Are There Still Burials in Laurel Hill?

It’s summer time, and we’re seeing more and more visitors out on the grounds. Often, when we stop to chat, we get some version of the following question: “Do you still have burials here?

It’s easy to understand why people are curious. As a National Historic Landmark, and Victorian-era cemetery, it seems like we might have run out of space decades ago. Not true!

Sure, we may not be doing burials at the rate we would have been in the 1800s, but we still have somewhere around 25 funeral services per year, and there are still a few hundred burial lots available. That’s a good thing too, because as our events have grown over the years, there’s been a renewed interest among Philadelphians to spend eternity in one of their favorite places. The party doesn’t have to end just because you’ve departed.

In fact, demand has gone up so much that Laurel Hill has recently undertaken a project to add new grave space and burial alternatives in one of our most scenic and peaceful sites: Section S.

The Section S Expansion

When Laurel Hill was first designed, it was meant to be everything the crowded city churchyards weren’t. The design called for the space to be open, green, and carefully landscaped from the gatehouse all the way up to a beautiful river vista. Families could memorialize their loved ones with personalized and expertly crafted monuments, and each section of our cemetery offers something special. But, it’s probably no wonder that the burial sites high atop the cliffs overlooking the Schuylkill river were some of the most sought-after.

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Approximately two years ago, the last available site in Section S sold out. That’s when the expansion project, which had been in the works for some time, officially got put into motion. By lowering an existing road, building new retaining walls, and changing the landscape of the area, new burial space is available in Section S once again.

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Section S expansion in progress

Burial Alternatives

When the cemetery first opened in 1836, the cultural and religious norms of the time called for full burials, and not much else. There were few, if any cremations, and therefore no systems in place to accommodate them.

Today, things have changed. People have more choices for how they want their remains handled, and Laurel Hill is expanding to meet those needs. There will still be the option for full casket burials in Section S (as well as in other sections) but now, the following will also be available:

A Community Mausoleum This large mausoleum will be able to accommodate 48 burials. Each of the 24 spaces is designed to hold two caskets, or two urns containing cremated remains. The names of the deceased will be etched onto plates on the outside of each space.

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Construction on the new community mausoleum.

Private Mausoleums – One of the aspects of Laurel Hill which draws the most visitors is the beautiful array of mausoleums which grace our grounds. Until now, there was no room to place a private family mausoleum in section S, but thanks to this new expansion, that option will be available once again. There will be a limited number of sites on which to place a private family structure for above-ground burials.

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Section S mausoleums during construction

A Columbarium – This structure is made specifically to hold urns with cremated remains. Approximately 30 spaces will be available, each with the capacity to hold two sets of cremated remains. The names of the deceased will be displayed on the outside of each niche.

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A Ceremonial Scattering Garden – This option is made available for those who want to rest in Laurel Hill, without necessarily taking up any ground space. A ceremonial scattering garden for cremated remains has been built into the hillside just below Section S, and a platform has been built for families to stand on while committing their loved one’s ashes to the woodland overlooking the Schuylkill river.

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Ceremonial scattering garden platform

Section S Grand Opening

On Saturday, June 30th, there will be a ribbon cutting and reception in Section S of the cemetery at 11:00 am. This event is free and open to the public. We welcome visitors to come in and see the new look for this old cemetery. If you’d like to attend, kindly RSVP to info@thelaurelhillcemetery.org

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Schuylkill River, as seen from Laurel Hill

Saturday’s event is one of over 100 fun, unique, educational, and community-oriented programs we offer throughout the year. To keep up to date with all of Laurel Hill’s goings on, be sure to subscribe to our mailing list here.

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