery movement began in America in 1835 with the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston.
The movement came to
Syracuse in 1859 with establishment of the Oakwood Cemetery in, what was
at that time, farm land beyond the city proper.
Because these cemeteries
had to accommodate services, crematory functions and the storage of
remains during frozen conditions, they required the creation of a new
building type: the mortuary chapel.
|The Oakwood mortuary chapel and receiving vault was
designed by J. L. Silsbee Construction and completed by
contractor William Dickison in 1879. It was constructed in a gothic style
using Onondaga limestone. There is a large porte cochere over the entry
and large ornamented chimneys marking the location of the crematorium at
the rear of the chapel. The interior
is marked with timber-work framing and wooden ceilings. The receiving
vault, with 200 cells for remains storage, is located in the basement.
Though there have been efforts to preserve
the structure, the chapel is in a severely deteriorated condition. Some
stone repair and a new asphalt shingle roof indicate that the building has
been cared for. The
original slate and tile roof as well as original windows have been removed
and the structure has suffered through years of exposure to the elements.
The Oakwood Mortuary Chapel is one of the earliest surviving examples
of this unique building type, and one of the few surviving examples of
Silsbee's religious architecture. But it isn't Silsbee's only mortuary chapel. In
1899, Silsbee was asked by the wife of friend Horation N. May to design a
mortuary chapel as a tribute to her husband at Rosehill Cemetery in
Chicago. This exuberantly detailed building still stands and its plan is
almost identical to that of the Oakwood Chapel.