Rural cemetery

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The rural cemetery or garden cemetery is a style of cemetery that became popular in the United States and Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. They were built in response to overcrowding of urban cemeteries and health concerns. They are known for the use of elaborate monuments, memorials and mausoleums in a landscaped park-like setting.

Landscaping and tree planting at Green-Wood Cemetery in the Brooklyn borough of New York City


As early as 1711, the architect Sir Christopher Wren advocated for the creation of burial grounds on the outskirts of town, "inclosed with a strong Brick Wall, and having a walk round, and two cross walks, decently planted with Yew-trees".[1]

An early influence on the Rural Cemetery movement was the New Burying Ground in New Haven, Connecticut (later named Grove Street Cemetery). The New Burying Ground was established in 1796 and was the first example in the U.S. of a non-sectarian cemetery outside of church and city control in a park-like setting.[2]

Urban burial grounds were generally sectarian and located on small plots within cities. By the early 19th century, with urban populations expanding, the existing churchyards were growing unhealthily overcrowded with graves stacked upon each other, or emptied and reused for newer burials.[3]

In 1804, the first rural cemetery, the Père Lachaise Cemetery, opened in 1804 in Paris, France.

Hunnewell family obelisk in Mount Auburn Cemetery

The new design took the cemetery out of the control of the church, using an attractive park built on a grand scale, using architectural design and careful planting, inspired by the English garden movement. Rural cemeteries were built one to five miles outside of the city, far enough to be separated from the city but close enough for visitors.[4]

United States[edit]

The first rural cemetery in the United States was Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston, founded by Dr. Jacob Bigelow and General Dearborn of The Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1831. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story delivered the dedication address on September 24, 1831. Mount Auburn inspired dozens of other rural cemeteries across New England, the Mid-Atlantic States, and the Upper Midwest. Many were accompanied by dedication addresses similar to Story's, which linked the cemeteries to the mission of creating a Christian republic.[5] Coinciding with the growing popularity of horticulture and the Romantic aesthetic taste for pastoral beauty, Mount Auburn was developed as a “domesticated landscape” popularized by 19th century English landscape design. Its plan included retention of natural features like ponds and mature forests with added roads and paths that followed the natural contours of the land, as well as the planting of hundreds of native and exotic trees and plants.[6]

Rural cemeteries, from their inception, were intended as civic institutions designed for public use. Before the widespread development of public parks, the rural cemetery provided a place for the general public to enjoy refined outdoor recreation amidst art and sculpture previously available only for the wealthy.[7]

1861 engraving showing a plan for a rural cemetery by N. B. Schubarth of Rhode Island, United States
The Mark Howard Monument in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut

Mount Auburn quickly grew as a popular site for both burials and public recreation, attracting locals as well as tourists from across the country and Europe. Multiple rural cemeteries were developed across the Eastern U.S. and Mid-West on the Mount Auburn model.

By the 1860s rural cemeteries could be found on the outskirts of cities and smaller towns across the country.[8] These cemeteries were decorated with tall obelisks, spectacular mausoleums, and magnificent sculptures.[9]

By 1861, the rural cemetery movement began to decline partly due to the high cost of maintaining large landscapes but also due to the development of public parks. Many landscape designers, including Frederick Law Olmstead who designed Central Park in New York City, borrowed ideas from rural cemeteries. As more public parks opened, fewer people went to cemeteries for leisure and relaxation activities.[10]

Due to the scale of death caused by the U.S. Civil War (almost 2% the U.S. population died in the war), the U.S. government outsourced many burials to privately owned rural cemeteries.[11]

Today, many of these historic cemeteries are designated landmarks and are cared for by non-profit organizations.


Mount Hermon Cemetery: "Park-like space for public use"

David Bates Douglass, a military and civilian engineer, working in the capacity as a consulting architect, designed the landscape layout of Albany Rural Cemetery, 1845–1846. He modeled his design of the Albany Rural Cemetery, as well as his subsequent and final one, Mount Hermon Cemetery (1848), in a rural area outside of Quebec City, Canada, upon his first design, the highly acclaimed Green-Wood Cemetery, in what at the time was a rural section of Brooklyn. All three of Douglass' rural, garden cemeteries have been conferred a historic status, by their respective nations.[12][13]

Its architect, Charles Baillargé, took inspiration from Green–Wood Cemetery, as well, for his design of this garden cemetery, in what at the time was the rural outskirts of the city of Québec.[14]


The development of the American movement paralleled the creation of the landscaped cemeteries in England, with Mount Auburn inspiring the design of London's first non-denominational cemetery at Abney Park (1840), one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries.


Among the first of the Parkfriedhof established in German-speaking Europe, the South Cemetery (Südfriedhof) in Kiel dates from 1869, the Riensberger Friedhof in Bremen dates from 1875, the 1881 Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde in Berlin, the 1881 Südfriedhof in Leipzig, and the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg. The Ohlsdorf was transformed from a treeless, sandy plain into 92 acres of sculpted, wooded landscape by its first director, architect Wilhelm Cordes.[15] In 2016 it stands as the largest rural cemetery in the world,[16] and has been the largest cemetery in Europe since its opening in 1875.

As of 1911 rural cemeteries were still unusual in Germany.[17] Other examples include the Waldfriedhof Dahlem in Berlin, 1931.

Oak Hill Cemetery, a garden cemetery in Washington, D.C., in the United States

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Let the stones speak, the spire and crypt inspire: A history of St Mary's church, Islington, by S Allen Chambers, Jr, June 2004
    It will be enquired, where then shall be the Burials? I answer, in Cemeteries seated in the Out-skirts of the Town... This being inclosed with a strong Brick Wall, and having a Walk round, and two cross Walks, decently planted with Yew-trees, the four Quarters may serve four Parishes, where the Dead need not be disturbed at the Pleasure of the Sexton, or piled four or five upon one another, or Bones thrown out to gain Room.
    Letter of advice to the Commissioners for Building Fifty New City Churches in 1711
  2. ^ "1833-1875: Rural Cemetery Movement". Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  3. ^ Greenfield, Rebecca. "Our First Public Parks: The Forgotten History of Cemeteries". Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  4. ^ Smith 2017, p. 2.
  5. ^ Alfred L. Brophy, "These Great and Beautiful Republics of the Dead": Public Constitutionalism and the Antebellum Cemetery
  6. ^ National Park Service, Mount Auburn Cemetery: A New American Landscape, Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plan, accessed July 7, 2011
  7. ^ Douglas, Ann, The Feminization of American Culture, 1977, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, pp. 208-213. [1]
  8. ^ Yalom 2008, p. 46.
  9. ^ Yalom 2008, p. 102.
  10. ^ Greene 2008, pp. 40-41.
  11. ^ Smith 2017, pp. 7-8.
  12. ^ Cox, Rob S.; Heslip, Philip; LaPlant, Katie D. (July 2017) [1812]. Finding aid for David Bates Douglass Papers, 1812—1873. David Bates Douglass Papers, Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1,191 items). M-1390, M-2294, M-2418, M-2668, M-5038, M-6083. David Bates Douglass. Ann Arbor. Retrieved 2018-11-02. Returning to engineering and consulting work, Douglass laid out the Albany Rural Cemetery in 1845-46 and the Protestant cemetery in Quebec in 1848, both in the style of Greenwood Cemetery. In August 1848, he moved to Geneva College (now Hobart).
  13. ^ "David Bates Douglass — Related Content — The Cultural Landscape Foundation". Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  14. ^ "Historique du cimetière — Cimetière Notre-Dame-de-Belmont". (in French). Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  15. ^ "Modern Landscape Cemeteries in Germany", Park & Cemetery and Landscape Gardening, Vol XXI No. 9, November 1911, pages 704-705
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Modern Landscape Cemeteries in Germany", Park & Cemetery and Landscape Gardening, Vol XXI No. 9, November 1911, pages 704-705