Before municipal parks dotted the Hudson Valley, Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York, was designed to serve as both a place of solitude for the dead and serenity for the living. This National Historic Landmark was built in 1848 as a final resting place for local wealthy dignitaries among its sprawling hills and valleys. But architects designed the landscape so mourners could enjoy the lavish grounds, as well. It is one of the largest examples of the rural cemetery movement in the U.S., incorporating innovative botanical surroundings as opposed to the static rows of gravestones often found in church yards. The concept later spurred the development of large-scale public parks, including Central Park in New York City.
Oakwood Cemetery is a 280-acre scenic terrain boasting more than 60,000 gravesites. This serene setting invites visitors to wander about its historical chapels and monuments nestled throughout its winding roads and wooded trails. The sanctuary provides a perfect setting for strolls and picnics by the graveside. Signs noting significant points of interest are scattered about so visitors can learn more about its rich and unique heritage.
Mausoleums, burial vaults and monuments celebrate many prominent historic figures. Gravesites for the founders of Troy and several congressmen that served the area can be found at Oakwood Cemetery. Civil War Union Army and Korean War heroes are honored with various plots and plaques. And several leading educators are buried there as well, including Emma Willard, a pioneer of women’s education.
But perhaps, the most notable historical figure buried at Oakwood Cemetery is Samuel Wilson, best known as “Uncle Sam.” Wilson was a meat packer that supplied the U.S. Army with meat during the War of 1812. He stamped each shipment with “US,” which would later earn him the famed nickname “Uncle Sam.” The U.S. Congress later adopted a resolution on September 15, 1961 to officially honor the American folk figure: “Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives that the Congress salutes Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.”
Admission to Oakwood Cemetery is free. Maps are available on site. Check its website for hours of operation. You can also peruse a list of noteworthy persons buried there. The cemetery hosts several events and tours of the buildings and grounds and offers a Facebook page highlighting interesting facts for history buffs and fans.