Historic Cemeteries

History of the City's Cemeteries

Last updated Apr. 06, 2017 - 4:07 pm
Carriage path at City Cemetery in Downtown Raleigh

The City of Raleigh Cemeteries staff oversees three of the City's oldest cemeteries - Mt. Hope Cemetery, City Cemetery and O'Rorke Cemetery, and several smaller, unmarked grave site properties throughout the City. Regular interments still occur at Mt. Hope Cemetery with occasional internments at City Cemetery.

City Cemetery

The four-acre plot was divided into four 1 acre sections-2 acres reserved for white residents, 1 acre reserved for visitors and 1 acre reserved for black residents. Over time, the lack of maintenance of City Cemetery became a concern and in 1917, the City's Public Works Commission took over responsibility of the cemetery. A fire in the City's municipal auditorium occurred on October 25, 1930 which destroyed all of the burial records for City Cemetery and Mt. Hope Cemetery. As a result, no further burial lots have been sold at City Cemetery as there is no way to determine lot boundaries.

By the early 1970's, responsibility for maintenance of the City's Cemeteries was transferred to the City's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department and four full-time, permanent staff assigned to the Cemeteries crew. A regular maintenance program was established, and a long-range improvement plan developed for the for City Cemetery, but vandalism and vagrancy continued to plague the City Cemetery throughout 1970's, 1980's, and early 1990's. Attempts were made by volunteer groups, such as the Raleigh Junior Women's Club, to improve City Cemetery.

Current Work in Progress:

Bollards have been procured for installation at City Cemetery. The bollards will prevent unwanted vehicular access, thus reducing the potential for loss of historical stones and grave markers. Additionally, a storage unit was recently acquired for the safe storage of cemetery stones under repair. Restoration of the dilapidated Peace family plot, the founding family of Raleigh's Peace College, is underway by the Raleigh City Cemetery preservation group.

Mt. Hope Cemetery

In the 1872, the City purchased 11.5 acres of property to provide additional public burial space for Raleigh's black residents. Additional burial land adjacent to the original parcel was acquired in 1895, 1912, 1914, 1926, 1945, 1947, and 1956. In 1977, the City opened Mt. Hope Cemetery to all races for burial. In 1989, the Raleigh City Council reversed its plan (dating back to 1963) to abandon the cemetery once filled and dropped interment prices. Records of interments, dating back to mid 1937, are maintained by the Cemetery Supervisor.

O'Rorke-Catholic Cemetery

In 1858, John O'Rorke, a carriage shop owner, sold 1 1/8 acres of land to the Catholic Church for use as a cemetery. It is believed that burials continued until 1900. In the 1930's, Eugene McGuinness, a Bishop of Raleigh "turned over" the property to the City. (Minutes of the Board of Commissioners, 11/25/1938). For the next, 60 years, considerable disagreement between the Catholic Church and the City concerning actual ownership of the property, and rights and responsibilities of each party took place. During this period, this cemetery served as a final resting place for the City's paupers. The official Deed of Gift from Michael F Burbidge, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Raleigh to the City was not signed and filed until July 10, 2009.

Current Work in Progress:

Turf renovations were made to at O'Rorke Cemetery in fall 2009. An estimate for replacement fencing has been received and is under consideration by the Board.

How to Clean a Stone Grave Marker

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Materials Conservator, Jason Church, demonstrates how to properly clean a stone grave marker.

Video provide by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

Watch the Video

The 1990's

In September 1996, Hurricane Fran toppled a significant number of mature trees at both Mt. Hope and City Cemetery thus delaying needed repairs. An assessment of the damage was taken at both cemeteries and an archaeological study was undertaken in the summer of 1997. View the report of Hurricane Fran damage

In 1997, the State Historic Preservation Office determined that Mt. Hope Cemetery was eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The 2000's

In the fall of 2006, Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department staff advertised a request for qualifications for the development of a strategic plan for the inventory and restoration of Raleigh's three historic cemeteries. The department contracted with the Chicora Foundation, Inc. from Columbia, South Carolina to work with staff and the community on the creation of this plan.

The scope of work for this project included six major components: Historical Research, Legal Research, Research of Other Projects, Research of Genealogical Inventory Practices, Site Assessments, Stakeholder Meeting and Funding Issues.

In the fall of 2007, the department reviewed and edited the draft strategic plan document produced by the consultant. Staff presented the plan and its findings to the Parks Committee of the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Advisory Board (PRGAB). Both the Committee and Board as a whole unanimously voted in favor of accepting the plan.

On September 2, 2008, the Raleigh City Council accepted the strategic plan and authorized the establishment of a stakeholder group to work collaboratively with staff in the implementation of the plan.

In January 2009, City Council approved the PRGAB's recommended nine members to serve on a stakeholder's group. The group began meeting monthly in March 2009.

In May 2009, City Council approved a name change of the stakeholder group to the City of Raleigh Historic Cemeteries Advisory Board and approved of the Board's by-laws. Sixty thousand dollars ($60,000) was reserved in the City's CIP program in FY10 for improvements to the historic cemeteries.

In October 2009, the City's cemeteries staff received a Sir Walter Raleigh Award, given to those groups or individuals who "have made outstanding contributions to the character, environment and appearance of Raleigh." The cemetery staff won in the category of Maintained Outstanding Appearance.

The 2010's

In May 2010, the Historic Cemeteries Advisory Board partnered with the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission to apply for a Historic Preservation Fund grant in the amount of $12,000 to help fund an update to the Design Guidelines for Raleigh Historic Districts.

On September 7, 2010, the Raleigh City Council designated O'Rorke-Catholic Cemetery as a Raleigh Historic Landmark.

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