Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore is among America’s earliest rural cemeteries, established in 1838 with landscape design by engineer Benjamin Henry Latrobe II. The cemetery also includes a Gothic Revival gatehouse, chapel, and lodge structures designed by celebrated Baltimore architects Robert Cary Long Jr. and the firm of Niernsee and Neilson. The landscape was influenced by the design of the former country estate (also called Green Mount) on which it was built, and by Mount Auburn Cemetery ( MA-01-NC1) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Established in 1831, Mount Auburn was modeled after the world’s first rural cemetery, Pere LaChaise in Paris, France, established in 1804. Mt. Auburn launched the rural cemetery movement in America, which quickly spread along the eastern seaboard and the Midwest. Characterized by romantic, picturesque environments and artistic commemorative monuments, rural cemeteries were a direct response to urban overcrowding. As population growth and industrialization put pressure on urban sanitation, unhealthy conditions emerged. Of particular concern was the state of traditional burying grounds, typically occupying small churchyards in urban centers and, increasingly, lacking adequate space for perpetual burial. Rural cemeteries, located on the urban fringe, represented a significant break from previous tradition while also providing urban dwellers with a rural retreat. With their meandering paths and lush plantings, rural cemeteries became a precedent for the American park movement that began in the mid-nineteenth century with Fairmount Park in Philadelphia ( PA-02-PH129; 1855) and Central Park in New York (NY-01-061-80069; 1858).
As precursors to municipal parks, rural cemeteries were extremely popular among urban populations for use as pleasure grounds. In fact, as celebrated landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing pointed out in 1849, the attraction of the public to rural cemeteries had little to do with their role as burying grounds. According to Downing, “the true secret of the attraction lies in the natural beauty of the sites, and in the tasteful and harmonious embellishment of these sites by art . . . the united charm of nature and art—the double wealth of rural and moral associations.” Rural cemeteries represented the application of French and English gardening and landscape principles popular for nearly a half-century to a reform-minded institution that offered nonsectarian burials in a scenic, disease-free environment.
Green Mount was the fourth rural cemetery in America, established by an act of the Maryland General Assembly on March 15, 1838 and dedicated on July 13 of the following year. Created during the rural cemetery movement’s heyday in the United States, between 1831 and 1865, it is the only one located in Maryland. Baltimore tobacco merchant Samuel Walker was inspired by a visit to Mount Auburn to establish a similar cemetery in Maryland. In literature that Walker produced to promote the idea, he argued that a rural cemetery would be taken as a sign of Baltimore’s growing refinement while also providing for perpetual care, free from the congestion of the church graveyard. As with a number of early cemeteries of this type, Green Mount originated from a country estate, in this case, that of Robert Oliver, also a prominent local tobacco merchant. Oliver is said to have spared no expense in ornamenting the landscape, taking full advantage of its natural features and hilly terrain. In fact, “Oliver’s Walk,” a rustic path lined with elms became the main thoroughfare for the cemetery.
Green Mount Cemetery consists of sixty-eight acres of picturesque landscaped grounds and funerary art surrounded by high stone walls, now located within the heart of east Baltimore City. The cemetery’s rolling hills and high elevation provide rich vistas of the surrounding cityscape, and there are many old growth trees to provide shade in season, including oak, maple, walnut, linden, sycamore, gingko, ash, locust, chestnut, and beech, as well smaller varieties such as holly, cedar, dogwood, sassafras, cryptomeria, and crepe myrtle. The cemetery features winding roadways and cobblestone paths occasionally intersected by circular features. With its exceptionally fine memorials and statuary, Green Mount is almost a sculpture garden with works by Hans Schuler, W.H. Rinehart, and Edward Berge. Well-known local stonecutters Frederick Baughman and T. Horatio Bevan worked in partnership to create many of the first gravestones and vaults, including a striking one for Robert A. Taylor. Another noted partnership of stone carvers whose work is featured at Green Mount was Gadess and Benteen, including markers for the McLaughlin plot. Hugh Sisson, among the most distinguished stonecutters of the century, designed the tomb for A.S. Abell and the sarcophagus for Betsy Patterson Bonaparte.
The cemetery’s designer, Benjamin Henry Latrobe II, was the son of the well-known architect, and was working as a civil engineer for the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad when asked to plan the landscape design for the cemetery. The Tudor/Gothic Revival gatehouse was built between 1840 and 1846 and designed by Robert Cary Long Jr. The son of Baltimore’s first prominent native-born architect, Robert Cary Long Sr., the younger Long apprenticed in the New York office of Martin E. Thompson with Ithiel Towne, taking over his father’s practice in 1833. The gatehouse’s original five-part configuration featured a center arched opening flanked by narrow towers, with single-story hyphens connected to a two-story office on one side and a waiting room to the other. All sections are of random laid, cut stone with large, Gothic-arched windows and flat roofs with crenelated parapets. Long may have designed the superintendent and caretaker cottages as well, which are also in the picturesque Gothic Revival style.
The next building completed was the Gothic chapel of 1851, designed by John Rudolph Niernsee and J. Crawford Neilson. They established their firm, Niernsee and Neilson, in 1848, after working together for Latrobe at the B&O Railroad. Theirs is considered the first professionally trained native architectural firm in Baltimore and among the city’s most highly regarded. Made of cut stone, the chapel is octagonal in shape and features a spire that rises 102 feet, flying buttresses, pinnacles, pointed arched doorways and window surrounds, and a porte cochere entrance. Stone arches and columns also ornament the interior, along with tall cathedral ceilings, stone floors, and stained-glass windows. The chapel replaced Robert Oliver’s mansion, which served that purpose temporarily.
In 1929, a mausoleum was added to the cemetery grounds. Designed by Riggin Buckler and G. Corner Fenhagen in the neoclassical style, it is ornamented by Art Deco and Egyptian styled designs. It is square in shape with clipped corners and a flat roof upon which is mounted a similarly configured monitor story. The mausoleum’s recessed entry is flanked by 25-foot fluted stone columns. At each clipped facade is a stylized relief sculpture of figures in mourning. Among those buried in the cemetery are eight Maryland governors and seven city mayors; philanthropists such as Johns Hopkins, Enoch Pratt, Henry and William Walters, and Moses Sheppard; and industrialists such as Robert Garrett, Arunah Abell, Ross Wians, Alex Brown, and Robert Oliver.
Lancaster, Kent R. “Green Mount: The Introduction of the Rural Cemetery Into Baltimore.” Maryland Historical Magazine74, no. 1 (March 1978): 62-79.
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