Crown Hill Cemetery has served the Indianapolis area for more than 150 years as both a place of interment and a peaceful green space within the city. The burial ground sees more than 25,000 visitors annually; beyond those attending services, many use the cemetery as urban open space, such as bikers, runners, and members of Crown Hill’s walking club. Initially located on the rural outskirts of the city, the cemetery is now surrounded by Indianapolis homes and is bisected by a major thoroughfare. Given its size in acreage, Crown Hill remains the third largest cemetery in the country to this day.
As Indianapolis continued to expand throughout the 19th century, it became clear that Greenlawn Cemetery, the city’s principle burial ground nestled between the White River and Kentucky Avenue, would not be large enough and was a health hazard being so close to the center of town, its people, and its water table. In response, Crown Hill Cemetery was organized in 1863 as a non-profit, non-denominational cemetery and saw its first burial (a woman by the name of Lucy Ann Seaton) in June 1864, one day after the cemetery’s dedication. John Chislett, who platted Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne, helped select the site for the cemetery. His son Frederick was hired as the superintendent for Crown Hill, and he proceeded to lay out the grounds with meandering roads and natural, informal plantings. The cemetery received its name from the 750- foot hill within.
First incorporated on September 25, 1863, with the purchase of 236 acres of land, Crown Hill today covers 590 acres. In 1866, the United States government purchased 1.37 acres to create the United States National Military Cemetery within Crown Hill. 707 Union soldiers who died during the Civil War were moved from their original resting places in Greenlawn Cemetery to this area in Crown Hill Cemetery. Around 1876, D.A. Bohlen designed the Gothic chapel, and, in 1885, Adolf Scherrer created the imposing Gothic entry gates and waiting station. Confederate prisoners of war totaling 1,616, who died while being held at Indianapolis’s Camp Morton were moved in 1931 and are now buried in Crown Hill’s Confederate Mound. Ten bronze plaques near the mound include the names of all prisoners who perished while at Camp Morton.
More than 200,000 men, women, and children are buried at Crown Hill. It is the resting place of many notable individuals, including President Benjamin Harrison, Hoosier authors Booth Tarkington and James Whitcomb Riley, Butler founder Ovid Butler, infamous bank robber John Dillinger, international suffragette leader Mary Wright Sewall, Indiana’s first African American Representative James Sidney Hinton, Sudoku inventor Howard Garns, industrialist Eli Lilly, and many others. There are two sections of unmarked graves for the Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children.
Art and Green Space
In addition to being a final resting place, Crown Hill also plays an important role as a much needed green space within the city. At the time of its creation Crown Hill was a rural cemetery selected for its natural beauty and designed to follow the contours of the land and allow for peaceful strolls among the statuaries. Crown Hill is also home to a great variety of flora and fauna: 107 individual species of trees, both native and foreign, or 4,156 trees total, have been inventoried on the cemetery grounds. The cemetery is also home to a number of white-tailed deer that are most active during dawn and dusk. The cemetery has many pieces of sculpture that serve as either memorial or as part of a grave site.