Laurel Hill Cemetery: Exploring a Picturesque Burial Ground
Step into the tranquility of Laurel Hill Cemetery, an enchanting historic burial ground nestled in Saco, Maine. Established in 1844, Laurel Hill emerged as a sanctuary of eternal rest, replacing the cramped and neglected cemetery that once stood in the town’s common area. As you explore its expansive 170 acres, you’ll discover a captivating blend of natural beauty, inspired design, and a rich tapestry of history.
Laurel Hill Cemetery is a remarkably beautiful and well-maintained burial ground. The captivating landscape, with its stunning river views, is complemented by an impressive collection of historic tombstones and monuments.
With its origins dating back to the mid-18th century, Laurel Hill Cemetery carries an air of reverence and a timeless appeal. The initial 25 acre plot was meticulously designed by Waldo Higginson, Esquire, drawing inspiration from the esteemed Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Higginson’s vision encompassed meandering paths and roads, adorned with a harmonious mix of deciduous trees and evergreen shrubs that gracefully punctuated broad stretches of open lawn. Positioned alongside the picturesque banks of the Saco River, the cemetery’s serene green spaces seamlessly blend with the surrounding marsh grasses, creating a harmonious connection to the natural landscape.
Strolling along the pathways, you’ll notice that the graves are predominantly arranged in simple rows, evoking a sense of order and tranquility. However, there are instances where clusters of graves form circles or arcs, lovingly embraced by evergreen shrubs. These unique arrangements add a touch of whimsy and individuality to the cemetery’s layout.
Adding to its allure, Laurel Hill boasts a stunning Queen Anne-style chapel, which has stood proudly since its construction in 1890. The chapel continues to serve its purpose to this day, offering solace and comfort to those who seek it.
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In the 1950s, Shurcliff & Merrill, a prominent landscape architecture firm, took charge of expanding Laurel Hill Cemetery’s beauty. They introduced additional trees and filled in the mounded gravesites with soil to facilitate easier maintenance, ensuring that the original lanes remained visible and accessible.
In 1919, the cemetery expanded further by acquiring adjacent land, which would later become the cherished Deering Park section. Separated from the original grounds by a lush buffer of native trees and shrubs, this section presents a striking geometric Colonial Revival design crafted by Sidney Shurcliff of Shurcliff & Shurcliff in the late 1930s. Opened to the public in the 1970s, Deering Park serves as an active burial site, while the original cemetery remains a serene space for leisurely strolls and contemplation.
Laurel Hill Cemetery’s captivating beauty extends beyond its role as a final resting place. In the month of May, a breathtaking spectacle unfolds as tens of thousands of daffodils bloom along the winding paths. This vibrant tradition was first conceived by Shurcliff and Joseph Deering II, adding a splash of color and renewing the spirit of life amidst the solemn atmosphere.
Originally established as a “garden” or “rural” cemetery, Laurel Hill was deeply inspired by the pioneering Mount Auburn Cemetery, America’s first of its kind, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The innovative design philosophy employed at Laurel Hill aimed to create a space that encouraged visitation and contemplation. Families had the opportunity to purchase large lots, which they could decorate according to their personal preferences. As a result, the cemetery’s landscape is adorned with an array of stunning monuments and statues, reminiscent of an open-air museum.
Throughout its rich history, Laurel Hill Cemetery has witnessed several transformations and expansions. In 1849, a receiving tomb was constructed to accommodate the overwintering of the town’s deceased. Although the tomb has since been decommissioned, the area has been repurposed as a parking lot adjacent to the chapel, ensuring that visitors can easily access this hallowed ground.
As interest and demand grew, Laurel Hill continued to evolve, with ongoing landscaping and expansion projects well into the early 1900s. In 1937, Elizabeth Rice made a generous bequest, providing substantial funds to support the cemetery’s infrastructure for years to come. Today, Laurel Hill Cemetery stands as a beloved destination for bird-watchers, walkers, and enthusiasts of nineteenth-century cemetery monuments. Particularly in the spring, when the steep banks facing the river burst into a vibrant display of one million daffodils, the landscape truly becomes a sight to behold.
Visiting Laurel Hill Cemetery is more than just a journey into the past; it’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature, art, and the stories of those who came before us. Whether you seek a peaceful retreat for introspection or an appreciation of history’s enduring legacy, Laurel Hill welcomes you with open arms, inviting you to explore its enchanting landscape and discover the hidden treasures that lie within.
As you meander through the pathways of Laurel Hill Cemetery, you’ll encounter a vibrant tapestry of plants, animals, and birds, adding to the natural beauty and serenity of this historic burial ground.
The landscape of Laurel Hill is adorned with a diverse array of plants, carefully chosen to enhance the cemetery’s aesthetic appeal. Along the meandering paths and roads, you’ll find deciduous trees, their lush foliage providing shade and creating a serene atmosphere. These trees include majestic specimens such as oak, maple, and birch, their branches gracefully reaching towards the sky. Evergreen shrubs are scattered throughout the grounds, punctuating the open lawn areas with bursts of green throughout the year.
Beyond the flora, Laurel Hill Cemetery is also home to a variety of wildlife. As you explore the grounds, you may encounter small mammals such as squirrels and rabbits, darting among the trees and bushes. Their playful antics add a touch of liveliness to the tranquil surroundings. Keep an eye out for the occasional glimpse of a graceful deer venturing near the edges of the cemetery, as they find solace in the adjacent woodlands.
Bird-watchers will delight in the avian inhabitants that grace the skies of Laurel Hill. The cemetery’s proximity to the Saco River and its surrounding marshes attracts a diverse range of bird species. The tranquil waters of the river offer a serene backdrop as you spot graceful waterfowl, including herons, ducks, and perhaps even a stately egret, wading in the shallows. The melodies of songbirds fill the air, as warblers, finches, and sparrows flit among the trees, their vibrant plumage adding bursts of color to the serene landscape.
Among the most beloved avian residents of Laurel Hill are the seasonal visitors. During the spring and summer months, migratory birds grace the grounds with their presence. The vibrant daffodil fields that bloom along the steep river banks attract a symphony of buzzing bees and delicate butterflies, creating a lively spectacle of nature’s harmony.
In this captivating blend of plants, animals, and birds, Laurel Hill Cemetery invites visitors to appreciate not only the historical significance of the site but also the interconnectedness of life and nature. As you explore the cemetery’s grounds, take a moment to pause, observe, and listen to the whispers of the natural world that thrives within this peaceful sanctuary.
What’s Nearby Laurel Hill Cemetery
Nestled amidst the charm of Saco, Maine, Laurel Hill Cemetery is surrounded by a plethora of nearby locations that offer their own unique allure. Just a stone’s throw away, Jubilee Park invites visitors to unwind and bask in the tranquility of its green spaces, complete with manicured lawns and beautiful flower beds. For those seeking outdoor adventures, Clifford Park provides a haven for hikers and nature enthusiasts, with its extensive trail system that winds through dense forests and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Nature lovers will also find solace in the Saco Heath Preserve, a protected area that showcases a unique ecosystem and offers opportunities for exploration. Another nearby attraction is Ferry Beach State Park, where visitors can enjoy the beauty of the beach and the serenity of the surrounding nature. Additionally, Horton Woods provides a peaceful retreat with its picturesque trails and scenic vistas. With these nearby locations, Laurel Hill Cemetery is not only a place of reflection and history but also a gateway to a world of natural wonders and captivating landscapes.
Laurel Hill Cemetery Parking Information
If you’re approaching from the north, take Interstate 95 South and use Exit 36 for I-195 toward Saco/Old Orchard Beach. Merge onto I-195 East and continue for approximately 2 miles. Take Exit 2A toward ME-5/US-1/Industrial Park Road and merge onto Industrial Park Road. After about 0.6 miles, turn left onto ME-5 South/US-1 South/Industrial Park Road. Follow this road for approximately 1.5 miles, then turn right onto Main Street. Continue on Main Street for about 0.6 miles, then turn left onto Beach Street. Drive for approximately 0.3 miles, and you will arrive at Laurel Hill Cemetery on your right, where you can find parking adjacent to the onsite chapel.
Laurel Hill Cemetery offers convenient parking facilities for visitors, ensuring easy access to this tranquil haven. Adjacent to the onsite chapel, a designated parking area welcomes guests, providing a convenient place to park their vehicles. As you approach the cemetery, signs directing you to the parking area will guide your way.