Forest Hill was founded in 1848, by a group of civic-minded citizens to provide a greatly wanted need for the growing city of the day. The old “burying ground on Water Street was already over-crowded, and it was desirable to make provision for the future. A meeting of citizens was held at the office of Thomas R. Walker at which Judge William J. Bacon presided. And it was determined to form an association for the purpose of establishing a cemetery which should be called the Utica Cemetery Association.
At a subsequent meeting, the following trustees were elected:
Edmund A Wetmore - President
William Tracy - Vice President
M.M. Bagg - Secretary
Silas D. Childs
William J. Bacon
Elisha M. Gilbert
J. Watson Williams
Thomas R. Walker
Julius A. Spencer
A New York civil engineer, Mr. Almerin Hotchkiss, was employed to lay out and develop the grounds, which he did with “rare artistic sense”. Hotchkiss also designed the famed cemetery Bellefontaine Cemetery, in St. Louis MO and was the architect for the town of Lake Forest, IL. He is known for mapping out long winding roads and adapting the roads to nature. Hotchkiss would wind roads around trees rather than cutting them down.
When the plans were complete, it was necessary to fell many trees and grub up their roots to provide space for roadways and plots. A simple lodge was erected for the keeper, with a tower in which was placed a bell purchased from Greenwood Cemetery to summon workmen to and from their labors and to toll at funerals. A receiving tomb was cut into the abrupt northern front of the hill.
Another project of the first year was to obtain and transport to the grounds the Sacred Stone of the Oneida Nation of Indians when the Indian reservation was removed to Wisconsin. The approval of Oneidas was secured and the stone was transported to Forest Hill and placed near the entrance and on the west side of a small pond which held waters which flowed down the hillside.
The stone was a sort of altar or council stone about which all the nations or tribes of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy were wont to gather of old and to hold councils or sacred ties and was supposed to follow them wherever they went. The Oneida Indians were named after this stone; for Oneida in their language means “Keeper of the Stone.”
In June 1850 was held the formal opening of the cemetery. It was an important occasion in the life of the small but thriving city. An elaborate parade was held and there was a formal opening with elaborate exercises attended by a vast throng of people from the city and the surrounding countryside.
Among the visitors were about 200 Oneida and Onondaga Indians who came to bid farewell to their sacred stone and to approve its new resting place. After prayers had been offered and hymns sung, an address was delivered by William Tracy. This was followed by brief speeches from the Chief Sachems of the Oneida and Onondagas.
In 1857, A.G. Howard, a “florist of acknowledged taste and skill” was appointed as superintendent. He recommended erecting a receiving tomb and a chapel was completed in 1863. in 1865, an adjoining farm of 65 acres was purchased and added to the cemetery.
On June 17, 1875, the bodies of two distinguished officers of the Revolution were moved from the old cemetery on Water Street to Forest Hill. These were the remains of Col. Benjamin Walker, Aide-de-camp to Baron von Steuben and, Later, to General Washington; and of Dr. John Cochrane, Surgeon-general of the Continental Army.
Many other historical facts surround Forest Hill and is the final resting place for many distinguished Americans. And to the citizens of Utica….”it has attractions more inherent and prevailing, relations that are heartfelt, constant and abiding; to them it is the resting place of their beloved ones, the spot where their own bodies may one day repose”...M.M. Bagg.