History of Forest Hills Cemetery

Forest Hills was founded in 1848 by Henry A. S. Dearborn, then mayor of Roxbury. He designed this magnificent cemetery to offer the citizens of his community a place to bury and remember friends and family in a tranquil and lovely setting. At the same time, he intended to create a place which urban dwellers could visit to connect with nature, refresh the spirit, and take delight in beauty. In effect, he created Boston's first public park; Forest Hills preceded the Emerald Necklace by 30 years. Dearborn pioneered the picturesque, romantic style of landscape design which would later influence Olmsted and the evolution of American landscape.

A superb example of the 19th century rural garden cemetery movement, Forest Hills is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It reflects changing attitudes about death and a cultural shift away from the severe style of the burial grounds of colonial New England. It offers a gentler concept of death as eternal rest, and is rooted in a romantic vision of spiritual renewal through unity with nature.

Art quickly became an integral element of the landscape of Forest Hills, as prominent people of the 19th century often commissioned personal memorials to from the finest sculptors and artisans. These memorials were intended to celebrate their achievements and leave a legacy for the next generations. These were attractions in the 19th century just as they are today, and people learned about the latest in American art and architecture by touring the grounds.

Today, Forest Hills continues to offer city residents a unique recreational environment as well as the city's most gracious burial ground. Bicyclers and dog-walkers are welcome, a charming Lake offers a perfect spot for picnics, and many people enjoy decoding the fascinating messages and symbols carved into older headstones. Visitors can enjoy a magnificent collection of Victorian memorial sculpture and architecture set into a romantic setting of ambling paths and scenic vistas. Sculpture by Daniel Chester French, Martin Milmore, and other notable artists is described more fully in our section on historic sculpture.

Forest Hills remains a deeply spiritual landscape and a special place for contemplation, renewal and remembrance. Inspired by the memorial mission of this landscape, the Trust developed the annual Lantern Festival in 1999. This event offers the community an opportunity to come together to remember family and friends during a moving ceremony inspired by Buddhist ritual. At dusk, people release hundreds of glowing lanterns bearing personal message onto Lake Hibiscus and watch them float away as the sun sets.