Cemetery Sunday-A Glimpse Into the Gates of the Shelton Mausoleum

There are several mausoleums in Danville’s Green Hill Cemetery, but the one that houses the remains of some of the members of the Shelton and Burton families is undoubtedly one of the most impressive in terms of detail and style.  Listed in Smithsonian American Art Museums Art Inventory Catalog, there is a robed woman’s figure at the top of the Shelton Mausoleum holding an anchor, which I was unable to see from the angle at which I was standing. There is a bricked walkway leading up to and two stone benches that visitors can sit on before reaching the arched entrance. As I’ve mentioned before, cemeteries used to be a place where family members spent more time than they do in modern times. It is likely that survivors, friends, and well-wishers would gather on those benches like these for fair amounts of time, talking and perhaps even eating picnic lunches with the deceased just a few feet away entombed in crypts. The locked gate to the mausoleum features some beautiful ironwork.

 There is an old, rusted metal bench just inside the gate. At one time, family members were able to access this bench for additional seating during visitation.

Even the floor of the mausoleum is decorated with colored tiles. It seems like the walls were once painted green. There are smaller arched recesses in the walls that were probably where flowers or candles were placed.

There are six crypt doors, but only four of them seem to be in use because they contain epitaphs. Those buried there are: Willoughby N. Shelton, his second wife Mary Frances Johnston Shelton, Franklin Xavier (F.X.) Burton, Jr., and his wife, Alice Shelton Burton. Alice was Willoughby’s daughter with his first wife. Alice’s mother, Ariana Robertson Shelton died in 1861 at age 32 and was buried in Yanceyville Presbyterian Church’s cemetery. Willoughby and Mary (“Fannie”) were married on Jan. 20, 1863, so Fannie had an integral part in the rearing of Alice, who was only 9-10 at the time of her mother’s death.

F.X. and Alice are on the top row.

 Fannie and Willoughby are on the bottom row. Willoughby’s crypt is directly beneath his daughter’s.

This was a family of substantial wealth, and records indicate that W.N. Shelton and F.X. Burton Jr. were both prominent men in Danville’s tobacco and business industries. F.X. built The Burton Hotel (or Hotel Burton) at the corner of Union and Main Streets. In 1962 the Hotel Burton was replaced by the Downtowner Motor Inn, which was recently demolished. I parked on the deck of the Downtowner when I worked at Social Services over a decade ago, as it was across the street. That building had been vacant for as long as I can remember and I never knew a different structure sat on the premises. The Burton looked quite a bit more refined than the Downtowner.

Misc. Census Reports
1880 census records list Willoughby (53), Fannie (40), F.X.(34), and Alice (26) living together at 723 Main street along with two servants: Dosia Holland (25) and Jane Bowe (36). Willoughby’s occupation was tobacco dealer and F.X. was a tobacco manufacturer.

In 1891 Willoughby went to Philadelphia, PA to consult a doctor about some illness that he had suffered from for an unknown (to me) period of time. He never returned to Danville from that visit.

A note in Green Hill’s burial records says that W.N. Shelton’s cause of death was “heart failure and nervous prostration.” In 1891 nervous prostration could have meant debilitating depression or anxiety.

At the time of the 1900 census, F.X., Alice, & Fannie Shelton were living at 723 Main Street. F.X. reported his occupation as “Capitalist.”

Alice’s Death
The Jan. 2, 1929 issue of the Danville Bee contained several articles and blurbs about citizens affected by the influenza epidemic which plagued the city at that time. Schools were shut down and a poll of doctors indicated at least 730 new cases of flu in one week alone.  Alice Burton died on Jan. 1, having become ill just after Christmas. The article contains information about her death as well as her life, including charitable contributions she had made over the years.

 

It is estimated that Alice had donated several hundred thousand dollars over the years to various charities. When she died, her nearest surviving relatives were distant because she and F.X. had no children.

 Her estate was valued at $600,000 and a story about it graced the front page.

I attempted to find the residence at 723 Main Street where all four people interred in the Shelton mausoleum had once lived together, but Google maps gave me the image of a parking lot. There were quite a few misc. mini-articles in the newspaper archives referencing the Alice Burton Home on Main Street well into the 1950s. Mostly these were social notices regarding meetings by members of the First Presbyterian Church, but there was one obituary for a Mary Keiser in 1954 which stated she had been a guest at the Alice Burton home for five years. After additional research I found an article from October 19, 1955 discussing the closure of the Alice Burton Home. Alice had willed the house at 723 Main Street along with most of its contents to the Presbyterian church/Sunnyside Home, who then allowed a group of elderly women to live there. Called “The Old Ladies Home,” the 20 former residents were moved to another Presbyterian home near Harrisonburg, which is in the northern part of Virginia.

In January 1957 the property went up for sale and in 1961 a bank bought the “home site” for $75,000. It’s possible that by this time the house had already been demolished.

The Sheltons and Burtons were financially well-off and Alice demonstrated the spirit of charity. However; visiting the impressive mausoleum and reflecting on death I’m reminded that “you can’t take it with you.”

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6 thoughts on “Cemetery Sunday-A Glimpse Into the Gates of the Shelton Mausoleum”

  1. A fascinating a well researched post as ever. what a beautiful place it must have been to have spent time reflecting there. It's such a shame that the same care and detail isn't put into burial today as it was then.

    Thank you for linking up with Cemetery Sunday

    Beneath Thy Feet

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  2. I feel I should write more, but I am almost speechless at the amount of research you have done!
    I wonder if the house had not been demolished if it would have eventually given a heritage designation.

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