On December 7 at noon, Alyson Lindsey Taylor-White will deliver a lecture entitled “Shockoe Hill Cemetery: A Richmond Landmark History.”
In 1822, Richmond’s Common Council faced a grave dilemma, literally. The nation, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the capital city of Richmond were in the grips of a severe economic depression, one of the young nation’s first. It was not a good time for the city to invest in capital improvements, much less acquire real estate. And yet they felt they had no choice but to do just that. In particular, the city faced a desperate shortage of available private and church properties to inter the dead safely and in a sanitary method. The decision was made to create Richmond’s first necropolis that would be designed for the living as much as for the dead. Created on the cusp of the rural cemetery movement that would soon sweep the nation, Shockoe Hill Cemetery was laid out by city surveyor Richard Young in 1824 to have a pleasing, picturesque, park-like setting. Famous occupants include Chief Justice John Marshall, Union Spy Elizabeth Van Lew, Richmond’s first mayor Dr. William Foushee, as well as most of the people who Edgar Allan Poe loved (and some he did not) as he grew up in Richmond. Today, the nearly 200 year-old cemetery is one of the city’s loveliest landmarks, and yet it remains one of the least often visited.
Alyson Lindsey Taylor-White was the editor of the Virginia Review magazine for twenty-five years and is currently an adjunct instructor at the University of Richmond. She has written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography and is a regular contributor to the blog The Shockoe Examiner, where she writes about her favorite subject, the richly textured history of Richmond. She also leads educational tours of local historic sites in Richmond and in nearby Petersburg.