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Antebellum Architecture
Richmond's African American Heritage
The Continuing legacy of Historic Preservation
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Hollywood Cemetery and James Monroe Tomb

Hollywood Cemetery

Hollywood Cemetery
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development


Hollywood Cemetery is set amongst a series of wooded hills and dales overlooking the falls of the James River. The site of Hollywood was part of the estate of Belvidere, a country house built by William Byrd III in 1758 just east of the site of the future cemetery. Byrd’s strained financial circumstances prompted him to dispose of most of his property around Richmond through a lottery in 1769. He divided his property west of colonial-era Richmond into 100 acre “out lots” for the lottery. Eventually the Harvie family acquired a number of out lots, including the area known as Harvie’s Woods, the future site of Hollywood Cemetery. The Harvie family burial plot is still visible in Hollywood just west of Westvale Avenue. The completion of the James River and Kanawha Canal around the falls of the James River in 1800 made Harvie’s Woods fairly accessible from Richmond via the canal towpath. As a result, the area became a popular spot for walks, picnics, and hunting. Its hilltops provided a picturesque vantage point of Richmond and the James River, which visitors and artists alike enjoyed.

A brief period of real estate speculation around 1816 led to the incorporation of Harvie’s Woods into a major subdivision, Sidney. For a considerable period of time Sidney remained a separate city, but one that existed only on paper for many years. This began to change after 1840, when the rapid growth of Richmond made cutting down the hills and filling in the vales of Harvie’s Woods a distinct possibility. The preservation of the site as a landscaped cemetery occurred in 1847, when, after a visit to Mount Auburn cemetery near Boston, Richmonders William Haxall and Joshua Fry worked to organize a similar “Rural Cemetery” on the outskirts of Richmond. Fry and Haxall began a company with some 40 prominent Richmond subscribers. The company retained the services of John Notman of Philadelphia, the initial designer of the second rural cemetery in the United States, Laurel Hill, established in 1836.

Notman briefly visited the Richmond site and returned to Philadelphia with his notes and a topographical survey of the cemetery property. Using this data, he prepared a cemetery plan for a fee of $300. Notman suggested the name “Holly-Wood” for the new cemetery because of the large number of holly trees he saw during his inspection of the site. In his design, Notman attempted to preserve much of the original topography of Harvie’s Woods. The plan accommodated burials through double tiers of lots terraced on the hilltops and terraced hillsides of the site. Winding roads and footpaths made the lots readily accessible to visitors and family members. Notman reoriented access away from the canal to a new entrance at the northeast corner of the property.

The Hollywood Cemetery Company diligently worked to implement the Notman design between 1848 and the early 1850s laying out and surveying cemetery lots. The Notman plan required considerable infrastructure, including a terraced entrance drive, roadways through the site, and paths to provide access to the tiers of lots. Managing the streams and controlling erosion were important parts of the construction. The company built a board enclosure fence around the property and an extensive system of gutters, drainage ditches, culverts, and bridges. To ornament the site the company constructed several lakes, all of which have been filled in. The results of this work are still visible in the original 40 acres of the cemetery, an outstanding 19th century designed landscape.

historic Hollywood Cemetery entrance

Hollywood Cemetery Entrance 1895
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

Notman proposed an entrance lodge in the form of an Italian villa at the entrance to the cemetery at Albemarle and Cherry Streets. The company did not act on Notman’s recommendation but by the 1870s constructed a Gothic “ruin” entrance with an incomplete church tower, iron carriage and pedestrian gates, and a masonry fragment opposite the tower. The entrance was in the best tradition of sham ruins built as picturesque ornaments on English estates. In 1890, the company added to the church tower, creating a chapel (now the cemetery office). Around that time, they replaced the original with a new and enlaraged superintendent’s house, which was converted to apartments in the 1990’s. About 1915, the company opted to close the original gates to the cemetery replacing them with the present gates to accommodate cars more easily.

Upon entering the cemetery and proceeding along Westvale Avenue, the visitor sees an outstanding collection of hillside mausoleums, many dating from the antebellum period. Designed using Egyptian, Classical, and Romanesque forms, they reflect the Victorian preference for inserting mausoleums into hillsides. The original portion of the cemetery has an extensive collection of ornate, 19th-century funerary monuments throughout. The earliest are often carved in white marble in a variety of Classical and Picturesque styles.

Hollywood is divided primarily into individual family lots with some landscaped common area. Prior to 1861, the company encouraged the erection of ornate cast iron fencing. In addition to fencing, the early lots had plantings and cast iron ornaments for decoration. The cast iron in the cemetery came from a number of Richmond, Baltimore, and Philadelphia foundries. One of the most famous pieces of cast iron is the Newfoundland dog cast by the Hayward Bartlett Company of Baltimore. After the war, the Hollywood Cemetery Company discouraged and in some cases restricted the use of cast iron, and eventually much of the original cast iron was removed to ease maintenance.

At the southern end of the cemetery is President’s Circle, a section of the cemetery on a promontory overlooking Richmond and the James River. In 1858, the Commonwealth of Virginia reinterred the remains of President James Monroe there and erected the centerpiece of the circle: the monumental James Monroe Tomb, a National Historic Landmark. Governor Henry A. Wise led the efforts to return the remains of James Monroe to his native state from the place of his death and burial in 1831 in New York City. Wise’s efforts came after failed attempts to construct a Washington Monument on President’s Circle in 1847, and to erect a monument to Monroe in New York in 1856. After receiving permission from Monroe’s descendants to bring him back to Virginia, Wise obtained state financial support to purchase a site and construct the monument. Monroe’s remains were returned from New York on July 4, 1858 with great pomp and ceremony and a military honor guard.

James Monroe Tomb

James Monroe Tomb (Yesterday & Today)
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries /
City of Richmond Department of Community Development

Wise commissioned Alfred Lybrock, a German born and trained architect, to design a suitable monument to cover Monroe’s remains. In 1859, the Commonwealth of Virginia installed Lybrock‘s design, a granite sarcophagus surrounded by a flamboyant Gothic Revival cast iron canopy. After obtaining bids from a number of foundries, Virginia commissioned the firm of Wood and Perot of Philadelphia to cast the ornamented James Monroe Tomb in place today. Monroe’s tomb firmly established Hollywood as one of the foremost places of burial in Virginia.

John Tyler, 10th President of the United States, is the other former U.S. president buried at Hollywood. As the first vice president to become president after President William Henry Harrison died in office in 1841, Tyler set the precedent for vice presidents assuming the role and status of an elected president. Though he chaired a "Peace Convention" in Washington, DC in 1861 to try to prevent the Civil War, as a southern gentlemen and advocate of States rights, Tyler supported secession when that failed. The Virginia native served as a delegate to the Confederate Provisional Congress in 1861 and had been elected to the Confederate Congress at the time of his death on January 18, 1862.

Hollywood became one of the largest cemeteries in Richmond for military interments during the Civil War. The need for space for military burials prompted the Hollywood Company to acquire the Confederate Section in 1863. After the close of the war in 1866, the United States government refused to allow Confederates in National Cemeteries. This prompted the founding of the Hollywood Ladies Memorial Association to care for those graves already in the cemetery and to reinter dead from other sites. The culmination of the association’s efforts was the reinterment of some 7,000 bodies from the Gettysburg battlefield and the construction of the Confederate Monument, a massive granite pyramid. Charles Dimmock designed the monument in 1869.

Hollywood contains the remains of 28 Confederate generals who died during and after the war.  In addition to war dead, survivors are buried in the Confederate Section and throughout the cemetery. The most important Confederate notable in the cemetery is Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Davis family plot is at the western end of the Ellipse, a development of the 1890s overlooking the river that has some of the most attractive monuments and mausoleums in the cemetery. Davis was reinterred in Hollywood with much fanfare in 1890, and his statue is perhaps the only representational sculpture in the entire cemetery.

After the Civil War, granite became the predominant material in the cemetery. The “Petersburg” granite in the cemetery is from quarries along the James River. The development of carving and polishing machines made granite both ornamental and relatively inexpensive. Granite monuments became the material of choice in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this period, concrete coping became the standard edging treatment of lots, and stone coping replaced fencing. The new aesthetic of granite significantly contrasted with the earlier aesthetic of cast iron and marble. C. P. E. Burgwyn designed a major addition in 1877 expanding the cemetery to the west; many fine monuments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are located in this section.

Hollywood Cemetery has had several expansions and added a major mausoleum in the later 20th century. Burials in the cemetery continue, with a number of funerals every week Monday through Saturday. Hollywood is one of the most visited sites in Richmond, and visitors are welcome in this private cemetery as long as they adhere to the rules established by the Hollywood Company.

Plan your visit
Hollywood Cemetery, including the James Monroe Tomb, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 412 South Cherry Street.   Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The grounds of the cemetery are open to the public seven days a week 7:30am to 5:00pm.  For more information, call the cemetery office Monday-Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm at 804- 648-850, or visit the Hollywood Cemetery website. The James Monroe Tomb has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.
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