Starkweather Memorial Chapel in Highland Cemetery

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2005,
Fall 2005
Original Images:

Author: Bill Nickels

In 1886, widow Mary Ann Starkweather inherited a considerable fortune from the family estate of her uncle, Walter Loomis Newberry. During the same year, she had her will drafted to provide funds to construct a memorial chapel for her husband in Highland Cemetery. Mary Ann's attorney selected Mason & Rice to design the memorial chapel. Mason & Rice were also designing the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. The Richardsonian Romanesque chapel was dedicated in 1889 and included 12 art glass windows from the Tiffany Glass Company of New York City. Four of the windows have memorial inscriptions to Mrs. Starkweather's family and friends. One window is dedicated to John Pierce, the man her husband worked with as Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction. These windows have not fared well over the years and are in need of restoration.

During Victorian Times, when the chapel was built, the deceased were often presented in their homes for visitors to pay their respects, then they were moved to small chaples for commemorative services before burial. All of this changed during the late 1920s. Starkweather Memorial Chapel fell into disuse and the chapel had problems with its complicated roof planes meeting irregular walls, deep window sills, and soft sandstone trim. The little chapel suffered from wind erosion, water erosion, and wild life creatures seeking shelter from the elements.

The historic preservation movement and interest in genealogy have brought frequent visitors to the cemetery. The need to restore the Starkweather Memorial Chapel is now widely recognized. As a first step toward restoration, local architect Denis Schmiedeke has taken the lead to have Highland Cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After two years of work, Denis hopes to have this step completed soon. Next, the listing on the National Register will be used to secure restoration grants.