As a member of a travel team for a local hospital system, I work in ten different hospitals in the Pittsburgh area. One of these is a hospital in Lawrenceville, and it was at the beginning of one of these shifts that I realized the hospital was built right next to the famous Allegheny Cemetery.
I already know a little bit of its history, but I’d forgotten exactly where it was located. After having spent a good twenty minutes circling the parking garage looking for a free spot, I found one. It was only after much rejoicing over the availability of a spot did I realize its location. Though, seeing such a sight right outside your hospital room window could be a little concerning for kiddos. But that’s just my overactive imagination coming into play!
If it hadn’t been raining that day, and if I had not had a twelve hour shift, I would’ve walked those paved pathways afterward. The next day I mentioned it to a coworker – also on the travel team – who mentioned the cemetery’s name: Allegheny. For years I’ve known it was a gorgeous place, and I can absolutely see why the Victorians would choose to have picnics within its walls. My coworker has actually gone there on a class trip (he is much older than I, so I suppose this would make sense for when he was in school), and he loves the architecture. One day I hope to visit, myself. For now, let us take a look at the history of The Allegheny Cemetery.
The Early Days
While the Allegheny Cemetery is not as old as Pittsburgh itself, it is still historic enough to draw the attention of history enthusiasts from all over the country. Incorporated in 1844, this nationally recognized piece of history was designed to have more of a park feel than a traditional “plot” cemetery. It was a cemetery before its incorporation, with many of the graves being from the 1820s, 1830s, 1840s, 1850s and beyond. The cemetery’s “founding fathers” were Thomas Irwin, Thomas M. Howe, JK Moorhead, Richard Biddle, Charles J. Clarke, John B. Jackson and Charles E. Speer.
As early as 1834 an attempt was made by Dr. J. Ramsey Speer, Stephen Colwell and John Chislett, Sr. to establish a rural cemetery. The three persons named were connected with the Third Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, of which Dr. D. H. Riddle was Pastor, and the congregation not having procured a burial ground, their attention was drawn to the subject and it was proposed to purchase a lot belonging to the heirs of Judge Roberts, situated on the south side of Wylie Street. The entire lot, containing eleven acres, was offered for Five Thousand Dollars on easy terms and was considered large enough for one congregation.Allegheny Cemetery Website
The Allegheny Cemetery, incorporated at the start of the Victorian era, reflects many of the trends that were popular at the time. This is seen in the style of design and sprawling pathways, the architecture and, most famously, its entrance. The cemetery is also an arboretum and boasts many different types of foliage. As a result, natural wildlife is drawn to the area – an ecosystem inside a cemetery.
The Allegheny Cemetery is a rural cemetery, one of the oldest in the country, and is the final resting place of many famous, infamous and well known figures. These names include Richard Biddle, James W. Brown, James Wallace Conant, Don Brockett, William Wallace Irwin, General James S. Negley and many former Pittsburgh mayors.
“Allegheny Cemetery, historically a rural burial ground, provides a beautiful, respectful resting place for the dead and serves the community as a living tribute to generations past. Our mission is to provide comfort to the families we serve by offering a peaceful environment, an elegant landscape, and a commitment to perpetually honor all of those entrusted to our care.”Allegheny Cemetery Mission Statement
Before there was the Allegheny Cemetery, there were smaller cemeteries all throughout the regions. This is still holds true into our modern days. It would be too presumptions for the cemetery’s founders to intern everyone at their new cemetery, and many faiths had cemeteries adjacent to their churches. In fact:
Its use dates back longer than anyone can know for certain. After building Fort Duquesne in 1754, the French realized that the Native Americans had been using the site for a burial ground. […] The Trinity Church site was favored by many early Pittsburghers whose names grace city streets and buildings. (You might say — if you had no respect for yourself whatsoever — that people were dying to get in.) Many French and Indian War veterans, as well as early leading citizens, were interred there, and some of their grave sites still remain.Pittsburgh City Paper
Today, there are many resources for those interested in the Allegheny Cemetery. One can still be buried there, but there are also maps, public burial records, and continuous renovation and restoration efforts. There’s even an Images of America book dedicated to the cemetery.
I don’t know about you, but I am rather tempted to dress in Victorian costume, pack a picnic lunch, and go for a spring stroll in Pittsburgh’s own Allegheny Cemetery. Call me strange all you like, but I think I’d rather enjoy living in that era. My family always jokes that I’m a “girl out of time.” Perhaps I’ll see you out for a stroll in the cemetery next Spring?