Established in December 1849, Western Cemetery is an active cemetery administered by Beechfield United Methodist Church. In May 2014, a retaining wall at the southern edge of the cemetery collapsed dropping a large volume of dirt, stones and other debris onto the hill below and the adjoining Gwynns Falls Trail.
Learn more about this preservation issue or read on for a history of the cemetery.
Western Cemetery established – 1849
As early as 1846, the Sun published a detailed description of the planned cemetery located at West Baltimore Street:
“This is a new and finely located “place for the dead,” situated between the Frederick (Baltimore Street) and Franklin roads, at the distance of about a mile from the city. We learn from “The Iris,” that “the tract comprises about twenty-five acres. The land is high, and free from stone, with a descent—gradual, but not abrupt—admirably adapted to the draining off of water. About two thirds of the land is cleared—the balance is covered with beautiful trees, mostly young. A large public Mausoleum is in the process of erection in a central part of the Cemetery, on the top of a knoll, commanding a view of the entire grounds.”
The plans included a chapel and a residence for a cemetery superintendent. Lots were priced at the “extremely moderate” cost of $5 for an 8’ by 10’ area.[footnote]“LOCAL MATTERS,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1846.[/footnote] Three years later, in December 1849, the Maryland Assembly passed “An Act to Establish the Western Cemetery” allowing the Trustees of the Fayette Street Methodist Episcopal Church to open a “public” or nondenominational 55-acre cemetery west of the city in Baltimore County.
The “Rules, Regulations, etc. of the Western Cemetery, Baltimore” printed by William Hoffman around 1850 included the original charter, cemetery regulations, burial charges, and a description of the ongoing improvement to the cemetery. Genealogist and historian Francis F. Burch summarized this early description:
“The cemetery is recommended for dryness, a sloping hill with an ‘oriental aspect seldom found’ suitable for private vaults — none appear to have been constructed — and lot prices that put it ‘within the reach of every one.’”
Burch’s research also provided a physical description of the earliest section of Western Cemetery as it during his visit to the site around the mid-1990s:
“…the oldest section of Western is now at the back, bounded on three sides by chain fence and a locked gate. Opaque, gray factory walls and windows run the length ‘of one side; Gwynns Falls the other. The central avenue ascends a slight hill from the first entrance. Where the road is deep-cut approaching a brick, public mausoleum — the most prominent feature of the old section — twelve sets of carriage steps survive, six on each side. Whether for reasons of religion, taste or economics, the old tombstones contrast with larger and more elaborate monuments in the newer sections.” [footnote]Francis F. Burch, “Western Cemetery: Cemetery Records and an Index Card for Two Kirby Lots,” The Notebook of the Baltimore County Genealogical Society, March 1996, http://baltimoregenealogysociety.org/notebook_archive/1996.pdf.[/footnote]
When Edmondson Avenue was improved as the major east-west route across the Gwynns Falls, the main entrance for the cemetery shifted from West Baltimore Street to its current location at 3001 Edmondson Avenue. The New Cathedral Cemetery undertook a similar change moving their entrance from Old Frederick Road to Edmondson Avenue around the same time.
Early burials at Western Cemetery – late 19th century
Early burials at the cemetery included city and county residents from a range of backgrounds. In 1858, the Sun reported on the burial of William Fairbank, a Baltimore County resident who worked as a conductor on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad between 1830 and 1850 and as the keeper of the bridge on the Baltimore and Washington Turnpike. In the fall of 1861, a number of Union soldiers stationed in Baltimore, likely including soldiers recovering from injuries taken at the Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas) in July 1861, died from typhoid fever and were interred at the Western Cemetery, as the Sun described:
“Within a few weeks past there has been considerable mortality amongst the soldiers in this city. Many have died from wounds received in battle, who were subsequently places in the hospital, but typhoid fever has claimed many victims. In the Western Cemetery alone about eighty have been buried, besides which a number have been taken to their homes in the North, and their bodies delivered to their friends.”[footnote]“Local Matters,” The Sun (1837-1986), October 30, 1861.[/footnote]
In 1887, a more elaborate memorial service was organized by the members of the Dushane Post No. 3 of the Grand Army of the Republic (a fraternal organization for Civil War veterans who served in the Union armed services). Two hundred people participated in a parade from the post hall at St. Paul and Lexington Streets, as the Sun reported:
“Memorial services at Western Cemetery were under the direction of Dushane Post, No. 3, and were of a very interesting character. At 3 o’olock in the afternoon the procession left the post hall, the parade being composed of Dushane Post [and other units].”[footnote]“DUSHANE POST MEMORIAL,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1887.[/footnote]
In 1902, Western Cemetery was selected by a group of men incarcerated at the Maryland Penitentiary to save a friend from burial in an unmarked grave, as the Sun notes:
“The body of Arthur Spencer, the convict, who committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell at the penitentiary last Friday, will not be buried in an unmarked grave ‘n the Potter’s Field. His fellow-convicts will contribute to’ give the remains a decent burial in the Western Cemetery. A collection will be taken up among them today.”[footnote]“SAVED FROM POTTER’S FIELD,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1902.[/footnote]
Around 1910, concern about “disintegrating and disappearing stones” prompted then Superintendent William A. Manger to record names and death dates from markers surviving at the time.[footnote]Francis F. Burch, “Western Cemetery: Cemetery Records and an Index Card for Two Kirby Lots.”[/footnote]
In 1912, the Knights of the Golden Eagle erected a memorial within the cemetery. The Knights of the Golden Eagle was another fraternal society founded in Baltimore in August 1872 by John Emory Burbage and “14 of his closest friends.”[footnote]“IN HONOR OF BURBAGE,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1912.[/footnote]
Construction of Ellicott Driveway – 1915
In 1915, Baltimore City acquired a portion of the cemetery property for the construction of Ellicott Driveway. This required the closure of the “the railroad crossing at the Cemetery lane entrance to Western Cemetery” and an agreement between Baltimore City, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and the officers of the cemetery company.[footnote]“GRADE CROSSING TO GO,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1915.[/footnote]
The cemetery continued to serve a popular place of internment for military veterans and police officers during the 20th century. In September 1921, Western Cemetery was the site of some conflict when a group of World War I veterans buried Private First Class John Harrison Lambert, a member of the 313th Infantry who was killed in action in France, despite the opposition of the trustees and the superintendent of Western Cemetery. [footnote]“VETERANS DEFY CEMETERY RULE; BURY COMRADE,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1921.[/footnote] The Sun published a letter on September 9, 1921 defending the burial as an act of “justice to the bereaved mother, sister and loved ones” of Private Lambert.[footnote]Richard C O’Connell, “Commander of Connell Answers The Superintendent Of Western, Cemetery,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1921.[/footnote]
In February 1926, Baltimore Police Inspector C. E. Hurley was buried at the cemetery. Hurley had joined the police force in 1893 when he was just 22 years old.[footnote]“C. E. HURLEY FUNERAL TO BE HELD TUESDAY: Police Inspector Will Be Buried In Western Cemetery WAS ILL TWO MONTHS Member Of Force Since 1893, Was 55 Years Old–Interested In Church Work,” The Sun (1837-1986), February 21, 1926.[/footnote] In July 1926, the Sun reported on a huge crowd of “several thousand persons” who attended the burial of Patrolman Webster E. Schumann, noting, “A full firing squad of eight men from Camp Meade fired three volleys into the air and a bugler sounded ‘taps’ as the services for the war veteran ended.”[footnote]“THOUSANDS ATTEND POLICEMAN’S BURIAL,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1926.[/footnote]
According to a description published on Find A Grave, Officer Schumann had served three years and seven months with the Baltimore City Police Department when he was shot and mortally wounded by “an armed deranged man” at 635 W. Lafayette Avenue.
On March 7, 1942, 102-year-old Civil War veteran Charles Daniels was buried at the cemetery. Hurley who lived at 1313 Linden Avenue was described by the Sun as the veteran of seven battles in three Civil War campaigns who credited his long life to “a little liquor and upright living.”
Between the late 1800s and 1920s, the neighborhoods around the cemetery (now known as Greater Rosemont) had grown into a densely built collection of rowhouses developed along the streetcar lines that connected West Baltimore to downtown and other parts of the city. In the 1950s and 1960s, Greater Rosemont transitioned from a largely segregated white area to a largely African American area. Dr. Ed Orser quotes a former Edmondson Village resident, Ann Morgan, who recalled how some people saw Western Cemetery as a barrier to racial transition, commenting:
“People had foolish ideas; they said they’d never move opposite Western Cemetery, because black people didn’t like to live opposite the cemetery. You know, people had all those dumb ideas.”
Western Cemetery saved from the East-West Expressway – 1969
After World War II, the city began planning for the East-West Expressway and, by the 1960s, had identified a route that cut through Western Cemetery. By 1969, family members of those interred at the cemetery had joined advocates for the Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, and residents of east and west Baltimore in fighting against the proposed highway. In 1969, the Baltimore Sun reported on the contentious hearings for residents in the neighborhoods around the cemetery, writing:
“The Rosemont area expressway hearings that ended last Monday indicated a deepening public dissatisfaction over the East-West expressway and an increasing cynicism among citizens about their rights to be heeded by city politicians.”
Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro responded to this coalition by backing the proposal in 1969 for state highway designers to consider a new route for the Rosemont section of the East-West Expressway to bypass Western Cemetery.
Between 1976 and 1977, a number of graves were transferred from the cemetery of St John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to the St. John’s Ground section of the park near the original West Baltimore Street entrance.
Present day preservation challenges – 2015
Saved from destruction in the 1960s, Western Cemetery is now threatened by the collapse of a retaining wall at the rear of the cemetery. ABC Baltimore quoted the cemetery caretaker John Brazee on his observation of the collapse in May 2014:
“‘It was just a trickle at first… Couple pieces of dirt, maybe a brick or so falling down.’ Then, within minutes, Brazee says the hill and headstones on it collapsed and slid away. ‘It sounded like thunder. Everything just poured down… There was a dock that went all the way across here. Solid concrete. It buckled up and then it just filled in the hole.’”
Families of the people buried at Western Cemetery reached out to share their concern with Beechfield United Methodist Church and Rev. Valerie Barnes who oversee the property. Fortunately, the collapse took place in an area of the cemetery used for the storage of tombstones from bodies that had been moved. Beechfield United Methodist Church is the successor congregation to the Fayette Street Church who were originally located on West Fayette Street near where the University of Maryland BioPark is located today.
 Francis F. Burch, “Western Cemetery: Cemetery Records and an Index Card for Two Kirby Lots,” The Notebook of the Baltimore County Genealogical Society, March 1996, http://baltimoregenealogysociety.org/notebook_archive/1996.pdf.
 “Local Matters,” The Sun (1837-1986), October 30, 1861.
 “DUSHANE POST MEMORIAL,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1887.
 “SAVED FROM POTTER’S FIELD,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1902.
 Francis F. Burch, “Western Cemetery: Cemetery Records and an Index Card for Two Kirby Lots.”
 “IN HONOR OF BURBAGE,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1912.
 “GRADE CROSSING TO GO,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1915.
 “VETERANS DEFY CEMETERY RULE; BURY COMRADE,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1921.
 Richard C O’Connell, “Commander of Connell Answers The Superintendent Of Western, Cemetery,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1921.
 “C. E. HURLEY FUNERAL TO BE HELD TUESDAY: Police Inspector Will Be Buried In Western Cemetery WAS ILL TWO MONTHS Member Of Force Since 1893, Was 55 Years Old–Interested In Church Work,” The Sun (1837-1986), February 21, 1926.
 “THOUSANDS ATTEND POLICEMAN’S BURIAL,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1926.
 “Webster E. Schumann (1896 – 1926) – Find A Grave Memorial,” accessed February 18, 2015, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=58722236.
 “Charles Daniels, 102, Will Be Buried Today,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1942.
 “CIVIL WAR VETERAN DIES AT AGE OF 102,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1942.
 W. Edward Orser, Blockbusting in Baltimore: The Edmondson Village Story (University Press of Kentucky, 1994), 98.
 JANELEE KEIDEL, “An Expressway Bridges a Gulf between People,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1969.
 “5th Expressway Route Suggested,” The Sun (1837-1985), 1969.
 Francis F. Burch, “Western Cemetery: Cemetery Records and an Index Card for Two Kirby Lots.”
 “Mudslide Left No Grave Damage At 200-Year-Old West Baltimore Cemetery,” accessed February 12, 2015, http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2014/05/02/mudslide-left-no-grave-damage-at-200-year-old-west-baltimore-cemetery/.