Holy Rood Cemetery, A Sad Sight but Interesting History


I’ve often walked by this cemetery at 2016 Wisconsin Ave., NW but never checked it out until this last weekend. It is really in a sad state. Tombstones are toppled everywhere:


A check on Wikipedia provides some interesting info:

“The cemetery was active from the mid-nineteenth century into the early twentieth century (although some burials took place as late as the 1990s), and as many as 1,000 free and enslaved African Americans are said to be interred here.

The cemetery has for some time now been owned by Georgetown University, which has long sought to remove the graves, remove the hill on which the cemetery sits, and develop the land.”

Do you think Georgetown should be able to develop this spot or should the historical significance be celebrated?

I found this tomb particularly moving:


21 Comment

  • I would verify that with Georgetown University first. Do people still do that to cemeteries?

    The Stanton grave reminds me of a cemetery in my hometown in PA. There was an influenza epidemic that swept through town in 1918-19 and half the town died. There is one cemetery where most of the dead are buried, whole families died within days of each other. Very tragic.

  • saf

    PoP is correct – GU wants very much for everyone to forget that cemetery is there so that they can develop the land.

  • No way should GU be allowed to desecrate these graves!!!!

  • Interesting to remember: A fair amount of Columbia Heights is built on top of a former cemetery. And I believe Walter Pierce Park still is a cemetery. i.e., I don’t think the bodies were ever moved.

  • Anyone have any info on that also-abandoned cemetery in Georgetown off Q Street? It seems to be separate from Oak Hill.


  • If there’s no descendants who care enough to keep the headstones upright then they should be removed. We can’t preserve everything that nobody cares about just because it’s “old”…

  • There is a tombstone in a Middleburg Cemetery with the sad lament under a woman’s name: “She Hath Done What She Could.”

  • Walter Pierce Park is built on top a former freedman’s cemetery. Although they said all the bodies were removed, bone fragments and pieces of coffins have been found, particularly in the area of the former community garden and along the western slope down into Rock Creek Park. There is currently a ground-penetrating radar project going on in the entire park to determine what’s beneath the surface. It’s my understanding that the gpr hasn’t found a whole lot yet. But at one point in time there were thousands of people buried there.

  • I really like the cemetery, and often see deer in there. Still, I fully support Georgetown developing the spot. I know they’ve been waiting years for progress. Not that they have the money to develop it or anything, and I assume any proposals they put up will be shot down by residents for the same reasons the university couldn’t develop the only Wormley School building, which is now becoming condos. So don’t worry about anything happening for the next few decades.

    What I might like to see is Georgetown trade the land, or a part of it to the Corcoran School right next to the cemetery in exchange for the ability for GU undergrads to take arts classes. But then again, I’d like Georgetown to buy out the whole Institute.

  • Bones are bones – moving them is not a desecration, it’s been done forever – often quite beautifully – See the Sedlec Ossuary in Kunta Hora- http://www.kostnice.cz

  • Hate to give this away, because it’s not so well known, but that cemetery is one of the better places to watch the July 4th fireworks.

  • saf

    DB -are you sure it’s abandoned? Might it be this one?

    I’m pretty sure, as the original location was on Mill.

  • I used to live nearby so I am familiar with how poor the condition of the cemetery is, and that’s really too bad. That said, we’re only here temporarily. None of us should have illusions of permanent memorials to us from our families and loved ones for generation after generation after we die. The world is for the living, even if it’s GU trying to turn a cemetery into a profit center.

  • saf:

    Looks like this is the cemetary I was thinking of

  • Why must everything be “developed”? Why can’t we just leave some spaces alone?

  • It’s a shame Mt Zion Church doesn’t keep their cemetery in better shape:

  • i’m glad my opinion doesn’t matter in this one since to me, its tricky.

    on one hand i think its very sad to destroy sacred spaces. i think if so many people think its sacrilegious to move bodies, then i respect that. if people have the expectations and wishes to have permanent memorials to them, i also respect that. when we as a society disrespect that, i worry for our mindset. i’d argue that graveyards are actually for the living, not the dead, but thats just my non religious perspective.

    on the other hand, its their land and life is dynamic.

  • saf

    Yeah DB, same cemetery.

  • I’ll have to check on this one, folks. I’m a prof at Georgetown, and I’m doing a book on Partick Healy SJ, the president of the university in the post Civil War years who wa slave passing for white. Several sources have told me about the cemetary but nothing about the university owning it.

    Big Chris on irving st NW

  • What happened in Chicago to that cemetery was despicable, must Georgetown follow that bad example?

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