Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA
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Significance: Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery constitutes the second major rural cemetery in the United States. Begun in 1836, it is the earliest known work of John Notman, an important nineteenth-century architect and landscape designer. Civil engineer and "rural architect" James C. Sidney also forged his landscape career at Laurel Hill. After laying out a southern addition to the grounds, he designed parks and cemeteries in Pennsylvania and New York. A third beneficiary of Laurel Hill was its principal founder, John Jay Smith. He guided the cemetery's planting and promotion, and in the process earned an influential voice in horticulture and cemetery management. As the common link between people who shaped America's metropolitan landscape, Laurel Hill deserves study.
Yet the cemetery's significance extends well beyond an association with these individuals. In an era when cities suffered from crowding, disease, and scarcity of public space, Laurel Hill offered an "alternative environment." Amid clerical criticism and economic instability, the institution lured startling numbers of patrons and visitors. They came to experience artfully controlled nature; to see romantic monuments and to build them; to mix piety and patriotism, education and entertainment. Cemetery literature promised all of these things. Nonetheless, the institution ultimately placed property rights above public access. As Laurel Hill's visitation statistics fueled the Victorian crusade for urban parks, lot-holders built higher fences and managers wrote more restrictive rules. Today Laurel Hill stands as a landmark in the history of American architecture, landscape, and marketing. Spawned by a New Jersey Quaker's interest in horticulture, commemoration, and elite enterprise, it is an essay in Victorian taste and mores.
Survey number: HABS PA-1811
Building/structure dates: 1836 Initial Construction
Building/structure dates: 1849 Subsequent Work
Building/structure dates: 1864-1865 Subsequent Work
Building/structure dates: 1913 Subsequent Work
Building/structure dates: 1840 Subsequent Work
Building/structure dates: 1844 Subsequent Work
Building/structure dates: 1874-1900 Subsequent Work
National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number: 77001185