A bicycle tour of the historic cemeteries of the East End and Northside

August 14, 2016 6:00 pm by

Following up on an off-hand suggestion, some friends and I put together a bicycle tour of the cemeteries of the East End and Northside. The 15 mile ride goes back to the founding of Richmond, and visits Colonial era, Civil War, African-American, and early Jewish cemeteries, while rolling through a great set of the city’s off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods.

With each cemetery, I kept hearing “I didn’t even know this was here.” When I told the group that the next stop was Evergreen, there was definitely some anticipation. The journey from station-to-station was a good small group bicycle experience, and each of the cemeteries offers it’s own compressed view into Richmond’s past.

We ended up at 23rd and Main to finish off the the “mausoleums and mimosas” tour. Optional but recommended. Also maybe wait until it’s not pushing 100 degrees outside.

If you’d like to try to the tour, I’ve included the map and some history for each spot below. If you’re interested in riding along, I’ll be offering this again in a few weeks for some folks who couldn’t be here, drop an email to if you want to come along.

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Start at Sugar Pad on Wharf Street and travel clockwise

  1. Richmond National Cemetery
    Established in 1866. The original burials were re-interments from Oakwood and Hollywood Cemeteries, primarily of Federal Union soldiers who died while prisoners of war in the area military hospitals and the Belle Island Prison Camp. PHOTOS
  2. Sir Moses Montefiore and Beth Torah Cemeteries
    Sir Moses Montefiore Cemetery was founded in the late 1800s and has almost 700 interments. Jennie Scher, a Lithuanian native who came to U.S. in 1886, is buried up the hill on the Sir Moses Montefiore side. The wife of a tailor, Scher helped to organize the Ladies’ Hebrew Aid Society in 1897 and was helped found an old-folks home and hospice. PHOTOS
  3. The Four Cemeteries at Evergreen
    Historic African-American cemeteries. The four cemeteries are: Evergreen, East End, Colored Paupers, and Oakwood Colored Paupers. Most famous interments are John Mitchell Jr. (The Planet) and Maggie L. Walker. Private cemeteries founded before the requirement to provide perpetual care. Evergreen founded in 1891. 70+ acres. Regular volunteer clean-ups are bringing the cemetery back from the forest. PHOTOS
  4. Oakwood Cemetery
    First burials in 1856, as Shockoe Cemetery started filling up. Confederate section. Jewish cemetery. Pauper’s field. Oakwood Cemetery today covers about 176 acres, the Confederate section covers just over 7.5 acres and holds around 17,000 interments. PHOTOS
  5. Woodland Cemetery
    Founded by John Mitchel Jr. in 1918. Second largest African-American cemetery in Richmond (after Evergreen). Famous interments include Arthur Ashe (U.S. Open 1968, Wimbledon 1975), and John Jasper, founder of Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Jackson Ward. PHOTOS
  6. Holy Cross Cemetery
    Founded in 1874 as St. Mary’s Cemetery for the original St. Mary’s Catholic Church, a German-language congregation formed in 1843. Opened to all Catholics and became Holy Cross Cemetery in November, 1924. PHOTOS
  7. Barton Heights Cemetery
    Founded in In 1815 by a group of free African-Americans as the “Burying Ground Society for the Free People of Color”, as alternative to the “Burial Ground for Negroes” in Shockoe Bottom. Other private African American organizations (including the Union Burial Society, the Methodist burial ground society, Ebenezer, the Sons and Daughters of Ham, and Sycamore cemetery) added on, creating what became known as the Barton Heights Cemeteries. Markers dating back to 1827. PHOTOS
  8. Shockoe Cemetery and Hebrew Cemetery
    Shockoe Cemetery was founded in 1820, the first municipal cemetery in the city, was fairly full by 1850. Interments include John Marshall (U.S. Supreme Court Justice), Elmira Shelton (Edgar Allan Poe’s fiancé and inspiration for the “Lost Lenore” of his poem, “The Raven”), 220 Confederate and 577 Union soldiers, and Elizabeth Van Lew (Union spy). Hebrew Cemetery, one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the U.S., was founded in 1816 as the successor to the Franklin Street burial grounds. Includes the Soldier’s Section, containing the graves of 30 Jewish Confederate soldiers who died in or near Richmond. The only Jewish military cemetery outside of Israel. PHOTOS
  9. Burial Ground for Negroes
    The burial ground was just north of the heart of a slave-trading district that was the second-busiest in the U.S. after New Orleans. Adjacent to the burial ground were gallows whose victims included Gabriel, who led a failed rebellion of the enslaved in 1800. Reclaimed from a Virginia Commonwealth University parking lot.
  10. First Jewish Cemetery
    Deeded in 1791 by Isaiah Isaacs, the first Jew recorded to have settled in Richmond. Fairly full by 1816. The cemetery fell into “a state of abject neglect”. After this, Col. Mendes I. Cohen of Baltimore had a stone vault erected around family graves, the top of which is still visible in the corner. Franklin Street was later paved and leveled, leaving the cemetery 4 feet below the street level. The markers were laid flat and dirt was added on top – leaving only the top of the stone vault sticking out. Site was later a blacksmith shop and a coal-dumping yard. Concrete wall, iron fence, and marker in 1909. Reconsecrated in 1909/ 1955.
  11. St.John’s Church
    Since 1741, earliest marker dates to 1751. Holds over 1,000 interments, include Elizabeth Arnold Poe, the mother of Edgar Allan Poe and George Wythe, one of the signers the Declaration of Independence. Also includes Rebecca Lewis Ambler, Thomas Jefferson’s first crush. Virginia Governors John Page (1802-1805) and James Wood (1796-1799). PHOTOS

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