JOHN P. BOWMAN’S LAUREL HALL
and LAUREL GLEN CEMETERY
in CUTTINGSVILLE, VERMONT
John P. Bowman, son of a Clarendon, Vt. farmer, was born at Pierce’s Corner in 1816. At the age of 15 he found employment in a Rutland tannery. He learned the business of turning hides into good leather and after about five years he went to New York State, working in various factories. He came to Shrewsbury, Vt. and established himself in a general tanning and currying business, dealing also in boots and shoes. He occupied the tannery south of Cuttingsville near what is now known as "Tannery Crossing". It was later operated by Huntoon and Son.
In 1849 he married Jennie E. Gates of Warren, N.Y. She was dignified and graceful in manner, self-reliant and courteous. Generous and thoughtful of others, she proved a kindly neighbor as well as a devoted wife and mother.
In 1851 Bowman was honored by election to the State Legislature. He served his Shrewsbury townsmen faithfully and with credit to himself. But business appealed far more to him than politics or public affairs. In 1852 Bowman moved with his family to Stony Creek, N.Y. and bought a tannery at Creek Center and under his management he attained an enviable position in business circles.
A daughter, Addie L., was born in 1854 but died at the age of four months. A second daughter, Ella H., was born in 1860 and grew to be a fine and cultured young woman.
However, in 1879 misfortune brought an end to this pleasant home life. Ella fell ill and died. Less than a year later, Mrs. Bowman passed away, leaving her husband alone to bear his grief and sorrow. Mr. Bowman resolved to build a memorial and last resting place for them in his native Vermont hills.
A plot of land in Cuttingsville adjoining the old burying ground was chosen for the shrine. For over a year, 125 skilled sculptors, granite and marble cutters, masons and laborers were employed in erecting this classic example of Grecian architecture, designed and planned by New York architect and special designer, G. B. Croff hired by Bowman.
A life size statue of Mr. Bowman is posed outside. Bent with grief, and burdened with mourning cloak, silk hat, gloves, a huge funeral wreath, and a key, he is represented in the act of ascending the steps of the tomb.
In his book describing the mausoleum, G. B. Croff expressed his thoughts in the following words: "A most pathetic family history wrought in stone, Laurel Glen Mausoleum will stand for centuries . . . and prove a laurel wreath, a crown of glory to perpetuate the well-rounded, honorable, successful life and name of its most noble founder."
In 1881, the three caskets were placed in the mausoleum. Bowman had the grounds graded, added retaining walls, arranged grass plots, had walks and drives filled with crushed purple slate and set out trees. A greenhouse and conservatory was erected on the grounds where the many plants were propagated and used to decorate the cemetery grounds. Laurel Glen Cemetery was beautifully kept and park-like, it attracted people from the city who enjoyed the trip by horse and buggy to picnic on the grounds.
Across the road, Bowman had G. B. Croff design and build a magnificent Victorian summer residence, and called it Laurel Hall. In the May 20, 1882 edition of the Rutland Daily Herald, it stated that "the grounds of Laurel Hall were treated as an extensive parterre or miniature landscape, with winding walks and drives, swelling terraces and shrubbery of various sorts, and graced with one large allegorical Grecian fountain, in composition, a water nymph mid sweet accessories, with laughing sprays of water singing amid the trees and flowers their songs of parting salutation to their homes high in the mountain side, and lulling one to sleep and pleasant dreams, in hammock swung beneath the shadows of the spacious covered gallery nearby."
As poignantly written in the October 31, 1882 edition of the Rutland Daily Herald, "Laurel Hall’s style is a fresh, bold treatment of Elizabethan and Queen Anne details. An open terrace on the north blends into a covered gallery on the main facade, approached at the entrance by a broad, inviting flight of swelling steps with buttresses of curvilinear form with paneled newels capped with rich bronze urns filled with foliage plants and blooming flowers. Over the entrance rises through the roof a tower with pyramidal termination and spacious balconies at each floor, with shadowy canopies and gables here and there, of heights and inclination varied, given greater character still by several massive chimney stacks with heavy, moulded hoods that rise above them all and stand like sentinels defined in bold relief against the sky.
"But, pleasing as the exterior is, it by no means prepares the visitor for the sweet surprise awaiting him at the entrance to the broad, grand staircase hall that traverses the structure through from front to rear, divided in the centre by a quaint arcade with central passage arch and smaller supplemental arches at each side, in each of which a life-size female figure sweetly draped, in graceful attitude, bear light bronze candelabras o’er their heads, filled with wax candles of soft hues. And still beyond a broad Italian rambling staircase rich in each detail gives access to the floors above. Two lofty stained glass windows on the central landing of the staircase fill the hall with floods of soft, warm ambient light, and at one end a French plate mirror richly framed gives transverse duplication of the staircase at the second flight, and at the end of the second hall another mirror reproduces still again in longitude the hall, with all its forms and shapes.
"The mural decorations are extremely rich throughout, with paneled ceilings treated in befitting allegory, differing in design in every room in paneling, frieze and dado. The windows are all margined, top and base, with many hued cathedral glass. The dining hall and library are treated in mahogany, with open fireplaces, with lofty-mirrored chimney pieces, with border tiles of scenes from Shakespeare, with margins, fender rails and andirons of burnished brass, and hearths of inlaid English tiles. The fixtures for illumination are of bright, rich burnished bronze.
" In addition to the artistic features of the establishment, it embraces every feature of utility found in a first class New York City house – hot and cold water, closets, baths, basins, porcelain lined sinks, stationary wash trays, modern range, etc.
"Nearby the villa, as one of its accessories, there is a fine modern stable, capacitated to receive four horses and as many carriages, fitted up with hydrants, washing floors, wardrobes, etc."
The writer ended the article with these words: "A public benefaction this great work has been in stern materiality, and still a greater legacy and benefaction to the intellectual world. It has already borne the honored name of John P. Bowman far and wide o’er this and other lands and will to generations yet unborn a touching story tell and stamp indelible his name on many hearts and lives, a character most truly great and worthy emulation to the last."
Mr. Bowman enjoyed entertaining friends and family in his summer residence and in 1891, passed away and joined his family in the Laurel Glen mausoleum.
The Laurel Glen Cemetery Association, a corporation created in 1894, has full charge of the estate in perpetuity and according to the specific terms of John P. Bowman’s will. Laurel Hall is at present closed to the public due to repair and restoration efforts. During the winter months, the statue of Mr. Bowman is covered to protect it from the elements. The cemetery is still park-like with lilacs in the spring and snowball bushes in the summer and fall.
Information for this article came from booklet written by Honorary Trustee of the Historical Society, the late Marjorie A. Pierce in 1995 and from the aforementioned articles found in the May 20, 1882 and October 31, 1882 issues of the Rutland Daily Herald which were donated to the Shrewsbury Historical Society by member Morris G. Tucker.