Historical Marker #1550 in Lexington notes that city’s historic cemetery, which was dedicated in 1850.
The mid-nineteenth century witnessed a rise in the construction of garden-style landscaped cemeteries. At that time people’s understanding of death and memorialization was much different. Instead of distancing themselves from mortality, as we often do today, they sought to embrace it as a way of continuously honoring the dead. While we tend to look for peace, solitude, and communion with nature by taking a leisurely drive or hike, those of the mid-nineteenth century found such experiences by strolling through their cemeteries. Other Kentucky burial grounds of this style and era are located in Frankfort and at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.
Lexington Cemetery received its charter from the state legislature in 1848. Some of the state’s most influential citizens petitioned for the establishment of the Lexington Cemetery Company, including Henry Clay, Robert Wickliffe, Benjamin Gratz, Elisha Warfield, and J.W. Hunt.
In 1849, a forty acre plot of land noted as Boswell’s Woods was finally purchased on Lexington’s Westside on the Leestown Pike and construction of the cemetery began in earnest. The cemetery was dedicated in 1850. Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge provided the dedicatory address.
Just two years after its dedication, Lexington Cemetery received national recognition when statesman Henry Clay was laid to rest there. In 1857, the cornerstone for a massive monument to the “Great Compromiser” was placed above his grave. The construction of the monument was supervised by noted Kentucky architect Thomas Lewinski and was finally completed in 1861 at a cost of over $55,000.
Lexington Cemetery’s park-like atmosphere continues today. On the grounds there are over 200 varieties of trees, many of which date back to the establishment of the cemetery. Landscaped shrubbery, as well as lakes and ponds, which are frequented by ducks and geese, add to the cemetery’s peaceful setting. Many of the elaborate stone memorials and monuments enhance the cemetery campus.
In addition to the Clays, many of Lexington’s and Kentucky’s most famous families have plots there. The Breckinridges, the Morgans, and the Todds, and individuals such as author James Lane Allen and legendary UK basketball coach Adolph Ruff, all rest in peace at Lexington Cemetery.