Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond Virginia

Date added: October 02, 2023 Categories: Virginia Cemetery
Monroe's Tomb (1969)

Originally named Mount Vernon Cemetery, Hollywood was first planned in 1847 when a group of Richmond business leaders formed a stock company to develop a "rural decorated cemetery" for their city. However, it was not until 1856 that the General Assembly approved the charter of the new company because so much friction had been engendered by adjoining property owners and others who feared adverse effects from the burying ground. By 1860 Hollywood Cemetery was secure in the Richmond scene and was fast becoming the principal and most fashionable burying spot of the city.

The success of Hollywood is due, by a large measure, to its site and plan as laid out by John Notman of Philadelphia. Originally a design for the plan had been forwarded in August 1847, by William H. Pratt, an architect and superintending engineer of Green Mount Cemetery, near Baltimore. However after a short time, Notman was asked to submit "a more complete and precise plan than that which had been furnished by Mr. Pratt." Notman completed his plans in 1848, and the site was ready for dedication in June of 1849.

It should be remembered that Notman was a well-known architect and landscape who had designed three of the cottages at Princeton University as well as Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia and other cemeteries and paske in the middle years of the nineteenth century.

The dates of construction for most of the entrance structures are indeed a mystery, because those specified in Notman's plans were not built. The bell tower of his design was never built, but the present one, to which a chapel was added in 1898, would probably have been acceptable to him. However, Notman's overall plans were followed quite closely as far as plantings, roadways, and to a certain extent in the idea of building up picturesque ponds of water. Today, Hollywood continues to display the "rural" beauty that made it so popular in the nineteenth century. Although the more spectacular aspects of the grounds are gone; the fountains, ponds and the "ruin", the basic combination of an excellent site and good planning help it to retain its character.

The fascinating array of nineteenth-century tombstones and memorials are an added feature of the Cemetery. The first burial occurred in July of 1848, and since that time Hollywood has been the scene of many interments of famous Virginians and others. In 1858 the General Assembly appropriated the money to have the remains of James Monroe moved to Richmond from New York. This was undertaken, and the remains were reinterred on 5 July 1858, under an elaborate wrought-iron monument. In 1903 the remains of Mrs. Monroe and her daughter were brought to Hollywood and laid by the President's side.

Site Description

Hollywood Cemetery is situated on a bluff overlooking the James River directly across from Belle Isle. The soil is composed largely of clay bolstered by a considerable number of gravel beds. A stream fed by Clarke's Spring once cut into the bluff and with its tributaries formed several valleys which give the hilly character to the area. The main valley, running north to south along the eastern side of the burial ground, is flanked on the west by three smaller ones at right angles, giving some formality to the land as seen on the map, but any regular pattern is unnoticeable on actual observation. The riverfront rises dramatically from the lower eastern stream bed to the high bluff at the western corner, and descends to the river by a series of natural terraces. It is on the lowest terrace that the old James River and Kanawha Canal runs. The stone Gothic chapel is placed at the original gate, a location deemed appropriate due to its being "very favorable to an extensive view of the grounds." Originally the chapel tower itself was the gatehouse, and a rough stone wall leading up to it was partially finished and planted with ivy to give the effect of a "ruin", a popular English Picturesque form.

John Notman laid out the roads to follow the contour of the land which produced two advantages: first, the grading and cutting of road beds was practically eliminated, except at two points; second, the possibility of creating views at the natural turns in the roads was increased. Notman recommended that rustic bridges be built over the small ponds created by a dam at the south end; a 1906 description seems to indicate that this was done: "Scattered here and there are a half-dozen lakes, a difference in the elevation of the latter forming in two instances picturesque waterfalls, while ornamental bridges are found wherever the situation suggests them." These ponds and the original bridges have gone and the only identifiable plantings that remain are the 'magnolias along the former ponds, but the sensitive planning of the drives and walks do remain in the original forty-four acre area and the spirit of Notman's ideas has been retained in the expansion of the burial grounds to the west along the river bluff. The funeral sculpture which has grown up in the hills and valleys also expresses the Romantic theme in their reproductions in stone of classic columns, tree stumps overgrown with ferns, and crosses composed of oak branches tied together with rope. The cemetery is also a textbook of the famous Richmond ironwork of which the Gothic iron "cage" surrounding President Monroe's tomb is the most impressive. The plain stone sarcophagus is surrounded by four cast iron screens in the form of large lancet arches flanked by two smaller ones. Corner colonnettes topped by finials support an iron canopy which swells in an ogival curve up to a central three-tiered finial.

A large dry-laid stone pyramid at the north end of the grounds marks the burying place of eighteen thousand Confederate dead.

Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond Virginia Monroe's Tomb (1969)
Monroe's Tomb (1969)