Created By: North Dakota State University
Established in 1879, Riverside Cemetery is Fargo’s oldest, and largest, cemetery with over 18,000 citizens of the dead.
In 1880 Fargo’s sprawl only reached as far south as Roberts Street (now Seventh Avenue), putting the cemetery a mile and a half outside of town. Why the long trek?
Before 1830 cemeteries like this one were non-existent. The dead were generally buried near the town chapel or in the town commons (places like Island Park) but those locations were filling. Coffins were sometimes stacked six deep causing tremendous issues during floods, when the earth would crumble away or sink. As well, cholera and yellow fever outbreaks in the larger cities in America had led to bodies waiting to be buried and the fear that disease would spread from the deceased to the living. Luckily, by the time folks were settling the Fargo Township, rural cemeteries were the well-established norm, and Island Park, since its establishment as such by European settlers, has never used as a burial ground.
In the early days of Riverside, most funerals were still taking place in the home, but the chapel on the grounds was used as well. A horse drawn carriage would have carried the decedent to the east side of the building to offloaded for services in the main chapel. That chapel, now restored, is the brick building at the center of the grounds. It is used for administrative offices and contains a cremation unit.
Riverside's first burial was Mrs. Climena Lowell, interred in 1878, over a year before the cemetery was surveyed for the purpose of a burial ground. Later, as the cemetery lands grew and land was bought and sold, Mrs. Lowell's husband, Jacob, and son, Jacob Jr., would own block 13, the section she's buried in, while the rest of the acres would go to Louis B. Hanna, who you'll learn about later.
In 1903, to secure the title of Riverside Cemtery, the graveyard association was formed with a president, secretary, treasurer, and board of directors. Hanna, treasurer, sold his portions to the association and they continued buying land to add to the booming business of death. 260 red cedars were planted in 1903, 6 acres was purchased to become the superintendent's residence, and crops had to be dug up and removed at a cost to allow the cemetery's expansion.
Park Addition was made in 1906, the mortuary and reception vault were built in 1909, the mausoleum was built in 1920, and a horse-drawn lawnmower was purchased in 1920, as well.
A recent interview with Riverside Cemetery employees revealed that early records, like the "field notes" seen here are hard to read and that over time, as Riverside expanded and became bordered by I-94, a few of Fargo's decedents may still be buried in Lindenwood Park.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Walk with the Dead: Fargo's Riverside Cemetery