Aspin Hill Memorial Park 1975 to the Present

Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery postcard, ca. 1970. Digital image courtesy of the Montgomery County Humane Society
Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery postcard, ca. 1970. Digital image courtesy of the Montgomery County Humane Society

Business boomed during the years that S. Alfred Nash owned the cemetery. He buried around 10,000 pets during the 13 years that he was there. Mr. Nash and his wife, Martha, were said to have had between 200 and 300 pets of their own while they lived at Aspin Hill. In addition to several dogs, they had ducks, peacocks, goats, a turkey, and even a Shetland pony.

James Thompson

James Thompson,ca. 1995. Photograph courtesy of the Montgomery County Humane Society.
James Thompson, ca. 1995. Photograph courtesy of the Montgomery County Humane Society.

James Thompson came to work for Mr. Nash in the late 1960s as a grave digger. It was said that he dug perfect graves, with absolutely straight walls. However, if he had to bury something large, like a horse, he would go to Gate of Heaven and borrow their backhoe.

I can tell James was well-liked because people still remember him and speak about him fondly. He was known for feeding the squirrels and feral cats who frequented Aspin Hill. He continued to work at the cemetery until about 2010. 1 2

Mr. Nash died in 1974 and was buried on the property, although his ashes were later exhumed. Martha Nash continued to run the business into the 1980s.

Crematory Closed

Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery eventually ceased performing cremations. After the 1970 Clean Air Act was amended in 1977, the crematory at Aspin Hill could not meet its tougher requirements. Mrs. Nash shut down the crematory, presumably because of the expense of either upgrading or replacing it.3

Proposed Sale of Cemetery Property, 1986

After Mrs. Nash retired, Dr. Ruebush (who still owned the land) took over the cemetery business.  In 1986, he wanted to sell part of the property, the section on which the previous owners had lived and where there had never been any burials. He entered into a sales agreement with developer E. Brooke Lee III. In order for the sale to take place, the property had to be subdivided and the section to be purchased rezoned as commercial. Even though the cemetery was to be left untouched, the community reaction against the proposed development was so negative that the County Council voted 4-3 against it. 4

At this point, a philanthropist named Dorothy Shapiro (who had a lot of pets buried at Aspin Hill) put up $400,000 so that the property could be purchased from Dr. Ruebush. She paid an additional $10,000 for an option from Dr. Ruebush giving her the right to choose the purchaser of the property.5 It also allowed her to impose covenants stating that the property must always be run as a pet cemetery and that it had to be run by a non-profit organization that would use it for animal welfare related purposes. The option gave Mrs. Shapiro and a group called Save Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery, Inc. the right to enforce the covenants.

Ownership of Aspin Hill Memorial Park 1988-Present

Since 1988, three non-profit organizations, in succession, have owned the property.

The first was PETA. 6 7 Not long after they took possession, they changed the name from Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery to Aspin Hill Memorial Park. In addition to running the cemetery, they used the property as an animal sanctuary and humane education center.

In 1996, PETA moved its headquarters elsewhere and the cemetery was given to back to Mrs. Shapiro. She then gave the property to Chesapeake Wildlife Sanctuary. 8 9 In 2007, Mrs. Shapiro successfully sued the director of the sanctuary in county court for not meeting the conditions of the covenants. 10

After the court’s decision, Mrs. Shapiro deeded the property to the Montgomery County Humane Society, 11 12 a private non-profit organization which conducts humane education and also rescues homeless pets, provides care, and makes them available for adoption. Mrs. Shapiro passed away in 2012. The Society continues to own the cemetery.

Future Development of Aspin Hill Memorial Park

Development Application Sign, 2018
Development Application Sign, 2018. Photo by Julianne Mangin, September 2018

In late 2018, the Montgomery County Humane Society filed an application to develop the Aspin Hill property as their new headquarters. The construction would occur on the two-plus acres of the cemetery property where the previous owners used to live and run their kennel, and where there have never been any burials. The Society also plans to improve the cemetery. This is all in the preliminary stages, and as I understand it, groundbreaking is a long way off.

Humans Buried at Aspin Hill Memorial Park

Wooden stake and orange flag indicating human burial site, September 2019.
Wooden stake and orange flag indicating human burial site. Photo by Julianne Mangin, September 2019.

Aspin Hill Memorial Park is a designated site on the Montgomery County Preservation Plan. In addition, because of the county’s laws regarding human burial sites, the Montgomery County Humane Society was required to have an archaeological survey done on the cemetery before their development application can go forward. In 2019, I assisted an archaeological team hired by the Society. We identified and located the graves of more than 50 humans who are buried with their pets at Aspin Hill.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is it possible to buy a new plot at Aspin Hill?
No, because the owner previous to Montgomery County Humane Society (Chesapeake Wildlife Sanctuary) did not leave any sales records behind, and it has not been possible to contact them. The Society does not know which of the empty plots have already been sold, so they cannot sell any of them.

How can I find where my pet is buried there?
Contact the Montgomery County Humane Society at: mchs@mchumane.org or (240) 252-2555. They have burial records dating back to 1920, when the cemetery began.

This is part 4 of the history of Aspin Hill.  See all 4 parts at:

https://petcemeterystories.net/aspin-hill-history/

Sources consulted:

  1. Goldstein, Lee. “Where Pets Are Buried Like People,” Montgomery Journal, September 20, 1973. page B1.
  2. Ahlers, Mike. “Fuzzy Companions Rest in Peace at Aspin Hill,” Montgomery Journal, December 28, 1979.
  3. Mullin, Sue. “A Different Kind of Cemetery,” Washington Star, November 2, 1977.
  4. Valentine, Valca. “Plot Owners Oppose Pet Cemetery Plan.” The Washington Post, July 24, 1986, p. MD1.
  5. Maryland Land Records, Liber 8097 folio 528. Option, December 21, 1987, Aspin Hill, Inc. (optionor) to Dorothy Shapiro (optionee) https://mdlandrec.net/
  6. Maryland Land Records, Liber 8280 Folio 178(1988) https://mdlandrec.net/
  7. Pressley, Sue Anne. “Animal Rights Group Buys Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery.” The Washington Post, June 13, 1988, pg. E2.
  8. Maryland Land Records, Liber 13952 Folio 249 (1996) https://mdlandrec.net/
  9. Meyer, Eugene L. “Sanctuary Discovers New Nest; Rockville Pet Cemetery Will Aid Wildlife, Too.” The Washington Post, May 16, 1996. pg. M.01.
  10. Barr, Cameron W. “Pet Owners Grieving All Over Again: Cemetery Benefactor Takes Group to Court Over Shoddy Upkeep.” The Washington Post, January 11, 2005, pg. B1.
  11. Maryland Land Records, Liber 34247 Folio 703 (2007) https://mdlandrec.net/
  12. Brachfield, Melissa J. “Pet Cemetery to Go to Humane Society.” The Gazette, April 11, 2007, pg. A-1.

4 thoughts on “Aspin Hill Memorial Park 1975 to the Present”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.