A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

History: Vandalism and Rose Hill Cemetery, 1974

Matawan Memories, by Genevieve Donnell

Vandalism threatens historic Rose Hill cemetery

If one could turn back the pages of time to 1905—give or take a few years—a walk out Ravine Drive would be a pleasant experience.

The narrow dirt road curved between fields of daisies and buttercups and was boarded on each side by tall, stately cedar trees. After crossing the small bridge over the winding creek, the road curved left around a hill. Here a small stream at the bottom of a cool green glen, trickled down to the creek. Creamy dogwood blossoms, honeysuckle and deep purple violets added to the beauty of this quiet spot.

Several fields were used for pasturing cows, so hit-or-miss rail fences were built to keep the cud-chewing bosses from straying.

A beautiful house called the Hankinson Farm overlooked the creek and bridge at about the spot where Washington Street ends. A path curved up the hill, bordered by honeysuckle and wild roses. Tall locust tree blossoms mingled their fragrance with the sweetness of the honeysuckle.

As I recall, there were only six or seven small houses on the stretch of road up to the cemetery. And the cemetery is my main topic today.

The land was owned by the Fountain family, and about 1853 they established it as a cemetery. Because many wild roses grew there, I assume they felt the name "Rose Hill" was appropriate. The area has very little flat space except the part that borders the small pond. The hill rises gradually to a flat area where one can see the Raritan Bay and Staten Island in the distance.

In the early 1900's, the pond was a picturesque spot adorned with waxy white water lillies, and occasionally a frog sitting on a green lily pad. In the early spring, one of our pet pastimes was catching a jar-full of pollywogs and keeping them until they graduated into full-grown frogs. The sloping sides of the hill were covered with blue wood violets and brilliant sand pinks, and large evergreen trees crowned the top. The roads, built for horse and buggy traffic, wound around the hill and were shaded by oak and horse chestnut trees.

The plots of ground where loved ones rest were always kept in perfect order, and if one could not forget the sadness which made this place necessary, the beauty of the shrubs, green grass, and flowers helped ease the heartache.

Most of the Fountain family have gradually taken up their abode here, so now the cemetery is in charge of a voluntary commission. The owners of the plots either pay the sexton or have paid for perpetual care, and we call this group Friends of Rose Hill Cemetery. The commission has five members and all plot owners are considered stockholders in this non-profit organization.

Unfortunately, the interest derived from perpetual care does not cover the expenditures. The roads must be maintained, retaining walls built to avoid erosion, and too many families have no survivors to take care of the brush and weed growth. The once beautiful spot needs much  attention. However, the worst problem we have today is vandalism. People who have no respect for memorial gardens have toppled monuments, tipped over and often broken markers, and strewn debris all over. Vandalism is no respecter of persons living or dead.

I appeal to the public to help us by reporting any misdemeanor or suspicion of vandalism to the police.

The commission has asked for contributions to carry on the clean-up and repair program as well as volunteers to assist manually. We hope the citizens of the area will come forward and give us a hand in restoring this historical spot to its former beauty.

For more than 100 years Rose Hill has been a hallowed spot to those whose loved ones lie there. Respect for their memory could be shown by creating beauty there instead of destroying it.

Source: The Independent, 30 January 1974, page 4

Note 1: Rose Hill Cemetery's name derives from a family named Rose, not the flower, according to Helen Henderson in her book, Matawan and Aberdeen: (Of Town and Field).

Note 2: This link is my first to the Matawan Aberdeen Public Library's new collection of uploaded articles from The Independent. The online search engine provided the wrong date (3 January 1974) in its search results. After I clicked on the link, the correct date and page appeared in the online database frame but the database didn't produce an image of the page. (The next article I tried also produced a blank page, although the dates matched.) I was able to bring up the newspaper image by clicking back to page 3 and returning to page 4 using the database's control arrows. Some sort of fix is needed.


  1. My Grandmother is the author of this article. She found her passion of writing late in her life, and she published quite a few articles for the Independent before she passed away. To bad she didn't write earlier in life. She truly could tell good stories about our beloved Matawan.

    1. I knew your grandmother when I was a child and spent summers with my grandmother and aunts. We visited Mrs. Donnell's shop every summer. I still have beautiful dolls and lovely gifts. Our families were friends. So glad to read her article. I would love to read more. It was many, many years ago since I was in Matawan. I was fortunate to have met your grandmother and to have found this beautiful note about Rose Hill. isarledge@yahoo.com

    2. i knew your grandmother when i was a child visiting my grand mother and aunts. our grandmothers were friends. i visited mrs. donnell"s shop every summer and still have beautiful dolls, glassware and figurines. so glad to read her article. i would love to read more. i have wonderful memories from my summers in matawan.

    3. Bill, thank you for posting this. I also knew your Grandmother. I was fairly young when she had her shop on Main Street and my Mom took me there to meet her and get instructions in oil painting. "Mrs. Donnell" was a kind and gentle woman that loved to share. She observed that I mixed some very strange colors while painting and guessed correctly that I was color blind. My Mom still has a small still life painting that I did and I'm sure the colors are very different from the real scenery.