Then and Now

A Brief Look at the History of Crown Hill Cemetery

Crown Hill Cemetery is the nation's third largest non-government cemetery, located 3.8 miles northwest of Monument Circle. Crown Hill was incorporated as a nonprofit, nondenominational cemetery on September 25, 1863, at a time when Greenlawn Cemetery was the principal burial ground in the city. Concern over Greenlawn's limited acreage and lack of care spurred the creation of a 30-member Board of Corporators that established Crown Hill. Civil War dead caused Greenlawn to become full, so Crown Hill Cemetery was created because of and during the Civil War. The land selected for the cemetery was considered some of the most beautiful in Marion County. From 842-foot Crown Hill, so named because it was the "crowning hill among all hills in Marion County," visitors encountered an extraordinary view of Indianapolis and the surrounding countryside.


First Superintendents, Purchase of Crown Hill Property, and the First Burial

The board contracted with John Chislett, a landscape architect from Pittsburgh, to design the cemetery shortly after it purchased 274 acres of land for $51,000. The following spring, his son Frederick Chislett supervised the development of seven burial sections and remained the cemetery's first supervisor for the next thirty years, after which his own son, also named John, succeeded him. Lucy Ann Seaton became the first interment on June 2, 1864, one day following the cemetery's dedication. Additional acreage was added to Crown Hill, the last being purchased in 1911. Today the cemetery includes 555 acres, with its southern boundary at 32nd Street and the northern limit at 42nd Street. The western border is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street and Michigan Road, with both Clarendon Road and Boulevard Place on the east. You can see the cemetery on this interactive Google MAP.

National Cemeteries
In 1866, 708 Union soldiers who died during the Civil War and were buried at Greenlawn were removed to Crown Hill and interred in Section 9, south of where the Gothic Chapel now stands. The United States government purchased this 1.37-acre section to become the second of three national cemeteries in Indiana. Two years later in 1868, the first Decoration Day service in Indianapolis was celebrated here, highlighted by a speech by Governor Conrad Baker. This traditional ceremony recurs each May on Memorial Day and remains the longest running Memorial Day Ceremony in the Indiana. (The three National Cemeteries in Indiana include the Crown Hill National Cemetery located behind the Gothic Chapel and is now composed of Sections 9 & 10; the Confederate Mound on Section 32 that holds the remains of 1,616 Confederate Civil War soldiers who died in Camp Morton (1862-1865) in Indianapolis; and the Marion National Cemetery in Marion, Indiana. The Confederate Mound was established in 1933 after the 1,616 Confederate soldiers were reburied at Crown Hill from Greenlawn. Their graves are memorialized at Crown Hill by a large granite monument and ten smaller ones with bronze plaques bearing the names and units of those interred at this location.)     

Gothic Chapel
In 1875 an impressive limestone Gothic Vault, today known as the Gothic Chapel, was designed by Diedrich A. Bohlen and built by German craftsmen. It was erected in the very center of the cemetery. Originally a temporary storage vault for the dead, it contained 96 crypts in the side rooms off the Nave. In was built in 1875 for $38,922.25. The Gothic Chapel
 is now used for funeral services, tours, and special events. The chapel was restored in 1971 and again in 2004-2006 for $3 million. This major restoration included the addition of a Vestibule on the front, as well as a custom-built organ and many other major improvements and additions.

34th Street Gate, Waiting Station, and Sentry House
The principal entryway to Crown Hill was established in 1885 at 34th Street and Boulevard Place (replacing a former western entrance located around 32nd Street and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street). Adolph Scherrer designed this elaborate limestone archway as a companion to a brick administration building (the "Waiting Station") that served as the cemetery office until 1969. A sentry house designed by the Bernard Vonnegut firm was constructed to the left of the entrance in 1904. (Bernard Vonnegut was the grandfather of the famous author Kurt Vonnegut.)

 

Other Significant Buildings
Two different homes once stood on the Crown Hill grounds, each constructed as a residence for the superintendent and his family. The first of these was erected in 1869 and stood until 1917; the second, built in 1914, was removed in 1950. Other dwellings, including employee quarters, barns, stables, and shops, were built throughout the cemetery grounds. Today only the Service Yard, constructed in the early 1920s, remains. Other major structures on the grounds include the Crown Hill Mausoleum (1949), the current Administration Building (1969), the Crown Hill Funeral Home (1993), 58 private mausoleums, and multiple garden crypt buildings (located on the north and south grounds), including the "Field of Valor," dedicated on Veteran's Day 2004 for military entombments and burials. On Veterans Day 2005 an Eternal Flame was dedicated the Field of Valor to honor all who have served. A few artworks include three Greek Godness statues (1960s) that once stood atop the Marion County Courthouse in downtown Indianapolis, an Equatorial Sundial (1987) created by David L. Rodgers, and the Enkema Fountain (1989).

 

Brick and Wrought Iron Fence
A brick and wrought iron fence, begun in 1914 and completed in the late 1930s, surrounds three sides of the south grounds as well as the southernmost end of the north grounds--both areas being separated by 38th Street. George E. Kessler designed this fence, which underwent restoration from 1985 to 1992. In 1925 a bridge/subway was constructed beneath 38th Street (formerly Maple Road) so that cemetery visitors could access both sides of the cemetery without leaving the grounds.

Notables Buried at Crown Hill
Over 200,000 persons are buried and entombed at Crown Hill, including President Benjamin Harrison and poet James Whitcomb Riley, whose grave and monument stand atop the Crown Hill. The cemetery is also the burial site of three U.S. vice-presidents (Thomas A. Hendricks, Charles W. Fairbanks, Thomas Riley Marshall), eleven Indiana Governors, fourteen United States Senators, and over a dozen generals of the Civil War. Other notables include Col. Eli Lilly, movie actor James Baskett, and gangster John Dillinger.

National Register of Historic Places
Crown Hill Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. More than 50,000 people pass through the site annually, many on special occasions that include such events as our Memorial Day Services, President Benjamin Harrison's birthday, the "Beyond the Badge 5K Run and Walk," "Spirit of Freedom," a special Veterans Day program, Memorial Services, and numerous public and private group tours.


Wildlife
Native to Crown Hill's rural setting are animals and birds including deer, coyotes, squirrels, raccoons, foxes, and red-tailed hawks. Over 250 species of trees and shrubs adorn the grounds with over 100 identified on a tree map.


For More Information
For more information, please stop by the office or send an email to info@crownhill.org. In addition to this website, for information about the important work of the Crown Hill Heritage Foundation, please contact us at development@crownhill.org. Cemetery & Tree maps are available free of charge and other educational pieces can be purchased for a nominal fee. Tour and Event information is always available on our Tours & Events page. The gates of Crown Hill are open every day of the year and we welcome your visit.

Chronology of Historic Crown Hill Cemetery (PDF)
Crown Hill's 1st Public Account (PDF)
Crown Hill's 1st Burial: Lucy Ann Seaton (PDF)
Crown Hill's Origin & Development (PDF)