Founded in 1831, the cemetery located just four miles outside of Boston was the nation’s first designed rural cemetery. It quickly became a model for the design movement that also served as a precursor to the American park movement. The primary force in its creation was physician and horticulturist Jacob Bigelow, who influenced Boston’s city leaders in an effort to address problems of overcrowding and sanitation in the city’s cemeteries. In the process the cemetery served as a new paradigm for commemoration of the dead, inviting visitors, with guide books in hand, to explore its tranquil, park-like setting.
The 175-acre site was laid out according to the plan of Henry A.S. Dearborn and Alexander Wadsworth as an “embellished landscape” of rolling terrain with ornamental plantings, ponds, sylvan glades, monuments, fences, fountains, and chapels. Numerous architectural styles are represented; similarly, the landscape’s intimate spaces and grand sweeping vistas reflect a wide range of styles, from Victorian-era plantings to contemporary gardens. With over 5,000 trees representing 630 taxa, the landscape is horticulturally diverse. Mount Auburn Cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003.