Bradford's Old Cemeteries

Littleton, Oak Hill, and St. Bernard's

People are always fascinated about tombstones, graveyards, and epitaphs, and Bradford has its share of interesting "abodes of the dead". The oldest Bradford cemeteries are the Littleton Cemetery (also known as the Old Bradford Cemetery, or the Kennedy Street Cemetery), The Oak Hill Cemetery, and St. Bernard's Catholic Cemetery.

The first cemetery in Bradford began around 1833, when 3 acres were donated to the early settlers in this area. Eventually, it would become known as the Littleton Burial Ground (as Bradford was called prior to 1854). This was a free burial ground, and was located on what is now known as Hanley Park. The cemetery remained in effect until the end of the 19th century, when it was decided to close the cemetery and forbid the burying of any more bodies due to overcrowding and health concerns. An editorial in November of 1881 stated the problem: "It was a typical village burying ground, where rich and poor were laid away together, and the only distinguishing marks between the mounds that covered them were the more ambitious efforts of the country stone cutter at the graves of the well-to-do. When the railroad (note: The Erie Railroad) was laid out, it encroached upon the northern side of the cemetery, which now contains less than two acres. Within this confined area about 500 burials have taken place, and the space is about exhausted."

The editorial goes on to state that Bradford needs a "City of the Dead" worthy of the name, "--a place where sorrowing relatives could have the melancholy satisfaction of interring the ashes of their loved ones in a family plot which could be beautified by the sight of a large field so thickly studded with unmarked graves that they touched each other".

The cemetery was closed to further burials, and the transfer of the bodies began in 1885.

All the bodies that could be located were taken to Oak Hill Cemetery, and re-interred.

The land itself lay vacant for nearly 20 years, until 1918, when it was decided to purchase the lot from the Erie Railroad, and construct a park. It was not until October 30, 1924 that the Railroad accepted the offer for the property. William Hanley, a well known oil producer and contractor (he built City Hall in 1898) donated the necessary $4,000. Eventually, a playground was built, and today this area, a former "abode of the dead", is well known as Hanley Park.

One of the largest cemeteries in the city is Oak Hill. It was organized in 1883 by Phillip Webster, a local entrepreneur and undertaker. Located on the old Lincoln farm, on the mountain side, just east of Main Street, it commanded a beautiful view of the city as it stretched along the Tuna Valley. In 1885, Webster admitted his son, Frank, as a partner, and eight more acres of land were purchased from the Raub farm on the western side of the city, making 17 acres in all. The Bradford Era stated: "the easy, gradual slope renders the ground very desirable for the purpose intended. It will never again be sought after by the oil man, as the sand rock has yielded up its treasure, the fences will always be in good repair, the ground kept free from weeds and brambles, and adorned with shrubbery, hedges, and flowers." Webster planted 500 evergreen and silver maple trees on the grounds. By 1896, nearly 1900 people were buried there. A special Civil War soldiers' plot was added in 1907, and a special Firemen's plot was added in 1909 during Old Home Week. Today, over a hundred and twenty years later, there are more than 16,000 people buried there.

The second cemetery to be established in Bradford was St. Bernard's Cemetery, located on West Washington Street. In 1880, Rev. Father William Coonan pointed out the necessity of a Catholic burial ground to the growing congregation. Like Phillip Webster, Coonan realized that the Littleton Cemetery was rapidly filling up, and that it would likely be closed soon to further interments. Consequently, ten acres of land were bought from the Brown farm, just beyond the old Wagner Homestead. (The Wagner Family Cemetery is located just down the road from St. Bernard's Cemetery.) Smooth pasture land, it was obtained for $750. On November 26, 1881 The Bradford Era wrote: "the general design embraces a roadway leading to the highest point in the enclosure by graceful curves and leading from it are pathways winding to every point--it is the intention to expend a reasonable sum in beautifying the place, which is very well situated, with pleasing surroundings--people may be permitted to visit, when they will, the resting place of those they hold dear, with the sweet, though sad recollections, which tend to soften nature's inured by contact with the bustling world".

Bradford's cemeteries are a part of the history of the town, and will inevitably remain so, until as the inscription above the mausoleum states, "Until the day breaks, and the shadows flee away".

The Bradford Landmark Society has a listing of 170 people who were interred in the Bradford Cemetery. We compiled these from the old BRADFORD ERAS. It is the only list identifying those buried there.