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 Georgetown Cemeteries: Oak Hill and Mt. Zion

P. Marlin March 2018

 

Oak Hill Cemetery

Oak Hill Cemetery is located in Georgetown along Rock Creek Park. The cemetery was founded by Mr. William Wilson Corcoran, a banker and co-founder of what was The Riggs National Bank. The cemetery itself is a major example of the 19th Century Romantic movement. The iron enclosure and historic Chapel, built in 1849, were designed by James Renwick, Jr., architect of the Smithsonian Building.

 

Abraham Lincoln Connection

It was at Oak Hill cemetery that Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, was temporarily laid to rest (in the crypt of William Thos. Carroll - see photos below), after he died at the White House in 1862. Already burdened by the Civil War, the death of Willie weighed heavy on Lincoln. He visited the Carroll crypt often, even going as far as to open the casket to view his son. The small chapel on the hill (see chapel photos below) was used for a small service for Willie before they placed him in the crypt (a full service was held at the White House). When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Willie traveled home with his father on the funeral train to be laid to permanent rest in Springfield, Illinois.

 

 

Renwick Chapel

Historic Renwick Chapel, built in 1849, was designed by James Renwick, Jr., architect of the Smithsonian Building.


Photo 1870

 

 

William Thos. Carroll Crypt

It was in this crypt that Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, was temporarily laid to rest after he died at the White House in 1862. Abraham Lincoln visited the Carroll crypt often, even going as far as to open the casket to view his son. The crypt is located in the very back of the cemetery where the land slopes to Rock Creek. There are several old mausoleums along this walkway.

 

 

Mt. Zion Cemetery

The Mount Zion Cemetery is composed of two separate adjacent cemeteries, the old Methodist Burying Ground and the Female Union Band Society Graveyard. The two cemeteries equally share the three acres of land. There is no fence or other visible demarcation separating the two cemeteries which over time have become known as the Mount Zion Cemetery. The Mount Zion Cemetery is a physical reminder of African American life and the evolving free black culture in the District of Columbia from the earliest days.1

The property originated in 1808 as The Methodist Cemetery, also commonly referred to as the old Methodist Burying Ground, and was initially leased and then sold to Mount Zion United Methodist Church. Then in 1842, a cooperative benevolent society of free black women, named the Female Union Band Society, purchased the western half of the lot to establish a secular burying ground for African Americans. Although Mt. Zion Cemetery has been a burial ground for all races since its inception, it served an almost exclusively African American population after 1849. Mt. Zion Cemetery is the oldest predominantly black burial ground in D.C.2

Despite its current condition, one of the highlights and perhaps the most historically relevant parts of the cemetery remains intact. At the back of the cemetery there is a red brick underground burial vault that was also used as a hideout for slaves escaping north to freedom on the Underground Railroad (see photo below). 2

Sources

1 https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/wash/dc10.htm
2 https://dcbikeblogger.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/mt-zion-cemetery
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