Rockville Cemetery, on Baltimore Road, is significant as the community’s oldest burial ground, as a classic 19th century rural cemetery, as an example of a mid-20th century lawn plan cemetery, and as the final resting place of many individuals prominent in local history.
Rockville Cemetery began as a colonial burying ground associated with a tiny chapel of ease established by Prince George’s (Anglican) Parish in 1738. The earliest stone marker, that of John Harding, is dated 1752. After 1822, when the congregation of Christ Episcopal Church moved into the town of Rockville, it continued to use the graveyard but paid less attention to maintenance.
Establishment of a community cemetery in Rockville coincided with the desire of the Vestry of Christ Episcopal Church to reverse the ravages time had taken in the old burial ground. Local citizens had discussed the concept of a public cemetery prior to the Civil War, but took no action until 1880. That year, the Vestry deeded the property to the newly incorporated Rockville Cemetery Association of Montgomery County, which opened burial sites to all religious denominations.
The neglected cemetery’s future brightened under new stewardship. In 1889, the association built a tenant house for the grounds supervisor. Judge Richard Johns Bowie and Catharine Bowie added acreage from their farm next door. Visible improvement came in 1894, when the board appointed an executive committee comprised of women. Under the leadership of Rebecca Veirs, the Rockville Union Cemetery Society cleared the grounds, planted trees, and transformed the property from a veritable wilderness into a spot of unusual beauty.
The upper cemetery is a stunning example of the rural cemetery movement. This concept began in large American cities in the 1830s as a reaction to space and sanitation issues as well as the disruption caused by growth. Influenced by cemetery architects and landscape gardeners, the movement filtered down to small towns such as Rockville as a picturesque, safe burial ground that symbolized community unity. Curving roads, attractive plantings and monuments, an isolated yet accessible location, and family-controlled plots carried out the rural cemetery philosophy.
The lower cemetery is also a product of its time. Laid out in 1936 by landscape architect Robert Cridland, its flat terrain is more formal, with gridded plots and groupings of trees. This 20th century aesthetic contrasts nicely with the variety of shapes in the older section.
The roster of persons buried at Rockville Cemetery reads like a Who’s Who of Montgomery County and Rockville. Examples are veterans from every American conflict, Upton Beall and E. Barrett Prettyman (clerks of the court), Walter Johnson (baseball great and County Commissioner), the Pumphrey family (carpenters and undertakers), astronomer Edwin Smith and farmer Julius West, and (for 35 years) author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda.
Rockville Cemetery Association, Inc. formed in 2001 to restore and operate the cemetery. Since then, the association has repaired the roads and hundreds of gravestones, renovated the caretaker’s cottage, cleared loads of debris and overgrowth, obtained historic designation, computerized the records, and conducted public outreach through tours, newsletters, and work sessions.
Today, the cemetery is as active as ever. There are regular burials, lots for sale, and plans to open a new section adjacent to the upper cemetery. Its beauty encourages visitors to take a leisurely stroll and offers them a chance to reflect or to assist the volunteer Board of Directors. While serving as a reminder of our history, Rockville Cemetery continues its mission begun more than 250 years ago.
Rockville Cemetery Association, Inc.
Street address: 1350 Baltimore Road
Mailing address: P.O. Box 4318, Rockville, MD 20849-4318