In 1848, Mayor Henry A.S. Dearborn advised the Roxbury city council to purchase 71 acres of farmland situated ¾-mile southeast of Jamaica Plain to establish a public, municipal cemetery. Dearborn, who laid out the grounds of Mount Auburn Cemetery in 1831, created a design that took advantage of the site’s rocky hills, wooded dales, pine groves, and picturesque vistas. He laid curvilinear drives and paths around Lake Hibiscus, which had a waterfall and family of swans. With Daniel Brims serving as the first Superintendent, Dearborn created grassy inclines and floral borders and planted thousands of trees, creating an informal arboretum of native oaks, chestnuts, elms, ashes, maples, dogwoods and tulip trees, along with exotic species such as European beeches. Burial plots were often defined by hedges or iron railings. The whole cemetery was enclosed by a wooden fence, with the main entrance marked by an Egyptian Revival-style gate.
In 1871, the granite, Gothic Revival receiving tomb, designed by William Ralph Emerson and Carl Fehmer, was erected south of the main gate on Morton Street, and the Egyptian gate was replaced by a rambling Gothic Revival gatehouse and archway. These changes ushered in an era of elaborate statuary, mausolea, and sculpture carved by notable artists such as Daniel Chester French. By 1893, the cemetery had expanded to 225 acres and included indoor and outdoor columbaria and New England’s first crematorium nearby. Today Forest Hills Cemetery encompasses 275 acres; it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.