Oldest Cemeteries in the United States

10 Oldest Cemeteries in the United States

The way we look at cemeteries has changed. It wasn’t that long ago when graveyards were considered morbid and creepy environments for both children and adults.

But did you know that before 1831, America had no modern, large-scale public cemeteries? It wasn’t until the 1700s that the movement to build public cemeteries began. Today, we don’t even call them ‘cemeteries’ anymore but instead call them ‘memorial parks.’ 

They are not as stark and inhospitable as the cemeteries of old but are rather welcoming with vast greens and flower patches.

There are around 140,000 graveyards in the US and some of them have been around for over a century. These old cemeteries are now considered historical landmarks and are fascinating places to learn about a place’s history and its people.

Here’s a list of some of ‘The oldest cemeteries in the United States.’

10. Arlington National Cemetery

Established: May 13, 1864
Location: Virginia
Owner: U.S. Department of the Army
Famous dead: US President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Famous landmark: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

photo source: www.arlingtoncemetery.mil

Spanning 639 acres, Arlington National Cemetery is the tenth oldest cemetery in the US.

A military cemetery, the United States Department of the Army has jurisdiction over the burial grounds. It is the final resting place of the nation’s dead resulting from its conflicts beginning with the civil war. Today, it has become an important historical site and is a somber reminder of the country’s triumphs and the high cost of freedom.

It is also one of the most elite cemeteries in the US and is known as the final resting place of Astronauts, explorers, and even US presidents. They even have a special section on their website dedicated to notable graves.

Did You Know?

The 639-acre cemetery has gravestones of every faith and belief, including Christian, Muslim, Judaic, Wiccan, and even Atheist.


9. Calvary Cemetery

Established: 1848
Location: New York
Owner: The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York
Famous dead: Various mobsters, New York City Mayor Hugh J. Grant, and US Senator Martin J. Kennedy
Famous landmark: The Calvary Monument which honors the 69th Regiment

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

With about three million burials, Calvary Cemetery has the largest number of interments of any cemetery in the US. It is also famous for being the final resting place of well known gangsters such as Joe Masseria, Ignazio Saietta, Peter Morello, Thomas Lucchese, Dominick Napolitano, and Benjamin Ruggiero.

The cemetery was also featured in the movie ‘The Godfather’ as the final resting place of fictional mafia boss Don Vito Corleone.

The Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral manage the cemetery which is one of the oldest and largest cemeteries in the country.

Did You Know?

The first immigrant to be recorded to have passed through Ellis Island, Annie Moore Schayer is also buried in Calvary Cemetery.


8. Greenlawn Cemetery

Established: 1821
Location: Indiana
Owner: Municipality of Indianapolis
Famous dead: US President Benjamin Harrison
Famous landmark:

photo source: www.gannett-cdn.com

Established in 1821, Greenlawn Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana was the initial burial ground of over 1,100 Hoosier pioneers, 1,200 Union soldiers, and 1,600 Confederate prisoners of war.

It was nearing full capacity by 1863 due to wartime casualties.

On October 22, 1863, Crown Hill Cemetery was established in an effort to relocate the soldiers from Greenlawn to a new section in Crown Hill.

By 1890 Greenlawn Cemetery was closed to new burials and plans were made for its complete relocation.

It was during this time that it was discovered that most of the graves have been vandalized and that bodies were stolen presumably for examination and dissection at local medical schools.

Did You Know?

At the time of the American Civil War, Indianapolis had no cemetery specifically designated as a burial place for Union soldiers who died in camps and hospitals near Indianapolis.


7. Saint Louis Cemetery

Established: 1789
Location: Louisiana
Owner: Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans
Famous dead: Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau
Famous landmark: Glapion Family Crypt (Marie Laveau’s family)

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Established in 1789, Saint Louis Cemetery ‘Number 1’ is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans. There are two other St. Louis cemeteries in New Orleans, Louisiana, with cemetery ‘Number 2’ being consecrated in 1823 and cemetery ‘Number 3’ opening in 1854.

Above-ground vaults were used for the majority of the graves.

As expected of such an old and historical cemetery, many prominent figures have been buried there. For cemetery ‘Number 1’, these include  Etienne de Boré, Homer Plessy, Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial,  Alexander Dimitry, and even renowned voodoo priestess  Marie Laveau.

Cemeteries 2 and 3 have notable names such as Danny Barker,  Ernie K. Doe, Charles Genois, E. J. Bellocq, and painter Ralston Crawford among many others.

On March 1, 2015, the cemetery was closed by the  Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans, probably due to rising incidents of vandalism on the property.

In a highly controversial move, the diocese is now charging tour companies for access to the tune of $4,500 per year. Families who have tombs may apply for a pass to visit their loved ones.

Did You Know?

Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage commissioned a pyramid grave for himself on the site, even though he is still very much alive and healthy.


6. Ste. Genevieve Memorial Cemetery

Established: 1787
Location: Missouri
Owner: US Senator Lewis F. Linn
Famous dead: Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau
Famous landmark:

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Ste. Genevieve Memorial Cemetery opened in 1797 and became part of the National Historic Landmark District in 1960 and the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Known for dividing the burial grounds for Catholics, Lutherans, and Protestants, it is also the final resting place of 50 native Americans and notable US Senator Lewis F. Linn.

Over 5,000 recorded burials have been made in the two-block cemetery before being closed in 1881. It is said that there have been additional burials made until 1894, with almost half of them children under six years old.

It has since been restored in 2010 by the Foundation for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve, Inc.

Did You Know?

A number of African Americans, both slave and free, have been laid to rest there in unmarked graves.


5. American Cemetery

Established: 1737
Location: Louisiana
Owner:
Famous dead: Carmelite “Cammie” Garrett Henry, who transformed the Melrose plantation in 1899 into an artist colony
Famous landmark:

photo source: Flickr via Randy Heinitz

The American Cemetery is at the heart of the Natchitoches community in Louisiana. According to historians, it was officially founded in Fort St. Jean Baptiste. The founders and first residents of the Natchitoches settlement were buried there.

Local citizens have been responsible for its upkeep and preservation, bringing the historical site back into the public eye. It has become part of the itinerary for many heritage site tours.

Did You Know?

The cemetery is also famous for being used as a location site for the movie Steel Magnolias in one of its climactic scenes.


4. Old North Cemetery

Established: 1730
Location: New Hampshire
Owner:
Famous dead: US President Franklin Pierce
Famous landmark:

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

There are many notable figures in American history buried in the Old North Cemetery such as Governors, religious leaders, senators, industrialists, and even US President Franklin Pierce have been laid to rest in this historical cemetery.

The Old North Cemetery is now being preserved because of its historical value. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2008. 

This historic cemetery still accepts new burials. 

Did You Know?

Lewis Downing, founder of the Abbot-Downing Company and the creator of the Concord coach, Is buried here.


3. North Burial Ground

Established: 1700
Location: Rhode Island
Owner: Public
Famous dead: Edgar Allan Poe’s lover, Sarah Helen Whitman
Famous landmark:

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The third oldest cemetery in the US is the North Burial Ground. The North Burial Ground is the first public cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.

Despite being established in 1700, records show that the first official burial took place eleven years later in 1711. No one knows for sure why the cemetery remained largely unused in its early days; even by 1736, only 14 people were buried there.   

Today, it has over 40,000 gravestones and is the largest municipal cemetery in the territory.

The cemetery has headstones of notable historical figures such as John and Nicolas Brown, Stephen Hopkins, Horace Mann, and Samuel Bridgham.

Its distinct architectural and landscape features combined with artistic gravestones make it a popular destination for both tourists and historians.

Did You Know?

The North Burial ground is one of the largest public cemeteries. At least 220 deceased are buried here each year.


2. Myles Standish Burial Ground

Established: 1638
Location: Massachusetts
Owner: Town of Duxbury
Famous dead: English Military Captain Myles Standish
Famous landmark: Standish gravesite

Myles Standish Burial Groundphoto source: seeplymouth.com

Located in Duxbury, Massachusetts, Myles Standish Burial Ground (Standish Cemetery) was established in 1638 and is one of the oldest cemeteries in the US. Approximately 130 gravestones are marked,  some dating as early as 1697. 

Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620 including Captain Myles Standish are buried on the 1.5-acre lot. Interest in locating the final resting place of the notable captain resulted in two exhumations in 1889 before his remains were found.

Did You Know?

The National Register of Historic Places has recognized the Myles Standish Burial Ground as a place of significant historical importance.


1. Charter Street Cemetery

Established: 1637
Location: Salem, Massachusetts
Owner: Town of Salem 
Famous dead: Lead judge in the Salem witch trials, John Hathorne
Famous landmark:

photo source: Flickr via George Pankewytch

Originally a private cemetery owned by the Wade family, Charter Street Cemetery (Old Burying Point Cemetery) in Salem, Massachusetts is ‘The oldest cemetery in the United States.’

Established in 1637, its earliest gravestone dates back to 1683 and became a public cemetery in 1717.

Around 485 headstones are to be found on the property, but since slaves weren’t allowed tombstones during that cruel era, records say that 600 people are buried there.

Mostly granite was used for the gravestones and luminaries such as Massachusetts Governor John Brooks and  Revolutionary War heroine Sarah Bradlee Fulton lay alongside the nameless slaves and 19 innocent women executed by Judge John Hathorne at the height of Salem’s witch trials.

Did You Know?

They say that the cemetery is haunted by the ghost of Judge John Hathorne.

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