Laurel Hill Cemetery
3822 Ridge Ave., 215/228-8200
HOURS: Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., closed major holidays
COST: Free admission, $5 self-guided tour and map, $10–20 most guided tours
Until the 1830s, city cemeteries were as crowded and unsanitary as the streets they butted up against. Bodies filled small churchyards in packed residential and commercial areas, and when space ran out, additional layers of graves were often added.
A picturesque, rural burial ground was a revolutionary idea at the time. Envisioned as a dignified resting place for the departed as well as a country retreat for the living, Laurel Hill Cemetery was situated several miles northwest of Philadelphia’s urban bustle on a large estate overlooking the Schuylkill River.
Notable people interred in the grounds include almost 40 Civil War–era generals, six Titanic survivors, and many members of the prominent Rittenhouse, Elkins, Widener, and Strawbridge families.
More than 170 years later, Laurel Hill Cemetery remains a lovely respite from urban life adjacent to Fairmount Park. Walk around and read the names and dates in the ancient mausoleums and stones and try to piece together the stories of those buried.
Even better, take a self-guided tour or one of the special themed tours offered several times a month. You’ll hear fascinating stories about the lives—and deaths—of some of the city’s most prominent early residents.
The facility attracts joggers and horticulturalists as much as architecture and history buffs. Its vast archives of contracts, maps, photographs, and documents are a resource for historians, genealogists, and scholars.
© Karrie Gavin from Moon Philadelphia, 1st Edition