While cemeteries are the final resting place of friends, relatives, and community residents, they are also historical landscapes that reveal much about a community’s social, political, economic, religious, and ethnic history. In the Lawrence area, historic cemeteries give a fascinating glimpse into the town’s Free-State struggle, Civil War period, settlement days, and its flowering cultural and community interests.
This Lawrence area cemetery tour takes you to a home place burial site, a town settlement cemetery, an ethnic and institutional burial site, a memorial park, rural cemeteries and more.
These cemeteries can tell you many things about Lawrence. Look for ethnic connections on markers or in birthplace. Burial locations within certain cemeteries also speak to socio-economic differences, with the wealthy buried on higher ground. Pay special attention to the memorial symbols, which usually tell about a person’s activities, beliefs or age. Look for differences between family plots and individual graves.
Enjoy your visit, keep your eyes open, your map handy, and notebook ready to record what you discover about the Lawrence are through its historic cemeteries.
THE KANSAS ARLINGTON
OAK HILL CEMETERY
In 1865, this beautiful spot became the new burial site for victims of Quantrill’s Raid as well as numerous other residents. Oak Hill’s many striking memorials include the monument to raid victims, a statue commemorating Spanish-American War soldiers, and a tree-trunk marker for Lucy Hobbs Taylor, the first female dentist in Kansas. So many leaders of the Kansas territorial and Civil War eras are interred in Oak Hill that journalist William Allen White called it the “Kansas Arlington.”
Opened in 1926, Memorial Park represented a new movement in cemetery design that rejected eye-catching monuments on public ground in favor of urban, park-like scenery under private management. Markers are mostly at ground level, emphasizing the open landscape. But the large memorial to basketball inventor James Naismith and other big names in KU hoops cannot and should not be missed.
These small stone markers laid in neat rows emphasize institutional order and tragedy during the early years of Haskell Indian Nations University. Opened in 1884 as Haskell Indian Training School, the facility initially boarded and taught Native American children who had been uprooted from their families and forced to adopt white ways. The toll from illness was high, and half of those buried here died within the first five years of Haskell’s existence. Today, Haskell Indian Nations University owns and maintains the cemetery, which is open to the public during business hours Monday through Friday.
FINAL RESTING PLACE OF MARTYRS & JAYHAWKS
In 1854, the bare hilltop of Mount Oread offered the newly arrived settlers of Lawrence a perfect spot to inter their loved ones. In subsequent years, Pioneer Cemetery became the burial site for Thomas W. Barber—an early victim of proslavery fighters who was memorialized in a famous poem—as well as Civil War soldiers and residents killed in Quantrill’s Raid. Today, the cemetery is reserved for University of Kansas faculty and staff; look for the KU Jayhawk adorning many markers.
This farm cemetery is located on what was once part of the Old California Trail. Domestic or home place burial plots were common in eastern Kansas during the state’s settlement period. In 1863, George Burt—a victim of Quantrill’s Raid—was buried here on his family’s farm. A relative of the Burts named Henry T. Davis then bought out their farm and later buried his family here. Today, Davis Cemetery stands as an island of history in the midst of modern commercial development.
COMMUNITY & REMEMBRANCE
MAPLE GROVE CEMETERY
Lecompton settler George W. Zinn started a family cemetery on his property in 1862. Subsequent years saw the spot used as a burial place by other town residents—who took on unofficial roles as undertakers and sextons—until the Maple Grove Cemetery Association ultimately purchased and incorporated the site in 1875. The gravestones in Maple Grove collectively relate the history of a community founded by hardy pioneers during a turbulent era and maintained through the years by their descendants.
Established in the 1860s for the growing community of Clinton, this extensive cemetery now occupies a peninsula jutting into Clinton Lake. Land clearance for construction of the lake began in the 1960s and swallowed up much of the farmland once tilled by Clinton residents who are buried here.
WHERE TRADITIONS SURVIVE
WASHINGTON CREEK CEMETERY
Washington Creek Church of the Brethren belongs to the Old German Baptist sect and is one of several churches established in the late nineteenth century by Douglas County’s large German-American population. The church’s cemetery is still active and now contains burials of people from many different backgrounds.
NATURAL & SCULPTURAL BEAUTY
PRAIRIE CITY CEMETERY
On a country road southwest of Baldwin City sits a little-known site of peace and remembrance—one of Douglas County’s oldest continuously operated cemeteries. Established in 1855, the combined Prairie City/Mount Calvary Cemetery features wonderful examples of 19th-century grave statuary surrounded by natural seclusion.
HEBREW HISTORY ON THE PRAIRIE
BENI ISRAEL CEMETERY
Several of the German immigrants who founded Eudora in the 1850s belonged to a Chicago-based B’Nai Israel Jewish congregation. Many of Douglas County’s early business owners and community leaders were members of this congregation and were buried in Eudora’s B’Nai Israel Cemetery, even after the congregation moved to Lawrence. In 1978, the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation reactivated the cemetery.