Opened for public interment in 1822, Shockoe Hill Cemetery is Richmond’s first city-owned municipal burial ground and the second oldest public burial ground in the city. Since its establishment, the burial ground expanded four times and now spans 12.7 acres. Many prominent Richmonders and Virginians were laid to rest in Shockoe Hill, such as Revolutionary War leader Peter Francisco, United States Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, the largest group of War of 1812 veterans in the country, Edgar Allan Poe’s foster parents and fiancé, and hundreds of Civil War soldiers. Despite being owned and maintained by the City of Richmond, Shockoe Hill Cemetery fell into disrepair by 1904 and continued to decay well into the 1950s. In 2006, a volunteer group called Friends of Shockoe Hill organized and began assisting the city with maintenance of the historic cemetery. The group has been responsible for repairing and resetting dozens of headstones, conducting research and walking tours, and public outreach about the significance of the cemetery. Shockoe Hill Cemetery was designated a Virginia Landmark on April 28, 1995 and added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 7, 1995.
Bound between 2ndand 4thStreets and Hospital and E. Bates Streets, the Shockoe Hill Cemetery is one of Richmond’s lesser-known historic sites. Shockoe Hill Cemetery is Richmond’s first city-owned municipal burial ground. The cemetery around St. John’s Church began reaching capacity during the late 1790s, so in 1820 city officials purchased four acres near the almshouse to be used as a new cemetery. Richard Young, Richmond’s surveyor, spent the next two years arranging the new burial ground in a grid pattern to create a park-like atmosphere. Inside the cemetery, roadways named A, B, C, and D divide the cemetery into nine sections. Opened for public interment in 1822, the cemetery became Richmond’s second oldest public burial ground. Originally called the New Burying Ground, the cemetery became a popular resting place for Richmond’s elite. The popularity of Shockoe Hill Cemetery necessitated three expansions in 1833, 1850, and 1870, resulting in its current 12.7 acres.
Despite Shockoe Hill Cemetery being a public burial ground available to all free citizens (prior to the Civil War), the cemetery became the final resting place for many prominent and famous Virginians. Some of the more famous individuals buried in Shockoe Hill are: Revolutionary War leader Peter Francisco; United States Supreme Court Justice John Marshall; Virginia governors William H. Cabell, John Munford, and John Mercer Patton; the largest group of War of 1812 veterans in the country; Edgar Allan Poe’s foster parents, John and Frances V. Allan; Edgar Allan Poe’s fiancé, Elmira Royster Shelton; and Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew. During the Civil War, the cemetery was used as burial grounds for hundreds of Confederate and Union soldiers. After the war, the federal government moved the Union burials to the Richmond National Cemetery.
The city landscaped the cemetery with shrubs, willows, and Virginia elms, but families also introduced roses, lilacs, maples, cedars, locusts, yews, and other decorative plants. Many of these trees and shrubs survive today. In addition to the beautiful landscaping, families erected architecturally sophisticated monuments for their deceased. Richmonders utilized the local ironmaking and stonemason industries to create these monuments, which now serve as 19th-Century cultural artifacts regarding death. The park-like setting and natural beauty of the cemetery combined with the 19th-Century sociocultural acceptance of death led to the of the use of Shockoe Hill Cemetery as a public park. Edgar Allan Poe reportedly spent many Sundays strolling through the cemetery with his wife Virginia, visiting those whom he once knew.
Despite being owned and maintained by the City of Richmond, Shockoe Hill Cemetery fell into disrepair by 1904 and continued to decay well into the 1950s. Appreciation for the cemetery began anew in 1995 when the cemetery received landmark status on the Virginia Landmarks Register and inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Then in 2006, a volunteer group called Friends of Shockoe Hill organized and began assisting the city with maintenance of the historic cemetery. The group has been responsible for repairing and resetting dozens of headstones, conducting research and walking tours, and public outreach about the significance of the cemetery.