Bellefontaine Cemetery houses the Louis Sullivan-designed Wainwright Tomb, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 314-acre cemetery consists of more than 87,000 graves, including those of William Clark, Adolphus Busch, Thomas Hart Benton, and William S. Burroughs. Both Union and Confederate soldiers from the American Civil War are buried here, as well as numerous local and state politicians.
History of Bellefontaine Cemetery
On March 7, 1849, the Rural Cemetery Association of St. Louis was founded by a group of prominent St. Louis citizens, such as banker William McPherson and lawyer John Fletcher Darby. This association sought to meet the needs of a rapidly growing city by establishing a new cemetery several miles outside city limits. St. Louis was experiencing exponential population growth and felt that the current cemeteries were posing a problem for urban development. Some folks also thought that the city cemeteries presented a public health hazard. These problems were compounded during the summer of 1849, when a massive cholera epidemic swept through St. Louis and took the lives of more than 4,000 people.
In 1849, the Rural Cemetery Association purchased the Hempstead family farm located five miles northwest of the city. The 138-acre farm was situated on the road to Fort Bellefontaine, thus, the Association decided to name its new cemetery after the fort. The Association hired landscape architect Almerin Hotchkiss, to begin drafting and implementing a master plan for Bellefontaine. For the next 46 years Hotchkiss went on to serve as superintendent of the cemetery. Hotchkiss designed most of Bellefontaine’s roadways and landscaping, and oversaw maintenance of the grounds. By 1865, the cemetery had reached its present-day size of 314 acres after many more land purchases.
The first burial at Bellefontaine Cemetery was on April 27, 1850. Bodies from older cemeteries within the city of St. Louis were moved to Bellefontaine, including some from the cemetery by the Old Cathedral near the Mississippi River. Members of several notable brewing families, including the Anheusers, Buschs, Lemps, and Griesediecks also found their final resting place there.
Over 87,000 people have been buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery, and approximately 100 new burials take place each year. Bellefontaine still holds over 100 acres of open, unused land. Bellefontaine consists of over 14 miles of paved roads and its arboretum is home to over 180 species of trees and shrubs.
The oldest graves in the cemetery are located on Edward Hempstead’s family lot and date as far back as 1816. Many of the wealthiest families in St. Louis are laid to rest in ornate mausoleums which overlook the Mississippi River and draw from Classical, Romanesque, Gothic, and Egyptian architectural styles. Guided tours of the cemetery’s main historical and architectural highlights, as well as the arboretum, are available and open to the public. Visitors can also obtain self-guided tour brochures at the cemetery office.
The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.