Founded in 1853 by the city’s civic leaders as a non-denominational city cemetery, Oakland Cemetery was sited upon forty acres of densely wooded, gently rolling land two miles north of the Mississippi River. The cemetery was slowly developed as more land was accrued over the subsequent twenty years. In 1873 the Chicago-based landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland was retained to design the cemetery, the same year he worked on the Saint Anthony Park neighborhood and five years before he began work on the Minneapolis and St. Paul Park and Boulevard System. At this time the cemetery encompassed 70 acres on a long and narrow site, defined by St. Paul’s rectilinear street grid and enclosed with a high wooden fence. Cleveland’s picturesque plan included curvilinear roads and winding paths in a park-like setting dominated by oak groves. The first stone chapel was erected in 1882 and the caretaker’s residence in 1885; the chapel was replaced with the current granite masonry structure in 1924. An austere neoclassical mausoleum occupies the southeast corner of the site.
In 1905 the adjacent German Lutheran Zion Cemetery was incorporated into Oakland, bringing the cemetery to its current 100 acres. In 1911 a large service building and new greenhouses were established; the greenhouses provided flowers for cemetery lot owners and produced revenue for the Oakland Cemetery Association. Today the cemetery remains heavily wooded with oak and elm trees and includes over 50,000 gravesites.