Unlike most written histories, cemeteries and graveyards provide a visual record of our lives, while representing the one commonality of us all. Lake Forest Cemetery is a beautiful site that can provide a unique glimpse back in time. It is a record of the social, genealogical, and cultural histories of our community.
Rix Robinson, recorder of the original plat of the Village of Grand Haven on April 14, 1834, designated a plot of land “away out in the woods,” now Central Park, as the Washington Street Cemetery. It is believed that the first funeral there was held in 1837, the same year that Michigan entered statehood. Twenty years later, the village had grown and a courthouse had been constructed across the street. Growing concern as to the “dead and the living being in too close proximity for our ideas of comfort” led to the city council’s 1867 recommendation to purchase 80 acres of land on both the north and south sides of Lake Avenue for cemetery and park purposes. However, voters rejected a $1600 bond issue.
Eventually, the city fathers decided to dip into the public health budget and purchased the south 40 acres from Galen and Mary Eastman in December of 1872. Edward P. Ferry, son of pioneer Rev. William Ferry, deeded the Washington Street Cemetery to the city in 1867 for park purposes. The deed included the provision that his family, as well as their friends and relatives (the White, Ferry, Eastman, and Gilbert families), would have until March 4, 1884 to relocate the remains of their loved ones to the new cemetery. In 1883, the city council passed a resolution requiring the removal of all bodies from the old cemetery. Many families, however, delayed the messy task of exhuming their loved one’s remains for as long as possible. In order to expedite the process, an anxious city council passed a resolution in 1886 offering free burial space in the new cemetery.
Since then, the cemetery board of Grand Haven has improved the site with an office building, paved roads, and a Babyland section. Construction began on Lee Chapel in 1966. The chapel, which held its first service on January 14, 1967, was dedicated to the memory of James L. Lee, a soldier killed in action during WWII. More recent expansions have included a natural area and a scatter garden.
The current size of the cemetery is approximately 70 acres containing over 25,000 graves. Its well-kept grounds and beautiful location signify a deep appreciation for the memories of our loved ones who have gone before us, and help preserve tangible evidence of their legacies for those who remain.