Oakwood Cemetery, founded in 1859, sprawls across 160 acres and edges along the back of SUNY ESF. From I-81 you can see the original entrance, standing out like castle gates covered in graffiti. It is these sacred acres that the Historic Oakwood Cemetery Preservation Association (HOCPA) has been committed to protecting since forming as a nonprofit in 1991. This month the group launched an official website.
Paul Harvey, an area resident who has long been involved with the organization and other local initiatives, champions the work HOCPA has been doing as the best kept secret around.
“The problem is we’ve been having so much fun doing things, but we haven’t always used pragmatic planning in what we’re doing,” Harvey said. “HOCPA has needed some kind of focus and they’re getting it now.”
Harvey feels the website will provide just that and hopes to see it begin to unify the community through awareness and engagement with the cemetery and HOCPA’s efforts. Many events, some organized and led by Harvey, are missed out on by locals due to lack of promotion. The website will now be able to publish all events and initiatives on its public calendar.
Executive director at Sarah’s Guest House and owner of the popular @SyracuseHistory Instagram, David Haas, joined the board about a year and half ago and has been the driving force for the website creation. He saw the need to add diversity to HOCPA and make it easier for people to become involved with their events and projects. Haas had felt frustration in the past trying to get connected with HOCPA and hearing that others didn’t know how to either.
“We heard from a lot of people who asked ‘how do I get involved?’” Haas said. “This website was an answer to those questions.”
Local design firm Arboxy was hired to create the site. The small firm of six had created the website for Sarah’s Guest House, and Haas felt they were a match. They evaluated and examined who HOCPA was, its mission and values and the historic cemetery it works to preserve, protect and promote.
Aboxy’s senior designer, Corin Zimmer, approached the project with excitement and enjoyed working with the HOCPA team. Appreciating their dedication to the cemetery, he wanted to showcase the value they bring to Oakwood and the wider community to the public knowledge.
“We aimed to portray HOCPA’s rich history and professionalism using a modern and intuitive design. Understandably, the cemetery is a historic location full of unique stories, and we didn’t want to take anything away from that,” Zimmer said. “The best part is all the beautiful imagery HOCPA was able to provide to fuel the site.”
Visitors to the page can browse maps of the grounds, see photos of the Silsbee Chapel, learn about the current rehabilitation process and access past HOCPA newsletters. There is also the ability to make online contributions as a sponsor. Each donation level is linked to a historic figure in Oakwood, like Lillian Oakwood Gardner, daughter of the first superintendent of the cemetery ($10) to Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, wife of a Wall Street tycoon ($100.)
Beneath these names is a statement from HOCPA, a quiet yet strong summation of its goals and hopes.
“We have an amazing outdoor museum that we wish to share with those that don’t realize what is in our midst.”
— Article by Sarah Tietje-Mietz, Staff Reporter