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Mount Auburn Cemetery

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1831, Henry A. S. Dearborn; 1832, 1842–1851, Jacob Bigelow; 1896–1898, Willard Sears. 580 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge and Watertown.
  • Mount Auburn Cemetery (Peter Vanderwarker or Antonina Smith)
  • (Damie Stillman)

The nation's first rural landscape cemetery, Mount Auburn is a site of national significance. In 1825 Dr. Jacob Bigelow, physician and professor at Harvard, called a meeting of concerned citizens and proposed the creation of a private, nonsectarian cemetery in the suburbs of Boston. In 1831 Mount Auburn Cemetery was founded by members of the newly established Massachusetts Horticultural Society (1829). The society saw the cemetery as the potential site for an experimental garden, but in 1835 the cemetery and the society separated and the garden was not established. Nevertheless, Mount Auburn Cemetery became one of the most horticulturally diverse cemeteries in the nation. Henry A. S. Dearborn, then president of the society, and civil engineer Alexander Wadsworth laid out the roads and paths in 1831–1832, following the contours of the land. In addition to the natural beauty of the grounds, the cemetery is significant for its architectural embellishments and sculptural monuments. In 1832, Bigelow designed a wooden Egyptian Revival entrance gate for the cemetery (rebuilt in granite in 1842). He also designed the granite Gothic Revival mortuary chapel (1844–1846, rebuilt 1855–1858) that now bears his name and the castellated granite observation tower (1853), established as a monument to George Washington and providing panoramic views over the cemetery and surrounding countryside. Bigelow saw the cemetery as a site for national memorials, including four statues commissioned for the chapel, the Washington tower, and the monumental sphinx (1872) carved by Martin Milmore to honor “the preservation of the Union and the destruction of African slavery” and placed before the Bigelow chapel. Indeed, Mount Auburn and its lot holders were among the most important early patrons of sculpture in the United States. In 1896–1898, Willard Sears added the Story Chapel and administrative building near the entrance gate, using Potsdam red sandstone in an English Gothic manner. Across from the entrance gate, the cemetery built a reception house (Nathaniel J. Bradlee, 583 Mount Auburn Street) in 1870, which now houses Mount Auburn Memorials, Inc. An active cemetery of 174 acres with more than twenty thousand memorials, Mount Auburn initiated the rural cemetery movement that inspired the creation of public parks and gardens throughout the country.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "Mount Auburn Cemetery", [Cambridge, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 356-357.

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