The overall shot of the Mausoleum was taken in the spring of 2010. I’m using it here to show the whole building. When I visited the cemetery on March 8th of this year, I concentrated on close ups of the architecture.
One of the post prominent Mausoleums is the Dexter Mausoleum located in section 20 of Spring Grove Cemetery is a private, family mausoleum, often mistaken for one of Spring Grove’s three chapels. Dexter was a English immigrant – a “whiskey baron.” His mausoleum was intended to resemble a Gothic Revival “funerary monument.” Designed in 1869, it boasts the only two symmetrical buttresses in Cincinnati. It is registered as a historical landmark.
Cincinnati’s Dexter family kept renowned Cincinnati architect James Keys Wilson pretty much tied to his drawing table in the late 1860s.
Following the death of patriarch Edmund Dexter and the end of the Civil War, Wilson designed and built the estate home of eldest son Charles Dexter and also created this magnificent Gothic Revival monument for the family.
Wilson’s design is said to have been inspired by the famous Parisian church, Sainte-Chapelle. Its flying buttresses and pure size make the mausoleum unique and a popular subject for photographers, even though time has stained its sandstone and stolen its spire.
Inside its locked lower level are 12 marble catacombs where four generations of Dexters reside. Behind the locked door to the top level is a marble-lined chapel that is 12 feet wide, 30 feet long and 34 feet high.
Gates and locks make it impossible to see inside the Dexter mausoleum today. But for one day when it was brand new in 1870, buggy-riding Cincinnatians swarmed the cemetery to do just that, according to a report in The Cincinnati Enquirer.
The scene was described in the The Enquirer the day after the family opened the catacombs and chapel for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to tour Dexter mausoleum.
Cemetery records show the mausoleum’s “owner” to be “E. Dexter’s heirs,” which initially were liquor baron Edmund’s wife Mary Ann, and five sons: Charles, Edmund Jr., George, Julius and Adolphus.
The senior Edmund, an Englishman who was a highly successful downtown Cincinnati liquor distributor, died at the age of 61 in 1862. It’s not known where he was buried initially, but his body was the first to be interred in the mausoleum in 1870.
Second son Edmund Jr. likely ran the family business, Edmund Dexter & Sons, with some help early on from his Cincinnati brothers. Charles was an East Walnut Hills gentleman-father, and Julius was a businessman, politician and socialite.
George was a lawyer in Cambridge, Mass., and Adolphus was a Naval Academy graduate and Civil War veteran living outside of New York.
The $100,000 cost to build their family mausoleum equals about $1.7 million in today’s money. Each son would have had the means to build it given that they likely inherited the same “liberal fortune” that a newspaper said fourth son Julius received.
But somehow the Dexter mausoleum was never finished by builder Joseph Foster. Unknown financial issues left it without its planned stained glass windows and a manual elevator that was to reach down into the catacombs.
Some of Edmund Sr.’s inheritance trickled down through the family and was dedicated to maintaining the mausoleum through the first quarter of the 20th century. But Spring Grove Cemetery historian Phil Nuxhall said records never mention the name Dexter after this ominous Oct. 9, 1924, board of directors minutes entry:
“The request of Mrs. Alice Dexter Walker (Charles’ daughter) that the question of razing the latter structure (Dexter mausoleum) be reopened was referred to Mr. Hollister for report at the next meeting.”
Who is buried in the Dexter mausoleum?
About 20 people, all but one named Dexter, made their final resting place in the 144-year-old Dexter mausoleum in Spring Grove Cemetery.
Edmund Dexter (1801-62), the family patriarch, immigrated from England, married a New Yorker, moved to Cincinnati in the 1820s and established a liquor distribution company downtown. His mansion at Fourth and Broadway streets was one of the city’s finest and hosted many a mover and shaker, including Charles Dickens in 1842 and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII, the King of England) in 1860. The mansion became the headquarters of Western and Southern Life Insurance, which razed it in 1914. Dexter & Sons’ products included Old Dexter (established by Edmund Jr.),Arlington, Holmesdale Rye, Quaker Seal, Target Rye and Old A. Keller. According to one newspaper entry, Dexter left each of his sons “a liberal fortune.”
Julius Dexter (1840-98), was the fourth of Edmund’s five sons. He graduated from Harvard, worked in the family business, served a short stint in the Civil War, was a state senator and ran for governor on the Gold-Democrat ticket the year before his death. Of the three sons who stayed in Cincinnati, Julius, who was single, was a visible civic leader. He belonged to numerous boards and held executive positions in several agencies and societies, including the Literary Club. He was president of the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railway Co., chaired the Music Hall building committee and managedthe city’s finances as president of the Board of Trustees of the Sinking Fund. It was said that Julius, described in an extensive obituary by The Enquirer as a “capitalist,” became so wealthy he stopped accepting compensation for his work during the last 20 years of his life. He died suddenly of heart disease.
Annie L. Dexter (1856-1916) was the eldest of Charles Dexter’s four daughters. Annie, who was single and died of pneumonia in 1916 in Quebec, left her younger sister, Alice, out of her will. Her estate was substantial: about $700,000 as compared with her other sister Mary’s, which was $40,000 when she died in 1911. Alice challenged Annie’s will and settled out of court. “She had never shown me any affection,” Annie said of Alice in her will.
Alice Dexter Walker (1863-1944) was the only daughter of Charles and Anna to marry. Her husband was University of Cincinnati Spanish professor Paul F. Walker. She had one son, Carroll Dexter Walker, who had to change his name to Charles Dexter in order to collect a $20,000 inheritance from his aunt, Annie. Alice, who was an international traveler like her father, died of senility in her Observatory Avenue home. The second Charles Dexter lived with his wife, Dorothy Chambers, on Principio Avenue in Mount Lookout and died at age 54 in 1960. No record of them having children could be found.
Edmund Dexter Jr. (1835-79), the middle of the three Cincinnati Dexter sons, lived Downtown and ran Dexter & Sons. He traveled to England numerous times. He and his wife, Emma R., had three children: Emma C., who died of whooping cough at age 5; John, who died of diphtheria at the age 6; and Edmund V. Dexter, who lived to be 50. Emma R. was an accomplished concert singer who performed in Music Hall. According to his Spring Grove Cemetery death card, Edmund Jr. succumbed to “consumption of bowels,” meaning ulceration and inflammation due to tuberculosis.
Who is not in the tomb?
Three of Edmund Dexter’s children were not interred in Dexter Mausoleum. His second born and only daughter, Julia, died of unknown causes when she was four. Here’s what we found out about the two absent Dexter sons:
George Dexter (1838-83) was a fraternity man, a Harvard law graduate and a world traveler and distinguished literary historian. He married a young Boston woman and had three daughters, Helen, Mary and Margaret, over a five-year period. They settled in Cambridge, Mass. A physical description of George in his 1868 passport papers resembles that of Charles, except he was about two inches taller. The accompanying image, from Harvard’s Fobb Museum was taken in Cincinnati when George was 20.
Lt. Adolphus Dexter (1841-70) graduated from the Naval Academy and served in the Civil War. Afterward, he married a New Yorker, settled into a mansion in New Rochelle, N.Y., and had a daughter named Bertha in 1868. His cause of death is listed as typhoid pneumonia, but an Aug. 24, 1870, Enquirer story quotes a New York Sunreport that Adolphus had been overexposed to the sun, fell ill and shot himself in the head at his home. “Possibly his brain had been affected by the excessive heat,” the Sun reported. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
How Dexters died is sign of times
Not surprisingly, death cards on file at Spring Grove Cemetery show that Dexter family members died from diseases common in the second half of the 19th century: scarlet fever; bronchitis, whooping cough, apoplexy, diphtheria and tuberculosis.
Others died of heart attack, arteriosclerosis, old age and “senility.”
The surprising causes were bicycle accident, suicide and accidental fall from a building.
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