Redrose Cemetery

Clara Finkelstein

44.5145° N, 93.1206° W

“And know, reader, that though the stones in this wilderness are already grown so witty as to speak, they never yet that I could hear of, grew so wicked as to lie.” – Cotton Mather (Source 3, 78)

Figure 1: The proximity of the Redrose cemetery to the Waterford Mill ruins

Redrose Cemetery was founded in 1856, and continues to expand today. Though the cemetery has always primarily served the township of Waterford, the frontier town itself, first settled by pioneers in 1852 (Source 1), was not officially organized until 1858. Thus, the cemetery not only predates its unincorporated townships’s administration, but also construction of the Waterford mill: a grange mill that opened in 1873 by the Cannon River manufacturing company and closed in 1896 (though it continued to be leased, see documentary timeline of the 1890’s). The chronology and parallel developments of these three institutions (funerary, political, and economic) make the Redrose cemetery an ideal focal point for analyzing how milling affected the township’s social climate and cultural landscape.

Population: The Quick vs. The Dead

Figure 2

According to data from the United States Census Bureau, the township of Waterford experienced the most significant population increase not during the town’s inauguration, but during the period of the Waterford mill’s construction and opening (Figure 1). The population reached a peak in 1880, corresponding not only with the Waterford mill’s growing commercial success, but also the expansion of milling in the rest of the Cannon Valley, especially along the Cannon river (Source 1). However, after the early 1880s, the population begins to decrease, consistent with the Cannon Valley mill’s eventual economic decline and ultimate closure in 1896 (Source 1). In 1882, near the height of its production, the mill employed “30-live men” at the grange mill and the shops associated with it, or around 7% of Waterford’s total population (Source 1). Therefore, the mills closure would have had a negative impact on the town’s employment rate, which in turn may have led to emigration from the township (or at least a decline in immigration).

Figure 3

The effects of the Waterford mill’s opening and foreclosure can be seen in data collected from the Redrose cemetery. Originally called the Red leaf cemetery, a one and a half acre plot of land gifted to the township by Dr. Z.B. Nichols, the cemetery has 481 graves in total, 78 of which date to the forty-year period of mill activity between 1860-1900 (Source 1), (Figure 3). The number of graves in Redrose increased most notably between 1865 and 1875, during the period of the mills construction and opening. The population during this time is increasing, meaning that there is enough migration to the area to more than replace the number of deaths. However, in the final 15 years of the 40 year period, while the total population of the township had decreased, the number of graves in Redrose continued to increase. This inverse relationship may suggest that while the original frontier settler generation was dying out, the decline of the mill was making the area less attractive to new migrants.

The Make and Model of a Headstone

Figure 4
Figure 5: An example of a small marble headstone from 1885 without iconography

The Waterford Mill’s rise and decline also seems to have affected the material and design of headstones. Prior to 1870, headstones in Redrose were made primarily of limestone and sandstone. Such materials limit the endurance and accessibility of headstones. This is because sandstone deteriorates quickly, separating along its “bedding planes,” while limestone generally has a grayish hue that makes inscriptions particularly hard to read after years of weathering (Source 5).

While marble is comprised of calcium carbonate, and therefore is susceptible to damage by acid rain similar to limestone, marble has an attractive satin finish and brilliant whiteness that make it more aesthetically desirable (Source 5).

Marble only appears in the cemetery around the time of the mill’s opening, as the region became more economically prosperous (Figure 4). However, the number of marble headstones added stagnated in 1875 to 1885, which refutes the hypothesis that milling success contributed to an increase in the material quality of headstones. Curiously, the number of marble headstones actually spikes during the period of the mill’s closure (1895-1900). This may indicate that people do not always act in accordance with the status of their local economy when making cultural and mortuary purchases. It may have been that the people of Waterford starting spending a greater proportion of their income on headstones as gravestone became a marker of social class. In this case, social and cultural motivations would have trumped economic ones.

Figure 6

The number of headstones without iconography (for example, see Figure 6), religious or otherwise, aligns more predictably with the mill’s progress. The number of industrial (less decorative/religious adorned) headstones increased most from 1885 to 1895, during the period of the mill’s decline. It may have been that industrialization effected the fashion of headstone design, or simply that people had less money to spend on designing headstones with the recession. However, this last analysis doesn’t fit with the data collected regarding marble tombstones. Therefore, the former hypothesis seems more likely. To understand whether industrialization was causally linked with secularization in Waterford would require an understanding of any changes in religious activity in the area that is beyond the scope of this project. However, it would be an interesting starting point for further investigation.

Additionally, two skeuomorphs appear in Redrose, two limestone graves (one dated to 1889, the other to 1895) that are designed to appear marble (Figures 7, 8).

Figure 7
Figures 8

While marble was a popular headstone material by 1885 in Waterford, it may be that due to the mill’s decline, lower class workers were no longer able to afford real marble, but still wanted to keep up appearances (as Figure 4 demonstrates that overall marble headstones did also continue to increase during this period). This supports the hypothesis outlined by trends in marble and decorated headstones, that headstone styles and appearances factored more into the carving process than did the local milling economy.

Case Study: The Simpson Family

Figure 9: Photo by Tom Mauer, 2010

A case study of an old Waterford family, the Simpsons, is a microcosm for the larger changes occurring in the Redrose cemetery. The Simpson family were originally wheat farmers that settled in Waterford around 1856. The earliest Simpson grave in Redrose is that of James Palmer Simpson (Figure 9). A veteran of the Civil War, who died at home in 1868 at the age of 29, his grave is rather small and made of granite. It also features an American flag icon, evidence of military service and pride in said service. This grave may represent the pre-milling period in Waterford.

Figure 10: Photo provided by Rebecca Dodds
Figure 11

The next Simpson family grave is that of Martha Alice Simpson, a young girl who died at the age of just 15 (Figure 10). Her 1974 grave is more ornate, with a pointed top, flowers, and a circular design (Figure 11). With the opening of the grange mill, the farming family may have been making more money in the 1970’s, and may have thus been able to afford a more expensive tombstone. This headstone may represent the “during” period of the Waterford Mill.

Figure 12: Photograph provided by Rebecca Dodds
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Figure 13: Photograph provided by Rebecca Dodds

The next Simpson family grave is that of John J. “3” Simpson (Figure 12). Having first arrived in Waterford via horse and wagon, by the time he died at the age of 59 in 1885, his farm (which likely did business with the Waterford Mill, see news headlines on the documentary timeline page for further information) had been successful enough for him to afford a memorial-style headstone, but not marble (Figure 13). While this style of headstone is a popular one among the more affluent and prominent inhabitants of Redrose, I could not find any scholarship pertaining to its precise symbolism.

John “3” Simpson’s son, John Eleazar Simpson, was a dairy (not wheat like his father) farmer, and died in 1902 at the age of 51. The switch from wheat to dairy farming may have been a result of the mills decline and closure. John Eleazar Simpson’s headstone is made of granite, and is of a very different style than his father’s (Figure 14). Large, thick, and rectangular, it has an industrial look, but still sports some non-religious iconography. This headstone may represent the period after the heyday of the Waterford Mill.

Figure 15: Photograph provided by Rebecca Dodds
Figure 14: Photograph provided by Deborah McCoombs Moore

The changes in headstone design and preference in the Simpson family track well onto the overall changes occurring in the Redrose Cemetery. Originally a pioneer family of wheat farmers, they would have been closely connected to the Waterford Mill and affected by its success and decline. The change in Simpson headstone appearance may indicate changes in the family net worth, as well as the changing fashions of Waterford during the period.

Conclusion: An Archaeological Site Greater Than The Sum of Its Parts

The founding of the Waterford Township, the establishment of the Redrose Cemetery, and the creation of the Waterford Mill are all closely related events, and their changes over time influence one another. These three parallel progressions, cultural, political, and social, can be understood by tracking changes in the Redrose Cemetery. However, the reasons behind these changes must be inferred though archaeological analysis of headstone material and design.

Figure 16

Nestled between farms, the geographical positioning of the Redrose Cemetery reveals a continued tradition of agriculture in the Waterford Township today (See Figures 16). That it is a community and not family plot, not exclusively associated with any religious denomination (that I, at least, am aware of) lends the site a socioeconomically diverse social landscape, both during the milling period and the present day. For this reason, Redrose may be thought to represent a linear (or diachronic) progression of time as well as a multi-temporal one. While the gravestones may be sorted and analyzed chronologically, they may also be examined in terms of the work they do in the present day. Not only are they rich in historical and sentimental meaning, but they also contain clues about the quality of life and death during the expansion of the milling industry.


  1. Neill, Edward, 1882. History of Dakota County and the City of Hastings. Transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman.
  2. Find A Grave, database and images ( accessed 01 June 2019).
  3. Baugher, Veit, Nassaney, Veit, Richard F., and Nassaney, Michael S. The Archaeology of American Cemeteries and Gravemarkers. American Experience in Archaeological Perspective. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2014.
  4. Deetz, James. In Small Things Forgotten : The Archaeology of Early American Life. 1st ed. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1977. Provided a template for how American headstones can be studied and analyzed from an archaeological perspective.
  5. Appell, Johnathan, 2010. “Stone Identification.”

Clara Finkelstein, Last Updated July 12th, 2019