At A Glance
Location: 4947 W Florissant Ave, St. Louis, MO, 63115
Hours: Daily 8 AM – 4:30 PM
Bellefontaine Cemetery is a non-denominational and non-profit cemetery and arboretum located near Laclede’s Landing in St. Louis. It was founded in 1849 as a rural cemetery, and today, it sits on 314 acres and is home to many significant monuments, mausoleums, and notable burials.
The Cemetery’s history began in 1849 when lawyer John Fletcher Darby and banker William McPherson assembled a group of prominent citizens from St. Louis that would make up the Rural Cemetery Association of St. Louis. This association’s goal was to respond to the city’s need for establishing a cemetery several miles outside of the city.
During this time, St. Louis was experiencing rapid growth and the leaders felt that the existing graveyards, which were mostly on Jefferson Avenue near the center of the city, were a hindrance to urban development.
There were also many citizens who felt that cemeteries located so close to the people were a public health hazard. And these problems were exacerbated when the cholera epidemic spread through the city and took the lives of more than 4,000 people.
Not to mention, existing cemeteries were nearly out of space for expansion. So, between this and the fact that some felt the fumes would cause the masses to fall ill again, the leaders decided it was time to establish a new rural cemetery.
The Rural Cemetery Association of St. Louis purchased the former Hempstead family farm in 1849, which was located five miles northwest of the city. They planned to use this land for a large rural cemetery that was modeled after the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and Massachusetts’ Mount Auburn Cemetery.
In these times, they called it the “Rural Cemetery” and it encompassed some 138-acres, but since it was on the road that led to Fort Bellefontaine, they later named it after the fort. Within the first few months, the Association hired Almerin Hotchkiss, a landscape architect, who helped design New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery, to begin creating and planning for Bellefontaine. Hotchkiss served as the property’s superintendent for the first 46 years, and he’s the one who designed most of the landscaping and roadways.
During these years, the cemetery was also steadily acquiring new land to account for future growth, and by 1865 they had purchased the entire 314 acres that remain today. The first burial took place in 1850 and the dedication was several weeks later. After these events, bodies from other old graveyards around St. Louis were moved, including some from the Old Cathedral near the Mississippi.
Bellefontaine Cemetery was also named as the final resting place of several victims of Missouri’s worst train crash in history, the 1855 Gasconade Bridge Train disaster. There are also members of prominent St. Louis brewing families laid to rest here, including the Lemps, Buschs, Anheusers, and Griesediecks.
What to Expect at Bellefontaine Cemetery
Today, the Bellefontaine Cemetery is an interesting and unique addition to your St. Louis itinerary. It’s a quiet and peaceful place where over 87,000 are resting in peace. There are over 14 miles of paved roads, and since it’s listed as an arboretum, there are also over 180 species of shrubs and trees present.
So, stop by to see the resting spot of some of America’s most famed pioneers and entrepreneurs such as Adolphus Busch, William Clark, and Merriwether Lewis Clark. You’ll marvel at the site of the Busch Mausoleum, as well as that of the Wainwright and Paramore families. The cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers free bus, trolley, and walking tours from March through November.
The cemetery encompasses 314 acres and is home to over 87,000 gravesites. Some of the most notable people buried here include Adolphus Busch, Eberhard Anheuser, Albert Bond Lambert, William Clark, Merriwether Lewis Clark, William Wainwright, Rush Limbaugh, Thomas Hart Benton, and William S. Burroughs.
The oldest cemetery in St. Louis is actually the Bellefontaine Cemetery which was founded in 1849 and officially dedicated in 1850. The next oldest is from 1854 and that is the Calvary Cemetery.
The biggest cemetery in St. Louis is the Calvary Cemetery at 470 acres, which is quite a bit bigger than the 314 acres at Bellefontaine.