Storied Past, Spirited Future

Krista Connor

Krista Connor

, Community

The Eternal Rest 5K Run/Walk aims to keep the Wilmington & Brandywine Cemetery alive

The Wilmington & Brandywine Cemetery, at 701 Delaware Ave., was perhaps ahead of its time almost 200 years ago for more than one reason. Founded in 1843 by prominent Delawarean Sam Wollaston, the Wilmington & Brandywine became one of Delaware’s first non-sectarian cemeteries, allowing the burial of anyone, regardless of religious affiliation. It’s also one of the state’s oldest, most historic cemeteries.

In the mid-19th century, like many other cities established in earlier times, when burial grounds were situated next to churches, Wilmington found itself short of space for graves. So Wollaston decided to create a cemetery on 10 acres just outside Wilmington (the cemetery has been expanded to 25 acres over time).

His tract lay along Kennett Turnpike (Delaware Avenue) where it met the Old King’s Highway (Adams Street). Wollaston invited several leading citizens to invest in his venture, which turned out to be a lasting success.

The founders incorporated the cemetery in 1845 and engaged engineer George Read Riddle to divide the plots and lay out curving paths and hillside terraces. His design included an elegant entrance road and gently sweeping side avenues named for trees and famous Americans.

It’s the resting place of some of Delaware’s—and the country’s —historic figures, particularly of the military variety. Among the 21,000 eternal residents are Maj. Gen. Thomas A. Smyth, the last Union general to be killed in the Civil War, along with Dr. James Tilton, a Revolutionary War hero, member of the Continental Congress and surgeon general of the U.S. Army in the War of 1812, and Commodore Jacob Jones, a hero of the War of 1812. Wilmington’s first mayor, Richard H. Bayard, is also buried there.

At one point, the cemetery even became a favorite location for a Sunday stroll for wealthy city residents. Board President Cory Porter says the tradition was probably a lot less morbid than it sounds: “I think the number of prominent families interred there as well as the sheer beauty of the property was the main reason” for the afternoon ambles.

Even today the living are drawn to the location, which has been host to the Eternal Rest 5K Run/Walk for the past three years.

“The 5K really stemmed from a good idea on raising money for the perpetual care of the cemetery, as well as raising awareness of the historical significance of the cemetery,” says Porter.

The fourth annual event will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14. The idea came from runner and cemetery up-keep volunteer Cathy Haslinsky, who notes the importance of fundraising. “The gates are opened daily and people are welcome to enjoy the beautiful historic cemetery,” Haslinsky says.

The 5k starts on Jefferson Street in front of the Roxana Canon Arsht Surgicenter. Part of the race takes participants into the cemetery, then through Brandywine Park, with a finish line in the lower section of the cemetery. Participants then walk or run uphill through the cemetery and back to the Surgicenter parking lot for an after party that includes El Diablo burritos, craft beer, wine and soda.

Through corporate sponsorships and race fees, the 5k committee and cemetery board members have raised more than $77,000 for cemetery maintenance the last three years.

Pre-register for the race at delawaretiming.com. Fees are $25 in advance or $30 at the race. Day-of registration begins at 3 p.m. Participants are encouraged to wear Halloween costumes.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.