Poland’s Riverside Cemetery

The story of the Riverside Cemetery is really the story of two brothers, Cook Fitch and Charles Newton Kirtland or “Newt” as everyone called him. They were the sons of Henry Kirtland and grandsons of Turhand Kirtland, the founder of the Village of Poland. Both were gentlemen farmers owning large tracts of land to the south of the Village. Their story begins on a cold December Friday in 1864 when the brothers were in Leslie’s Grocery store at the corner of College Street and South Main Street, standing in front of the pot-belly stove, and waiting for the stagecoach to deliver the weekly newspapers from Pittsburgh. Every Friday a group of prominent professional men from the community would gather at the grocery store to read the latest news and discuss the events of the past week. This group included Dr. Joseph Truesdale, the local physician, Daniel May, the owner of the local drug store and brother-in-law of William McKinley, and of course, John Leslie, the owner of the store, who never failed to enter into the conversations even while serving his customer.

This particular day Newt brought up the subject of the Civil War. For the past four years he had been following the movements of Union army and corresponding with many of the local soldiers at the battlefront. He thoughtfully said, “I think the War is going to end very soon. Wouldn’t be nice if Poland could erect a monument in memory of its soldiers who have been killed or have died in the Confederate prison camps?” Dr. Truesdale was the first to reply, “I have 3 acres of property on the other side of Yellow Creek that would make a lovely spot to erect a monument.” Daniel May was quick to respond, “And we could use the extra land around the monument for grave sites for any needy veteran to be buried. This would show our gratitude for their military service.”

All the men in the store agreed that Poland should honor the returning veterans in some way and since the other cemeteries in the area were almost full, this would be a good time to start another. That same evening Cook Kirtland sat down and penned a letter to his good friend, Governor David Tod in Columbus, requesting a State permit for a cemetery in the Village of Poland. Early in January a State permit arrived and notices were immediately posted throughout the Village announcing the formation of a Cemetery Association to be operated by a Board of Trustees. At the first meeting, which was Saturday, January 14th 1865, Andrew Campbell was elected president of the Board and Cook Kirtland appointed as superintendent. Over the next few meetings, rules and regulations were written and John MacKey, a 36 year old surveyor from Canfield, was hired to establish the location of the monument and stake out the graves. By July 1865 the Riverside Cemetery was in business with roads, grave sites, and perimeter fencing.

For the next twenty years the two Kirtland brothers planned for the monument. They were the ones who donated a large portion of the cost of sculpturing and erecting of the life-size statue of a Civil War veteran grieving over the graves of his fallen comrades. At the dedication ceremonies of this war monument in 1887 Cook Kirtland introduced William McKinley, then an Ohio State Senator, who later became President of the United States. Cook Kirtland died in 1896 at the age of 70. He had spent 32 years of his life as cemetery superintendent and finally as president of the Poland Cemetery Association. Newt Kirtland replaced his brother as president of the Board of Trustees and served until his death in 1901. He was followed by his nephew, Dr. Carson. R. Justice. This good doctor was a member of the Cemetery Board from 1886 until his death 45 years later. This story is only one of many that are found in the cemetery.