The Hillcrest Cemetery Association was founded in 1926 by Lloyd Lancaster and his brother Guy Lancaster. They began purchasing property on Three Mile Road, a short distance north of Coney Island.
By November 1926, they had purchased four acres. They soon had another 23 acres under contract.Lloyd Lancaster was an experienced building contractor, and he began building a road for their new cemetery.
Three adjoining landowners, all White farmers, objected to the presence of this “Negro cemetery,” and they filed an injunction suit to stop this project. The farmers claimed “that the location of the cemetery is without their consent and will depreciate the value of their property and impair their health.”
An initial ruling supported the property owners, but after a series of appeals, the injunction suit was defeated, and the project moved forward.
The Lancasters perceived that there was going to be a need for more space for graves for African American veterans from the Civil War and especially from the (first) World War. Congress had passed legislation allowing military veterans to receive free burial plots in designated National Cemeteries, but there was no National Cemetery in Cincinnati – the closest was in Dayton.
Federal legislation also allowed states to set aside land within private cemeteries for the burial of veterans. Hamilton County had already made arrangements with St. Joseph’s Cemetery, for Catholic veterans, and with Spring Grove Cemetery, essentially for white Protestants.
In 1929, the Hamilton County commissioners negotiated with Hillcrest Cemetery for space for the graves of 1,200 veterans – 36,000 square feet at 30 square feet per grave. Under the agreement, he property would be perpetually maintained by the cemetery association. The deal was inked in February 1930.
Today, Hillcrest is known mainly as a burial place of veterans, and the cemetery is marked by the long rows of identical white gravestones that we associate with national cemeteries. But since this isn’t a national cemetery, and there are many civilian burials here as well, the federal government does not provide maintenance. The original cemetery association is defunct.
Fortunately, a private group called Friends of Hillcrest Cemetery has emerged and has done a remarkable job of headstone cleaning and straightening and other maintenance.
Notable Civil War veterans buried here include Samuel J. Robinson, who served with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry – the regiment portrayed in the film, “Glory.” Buffalo soldiers from the Spanish American War include Lou Jones, who came up San Juan Hill alongside Teddy Roosevelt’s unit, and Alfred Boze, a barber who patented an unusual type of comb. There are also many distinguished veterans here from WWI.
Veterans from WWII include Dorothy Harris Fears, who served with the Women’s Army Corps, and Charles J. Richmond, who was one of the earliest Black Marines. Also buried here is Louis Dula, a WWII veteran better known as a Negro-Leagues pitcher for the Cincinnati Tigers.
Perhaps the most distinguished civilian buried here is Artie Matthews, a great ragtime pianist and composer and founder of the Cosmopolitan School of Music.