Helena’s Historic Cemeteries: Home of Peace Cemetery (1867)

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As discussed at several places in this blog, I have given careful consideration to the historic cemeteries of Montana in the fieldwork of 2012-2016.  When the initial survey for the state historic preservation plan took place in 1984 to 1985, cemeteries rarely registered with anyone–the professionals were not looking that way nor were communities.  That is no longer the case in historic preservation–cemeteries are an increasing area of interest.

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Home of Peace was established in 1867 and the cast iron fence around its boundaries dates to that time.  The earliest identified grave marker is 1873 but the Hebrew Benevolent Society (or Association), which established the cemetery originally, believes that Home of Peace includes burials from the 1860s.  The beautiful arched gateway to the cemetery dates c. 1910, the same time that the cottonwoods were planted and most of the existing ornamental plants in the cemetery were added.  Most of the burials are arranged in family groups, outlined by low stone or concrete walls.  Some are individuals, or couples.  A few are non-Jewish since at one time the association, which still owns the cemetery, allowed for their burials.

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IMG_4309The date of most markers are from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.  Mostly made of granite and sandstone, with some marble as well, the grave markers reflect Victorian styles and Classical influences.  Herman Gans’ marker from 1901, seen below, is a mixture of both.

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The cemetery contains several veterans markers in the standardized tablet design provided by the War Department and later the Veterans Administration. The grouping in the forefront, below, identifies two veterans from the Spanish-American War of 1898.

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In the mid-1970s the association transferred some of its land for the construction of Capitol High School, which now almost surrounds the cemetery, which had once stood faraway from the center of Helena’s population.

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IMG_4312The looming presence of the school grounds is a worry for future preservation of the cemetery–could it be possibly overlooked, ignored, and abandoned?   One online resource about the cemetery remarks that there are more Jews buried in the cemetery than live in Helena today.  But this sacred place is a powerful reminder of the contributions of the Jewish community to Helena’s growth and permanence.  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the cemetery should be valued as one of the city’s oldest and most significant historic properties.

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