The 83-acre cemetery, originally owned by two prominent Augustans – painter and writer Porter Fleming and 19th century Judge Augustus Longstreet – celebrates its centennial this year. Before its use as a cemetery, the property was home to an antebellum residence known as Westover.
When the cemetery was chartered as a nonprofit corporation in 1912, the first name suggested was Pantheon View. Local residents wrote newspaper editorials denouncing the name for a Christian cemetery that referred to pagan mythology.
“There was an enormous public outcry about the use of that name because it was thought to be a historical reference to all of the ancient pagan gods,” said Dennis O’Shields, a public relations consultant for Westover.
Construction on the huge marble mausoleum began in 1912 and finished in 1914. The first interment was on Oct. 12, 1915, and the first burial in the mausoleum on Oct. 18, 1916.
“The mausoleum, when it was built, was supposed to be the most grandiose of its kind at the time in the South,” O’Shields said.
During its early years, the president of the cemetery, Robert Berkmans, went door to door selling burial lots. Newspaper advertisements and articles detailed its landscaping plans, calling it “the most beautiful cemetery in the South.”
The cemetery shares boundaries with Augusta National Golf Club and Augusta Country Club, the 10th hole of which can be seen by visitors to some grave sites.
“It’s a happy accident that we have such prestigious neighbors and the fact that the land itself and the old trees and the rolling, grassy hills really are so similar to the Augusta National golf course,” O’Shields said.
Sales proceeded slowly until about 1930, when city-owned Magnolia and Westview cemeteries began to fill up, said George Sancken III, the president of Westover Memorial Park. As the city grew and more neighborhoods developed west of downtown, Westover became the choice burial place for Augustans.
In 1915, 500 lots were available for sale.
As of Thursday, 20,730 people were buried in Westover and 2,382 lots were available, with an additional three acres still to be opened, office manager Janet Marlowe said.