Frederick Chislett

Frederick Chislett
(1827 – November 9, 1899)

No discussion of the founding of Crown Hill would be complete without including Frederick Chislett, the man who brought it all together and created a beautiful rural cemetery out of many acres of farmland. Crown Hill’s first superintendent was born in England and came to the United States as a child when his father (John Chislett) and mother immigrated here aboard a “primitive” sailing ship.

He grew up in Pittsburgh and assisted his father in the design of Allegheny Cemetery. He later moved as a young man to Dubuque, Iowa, intent upon establishing his own life and career in the hardware business. He was living there with his own family when his father sent word that the new cemetery in Indianapolis was looking for a superintendent.

It was a warm, rainy New Year’s Eve in 1863 when Frederick (age 36), his wife Margaret, and their sons, Richard, John, and Frederick, arrived at the new cemetery grounds and moved into a cabin at the base of Crown Hill. They were shocked as they awoke on New Year’s Day and it was 27 degrees below zero. Chislett soon began the work that kept him busy the rest of his life, “building driveways, planting or cutting trees as needs required, planting shrubs, developing lawn effects, digging drains — finishing each part of the work as he went, leaving nothing to be completed later. He was aided greatly by the natural conditions — the contour of the ground, the forest trees and the spaces already cleared — in quickly producing visible results, so that it was not long before the park-like appearance began to attract attention and people to realize that the place was to be a very beautiful home for their dead” (Anna Nicholas, The Story of Crown Hill, p. 25).

An ardent member of 2nd Presbyterian Church, and a staunch Republican, Chislett was “a man whose integrity of purpose and generous attributes of character gained to him the kindly regard of all with whom he came in contact, and in his official position his sympathy and solicitude endeared him to those whose loved ones found resting place in the fair cemetery over which he was placed in charge” (J.P. Dunn, Greater Indianapolis).

Frederick Chislett died in 1899 and was buried in Section 14, down the steep eastern slope of Crown Hill, not far from the location of the cabin his family moved into on New Year’s Eve 1863. The Chislett monument is graced on the front by a large cross and the Bible verse, “Because I live, ye shall live also,” and his wife penned the words inscribed on the back: “Frederick W. Chislett came to Indianapolis in 1863 and took charge of Crown Hill Cemetery. As its first superintendent, for 36 years he devoted himself to the development and adornment of these grounds, and by his wise and prudent management laid broad and deep the foundations of this, his life work and lasting monument.” As part of their tribute shortly after his death, Crown Hill’s Board of Corporators reflected: “…his body now rests in the grounds his intelligence and labors did so much to beautify and make fitting for the repose that, sooner or later, must come to the bodies of all.”

Chislett’s designs for the cemetery — with roads which followed the existing contours of the land, the planting of many varieties of trees, and landscaping which accompanied nature rather than competed with it — continue to enhance our appreciation of these grounds today.

Buried in Section 14, Lot 14; GPS (39.8200282,-86.1760920)