The Congressional Cemetery, officially Washington Parish Burial Ground, is a historic and active cemetery located at 1801 E Street, SE, in Washington, D.C., on the west bank of the Anacostia River. It is the only American “cemetery of national memory” founded before the Civil War. Over 65,000 individuals are buried or memorialized at the cemetery, including many who helped form the nation and the city of Washington in the early 19th century.
Although the Episcopal Christ Church, Washington Parish owns the cemetery, the U.S. government has purchased 806 burial plots, which are administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Congress, located about a mile and a half (2.4 km) to the northwest, has greatly influenced the history of the cemetery. The cemetery still sells plots, and is an active burial ground. From the Washington Metro, the cemetery lies three blocks east of the Potomac Avenue station and two blocks south of the Stadium-Armory station.
Many members of the U.S. Congress who died while Congress was in session are interred at Congressional Cemetery. Other burials include early landowners and speculators, the builders and architects of early Washington, Native American diplomats, Washington city mayors, and American Civil War veterans. Nineteenth-century Washington, D.C., families unaffiliated with the federal government also have graves and tombs at the cemetery.
In all, there is one Vice President, one Supreme Court justice, six Cabinet members, 19 Senators and 71 Representatives (including a former Speaker of the House) buried there, as well as veterans of every American war, and the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover. The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 23, 1969, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011.
The Congressional Cemetery was established by private citizens associated with Christ Church on a 4.5-acre plot in 1807 and was later given to Christ Church, which gave it its official name Washington Parish Burial Ground. By 1817 sites were set aside for government legislators and officials; this includes cenotaphs for many legislators buried elsewhere. The cenotaphs, designed by Benjamin Latrobe, each have a large square block with recessed panels set on a wider plinth and surmounted by a conical point.
From 1823 to 1876 the U.S. Congress funded the expansion, enhancement, and maintenance of the cemetery, but it never became a federal institution. Appropriations funded a gravel road from the Capitol to the cemetery, paving within the cemetery, the public vault, fencing, and the gatehouse, as well as funerals for congressmen and the cenotaphs. During the early part of this period, graves were laid out in a grid pattern in an extension of the grid in the L’Enfant Plan for Washington, and little or no landscaping or plantings were made on the grounds. The grid survives to this day and was extended as the cemetery expanded.
Starting in the late 1840s, the cemetery was influenced by the rural cemetery movement in which the graves were placed in a park-like setting with extensive landscaping. To implement this new vision, the cemetery needed to expand. Between 1849 and 1869 the cemetery grew in area to 35.75 acres. The original cemetery was located on block 1115 on E Street between 18th and 19th Streets Southeast in 1808. In 1849, it doubled in size by acquiring the block to its south, 1116.
In 1853, it expanded to the east on blocks 1130, 1148 and 1149 between F and G Streets Southeast. In 1853–53, the cemetery expanded to the west by acquiring block 1104, between 17th Street and 18th Streets Southeast. In 1858, the cemetery acquired block 1105 and Reservation 13. In 1859, it added blocks 1105 and 1123. Finally, the cemetery reached its current extent of 35.75 acres by growing south to Water Street Southeast with blocks 1106 and 1117 in 1869.
|Established||April 4, 1807|
1801 E Street SE, Washington, D.C.
|Owned by||Christ Church|
|Size||35.75 acres (14 ha)|
|Find a Grave||Congressional Cemetery|
|Architect||Benjamin Latrobe, others|
|NRHP reference No.||69000292|
|Added to NRHP||June 23, 1969|
|Designated NHL||June 14, 2011|