Mt. Memorial Cemetery History

History of “The Old Graveyard” - Mt. Memorial Cemetery*
On July 5, 1836, the one and a half acre plot of land was bought by the trustees of the Town of Liberty for the purpose of a graveyard from Andrew Hixson and his wife Ann for the sum of $30. The term of the sale maintained that the land was to be used “for the purpose of a public burying ground.”

Although the graveyard was not officially deeded to Liberty until 1836, it had been in use as a burial ground well before that date. Cyrus Curtis owned a cabin at the location that is now the northeast corner of Wilson Street and College Place West, located about 300 yards from the site of the present day cemetery. The infant daughter of Curtis and his Native American wife is believed to be the 1st buried at this site in 1819.

In 1836, when the cemetery was officially established, Liberty’s population numbered just 700. The original town comprised 50 acres, about 6-square-blocks, which was centered on the present day town square. The cemetery was located on the next hilltop to the east, a distance of about 0.5 mile and well outside the city limits.

Its location, apart from the town, seems to follow the early nineteenth century trend to establish the common burial ground away from populated areas. Prior to this time, the deceased were interred in church yards or in family plots on the homestead. However, due to space constraints and a growing awareness of public health hazards, burial customs began to change in the early 1800s.

New “rural” cemeteries were park-like areas; pleasant places for the living to visit their lost loved ones. Locations were selected for their natural beauty and proximity to heaven. Mt. Memorial meets the criteria for a rural cemetery, chosen for its peaceful beauty, uninterrupted vistas in all directions, and a secluded hilltop spot where the dead could be closer to God. The location was likely thought to be ideal for a final resting place.

The cemetery was not officially named until 1916. It was known as the “Old Graveyard” or the “Old Burying Ground." Although several names were proposed, including Hillcrest in 1915, Gethsemane and Forest Hill, it wasn't until October 1916 the current name of Mt. Memorial was selected via an election by the lot owners.

*Information compiled from the City of Liberty's application for Mt. Memorial to the National Register of Historic Places registry.

Connections to the Civil War
On September 17, 1861, the Battle of Blue Mills Landing took place just south of Liberty, near the Missouri River. Union forces unsuccessfully attempted to prevent pro-Confederate Missouri State Guards from northern Missouri from crossing the river near the confluence with the Blue River to reinforce Sterling Price at Lexington. The fighting at Blue Mills Landing lasted for an hour and resulted in a total of 126 casualties. The Union forces suffered 56 casualties and the Missouri State Guard lost 70. Union troops set up a hospital in Jewell Hall on the campus of William Jewell College and buried their dead in the adjacent Mt. Memorial cemetery. Accounts vary, but a survey compiled in 1933 lists 6 Civil War veterans and 25 soldiers killed in the battle of Blue Mills Landing who were buried in the southwest corner of the cemetery.

In the summer of 1862, Union troops again occupied the hilltop around the cemetery. The 5th Cavalry of the Missouri State Militia established its headquarters and barracks at Jewell Hall. A series of shallow rifle pits was dug around the brow of the hill, within 20-yards of the cemetery. The soldiers used the soft white rock tombstones for target practice during the time the trenches were in use, April to September 1862. Evidence of target practice is visible on several of the stones in the southwest corner.

In 1912, the remains of 27 Civil War soldiers were moved to Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery at the request of family members. The remains of at least 6 soldiers are known to still be in Mt. Memorial, and 2 or 3 are marked with gravestones. There is mention in a cemetery census compiled in 1962 that there are a number of unmarked Civil War graves in the northeast corner of the cemetery, but these have not been confirmed.