Tucked between Cherokee Park and Nulu is one of the loveliest sites that Louisville has to offer – a cemetery. Yes, it sounds morbid to talk about a cemetery being a nice place to picnic and sight-see, but Cave Hill Cemetery is not like most. In fact, this Victorian era cemetery and arboretum was designed with the intention of being a garden-style cemetery and recreation area, a trend of the time it was built – The cemetery was chartered in 1848 by then-mayor, Frederick A. Kaye (who was later buried on the grounds).
In addition to several Louisville mayors, the 296-acre cemetery serves as the final resting place for many recognizable and notable figures. It’s said that the smell of fried chicken will lead you to the burial site of beloved Colonel Harland Sanders (I smelled nothing of the kind). He keeps company with the likes of Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. Not only was Clark the grandson of famed explorer William Clark, but he founded the Louisville Jockey Club and established Churchill Downs. James Guthrie, a U.S. senator and Secretary of Treasury for President Pierce is buried on the grounds. George Keats, civic leader and brother of the famous Romantic poet, is buried at Cave Hill Cemetery. George Rogers Clark, the “Founder of Louisville” and brother to William; J. Graham Brown, prominent philanthropist and businessman, as well as inventor of the Hot Brown; Patty Hill, the kindergarten teacher who composed the song “Happy Birthday;” Pete Browning, pro baseball player and creator or the Louisville Slugger; Henry Watterson, former editor of The Journal; Jim Porter, the Kentucky Giant of bourbon fame; and Louis Seelbach, a young bellboy who grew up to establish the famed hotel have all been laid to rest at Cave Hill Cemetery. This is just a handful of the prominent people who are interred at the site.
As soon as you drive in to the main entrance, the beauty of the place hits you. Lined with trees, the road gently winds until you reach the first grave markers. Markers around the site range from plain stone slabs to intricate sculptures, fountains and mausoleums.
There are many turns and forks in the road as you drive through the cemetery, so seeing it all in one trip can be quite the feat. Try and grab a map when you enter. If you head left from the entrance, you’ll stumble upon the Cave Hill National Cemetery. The section is made up of the rows and rows of white markers make it easy to recognize it as a military cemetery. The site is the final resting place of over 5,500 US soldiers, many of whom died during the Civil War. To one side is a Confederate Cemetery – the burial site of many members of the Kentucky Confederate Home, including a couple of Confederate generals. A Confederate flag flies over the area.
If you continue past the National Cemetery, you will eventually come upon a man-made lake, passing a grove of bamboo and gaggles of geese. Here, you can sit at some picnic tables and enjoy the beauty of the arboretum.
Many of the sites include benches for visitors to sit on. This is especially convenient since some of the graves are quite the trek – some sit in small valleys that require visitors to park and walk. Others may be at the top of hills, as is in the case of the Confederate site.
Louisville’s French influence can be seen even in the cemetery. A couple of the site’s most sought-after monuments are direct copies of monuments in Marie Antoinette’s garden in Paris. The Satterwhite Memorial Temple, erected by Preston Pope Satterwhite who gave many antiques to the Speed Museum, is a copy of Antoinette’s own ornate structure in her garden at the Palace of Versailles. This “Temple of Love” is made of pink Italian marble. The grounds’ Rustic Shelter House is modeled after Antoinette’s gardeners cottage at Versailles and is one of the oldest examples of rustic architecture in the United States.
Many prominent Louisville families have called Cave Hill the final resting place for their loved ones. Their legacies can be traced back hundreds of years within this cemetery. Many are under the impression that plots can no longer be purchased in the site – this is false. There are still plots available to those who are interested. Please contact Cave Hill Cemetery if you’re interested in purchasing a plot.
Cave Hill Cemetery allows visitors to explore on their own, but if you would like a guided tour or to plan a large group tour, you can do that as well. Guided walking tours are available on specific weekends.
School groups can tour for free, while church, civic or club groups require a $10 donation per person and a minimum of 10 people.
Call (502)451-5630 for more information.
Photos: Michelle Eigenheer
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