Mary Clark Thompson's Hidden Treasure
Mary Clark Thompson had a vision, not unlike many that she had before. It was a vision to give back, not to the community at large, but to the final resting grounds of her family and someday, to her.
In 1909, through the generosity of Ms. Thompson, a beautiful chapel was erected in Woodlawn Cemetery under the supervision of Engineer John Handrahan and designed by eminent Boston architect, Francis R. Allen.
The chapel, with an artistic modern cut stone bridge, was constructed from native material such as limestone from the Bacon quarries near Canandaigua and the trimmings of Medina sandstone. The chapel was dedicated on Saturday, October 1st, 1910.
A provision in the last Will of Matilda Burgher of Canandaigua provided for the pipe organ that was specifically made for the Woodlawn Cemetery chapel. It is a manual, 8-register organ and one of 30 organs built by the Hook & Hastings Co. in 1910. It is the last in a series of four organs built for churches in Canandaigua. It was one of the 2,614 organs built by the company from 1829 to 1935.
The chapel remained fully functional for well over five decades until usage declined, perhaps due to the growing popularity of funeral homes or the rise in maintenance costs. The doors were closed to public use, the heat turned off, and the deterioration began. The use was minimized to, and is still utilized, for a storage receiving vault for burials that can not be performed due to inclement weather.
Over the years the moisture and lack of care and maintenance began to show. The layers of dirt and grime began to cover the once brilliant white marble stage and ceramic tile floor. The moisture took control over the plaster walls toppling them to the floor. The once immaculate woodworking along the walls, pews, and hand-carved podiums became stained, cracked, and weathered. The colorful stained glass windows, that were imported from England, lost their shine but not their character. Like a slowly sinking ship, the chapel took a massive blow from a falling oak tree damaging a major portion of the, seemingly indestructible, slate roof. With minor repairs the chapel sat, quietly, unnoticed, for decades.
When a new architectural-style shingle roof was put on in place of the slate, it seemed that the chapel would revive itself to the days of ole. But instead, it sat for several more years, entered only for storage purposes.
It wasn’t until the last few years when it became more and more evident of the hidden treasure that is not only a historical part of Woodlawn Cemetery, but to the community as well. Currently a committee composed of cemetery Board of Trustee members is evaluating the need, cost, importance, and means to restoring this secluded unyielding structure. With the upcoming centennial of the chapel, positive efforts continue to move forward to restoration and revitalization. It is comforting to know that Ms. Thompson recognized the beauty and tranquility of Woodlawn Cemetery enough to call it her eternal home, with her final resting place only a few feet from the chapel that she provided.
The cemetery welcomes the views and opinions of the community on the viability of restoring the beautiful, historic chapel and to reopen it for use to the public as initially intended. All written comments and suggestions should be sent to: Woodlawn Cemetery, 130 North Pearl Street, Canandaigua, NY 14424.