Fairmount Cemetery is Colorado’s most prominent and populous burial ground and mortuary. Founded in 1890 in southeast Denver, it is the city’s second-oldest active cemetery after Riverside (1876). Today the 280-acre cemetery is home to some 180,000 interments, including prominent Coloradans such as William N. Byers, Robert Speer, Anne Evans, Justina Ford, Frederick Bonfils, and Ralph Carr.
A Cemetery Park
The Fairmount Cemetery Association was incorporated on February 20, 1890. Founding board members included attorney Willard Teller, brother of US Senator Henry Teller; Harper M. Orahood, Senator Teller’s law partner and a founder of Black Hawk; and Donald Fletcher, a prominent realtor and founder of Aurora. They sought a newer, larger, better-located cemetery than Riverside to accommodate Denver’s exploding population.
Following the lead of the first cemetery park, Mount Auburn near Boston, Fairmount avoided the usual crowded boneyard adjacent to a church. In 1890 the association paid $196,000 for a 560-acre site about 5.5 miles southeast of downtown, outside the Denver city limits. (Since then some of the property has been sold off, leaving 280 acres.) Formerly part of the Windsor Farm, which grew food for the Windsor Hotel downtown, the property included Windsor Lake and a portion of the High Line Canal as water sources. In its 1891 Prospectus, the association explained the large, remote site as an antidote “to the common mistake in getting [cemeteries] too small and where they are soon crowded out by the growth of the city.”
The association envisioned its cemetery as a spacious natural setting, beautifully landscaped around curvilinear drives and walking paths. Besides Mount Auburn, Greenwood in Brooklyn and Laurel Hill in Philadelphia were early prototypes of the picturesque, quiet, dignified cemetery park. Like these, Fairmount preserved a parklike setting by outlawing fences, railings, walls, and hedges; regulating grave ornaments; and banning plastic flowers.
To lay out this vision, Fairmount hired Reinhard Schuetze, a German immigrant and Colorado’s first landscape architect. At Fairmount he planted more than 4,000 trees and shrubs in the first two years, making the cemetery Colorado’s largest, most diverse arboretum to this day. The cemetery is also home to one of the country’s largest collections of Old Garden Roses, thanks to Schuetze’s rose plantings and families who planted roses at their loved ones’ graves.
Schuetze’s tree-lined circular drives, walking lanes, shrubbery, vines, roses, and other flowers delighted Denverites who used the cemetery as a park. Fairmount also became a top tourist attraction. Such cemetery parks became models for affluent suburban planning and parks. Denver hired Schuetze to design City Park, Cheesman Park, Washington Park, the State Capitol grounds, and other public places over the next two decades.
To keep Fairmount green, Schuetze started an elaborate irrigation system including the fifty-one-acre Windsor Lake reservoir and a pumping plant to distribute High Line Canal water. Because Fairmount had a low water right (# 111) on the High Line, which sometimes ran dry, in 1902 the cemetery bought additional piping and water from the Denver Union Water Company (now Denver Water). Today most of Fairmount’s water comes from a network of seventeen wells and Windsor Lake, as the High Line Canal is now waterless.
The Gate Lodge (7200 East Alameda Avenue), which served as the home of the cemetery superintendent and his office, was designed in a picturesque, Romanesque style using light sandstone. Streetcars and automobiles entered the grounds under the Gate Lodge’s large stone arch. The cemetery’s Gothic Revival chapel is constructed of the same light sandstone as the Gate Lodge. Both were designed by Denver architect Henry Ten Eyck, and both are now designated Denver landmarks. The chapel has a ninety-foot-high steeple, prominent flying buttresses, and a Gothic arched entry. Originally called the Mortuary Chapel, it has been renamed Little Ivy Chapel for the Virginia creeper vines that have adorned it over the years. It is used for funerals, weddings, lectures, tours, and concerts on its 622-pipe organ.
In 1893 Fairmount incorporated the Fairmount Railway Company to build a steam railroad line from the end of the East Eighth Avenue streetcar line at Quebec Street to the Fairmount Gate Lodge a mile south. The line entered the cemetery through the Gate Lodge arch and ran to a small depot near the chapel before looping around the grounds. Funeral Car A, painted black with gold trim and black curtains, carried the guest of honor and his or her family, while subsequent cars carried other mourners and a band. Opened on Memorial Day, 1893, the Fairmount Railroad was acquired and electrified three years later by the Colfax Electric Railway. In 1898 the Denver Tramway Company took over the Fairmount line, abandoning it in 1913.
Merger and Additions
In January 1900, Fairmount merged with Riverside Cemetery, which it operates to this day. Riverside had lost business as it became surrounded by railroad tracks, smelters, stock yards, meatpacking plants, and other industrial uses. Even in death, some did not want to be on the wrong side of the tracks. The huge obelisk of cattle king John Wesley Iliff, once the centerpiece of Riverside’s parklike layout, was moved to more fashionable Fairmount. As of 1902, Fairmount boasted the first crematory between St. Louis and San Francisco at its Riverside property. In 1941 Fairmount built the English Gothic–style Chapel of the Pines and moved its Riverside crematory to the chapel.
In 1929 Fairmount opened a communal mausoleum, which now has more than 18,000 crypts and has been designated a Denver landmark. Designed by Denver architects Frederick E. Mountjoy and Francis W. Frewen, the neoclassical mausoleum has a granite-veneer exterior with an interior of pink Tennessee marble floors, Alabama white marble walls, and soft recorded music creating a celestial atmosphere. The building contains one of the largest private collections of stained-glass windows in Colorado.
Famous People at Fairmount
As Colorado’s largest and most prominent necropolis, Fairmount is final resting place to many famous Coloradans such as booster and publisher William N. Byers, industrialist Charles Boettcher, Governor Ralph Carr, Denver Post founders Frederick Bonfils and Henry Tammen, amusement park owner Mary Elitch, philanthropist Anne Evans, African American doctor Justina Ford, school teacher Emily Griffith, entrepreneur David Moffat, and Denver mayor Robert Speer. Many movers and shakers built grand mausoleums, ornate monuments, decorative tombstones, and sculptures for their final resting place. Architect Frank Edbrooke designed his own neoclassical mausoleum, while architect-developer Temple Hoyne Buell planned his own Egyptian-style mausoleum guarded by two statues of maidens.
Many of Fairmount’s 180,000 residents live in ethnic or religious sections. The Emanuel Section, founded by Denver’s largest and oldest synagogue, Temple Emanuel, lies on the cemetery’s west side along Quebec Street—just as many Jews lived in west Denver. African Americans, traditionally residents of central and northeast Denver, often lie in the northeast corner of the cemetery, though that is changing as cemeteries, like their communities, have desegregated in recent decades. Fairmount also has large Greek and Japanese sections. Certain church groups such as the Dutch Reformed have sections for their members. Initially Fairmount promised a “Strangers Ground for the free interment of the worthy poor from whom common charity owes a decent burial place,” but paupers are now handled by Denver’s Catholic cemeteries: Mount Olivet and Saint Simeon.
Fairmount has grown over the years to include not only the cemetery, mortuary, and crematorium, but also four chapels, several mausoleums and columbaria (for storing cremated remains), and a maintenance complex with concrete-vault manufacturing facilities that include a marker and memorial department. Now gone are a flower shop, greenhouses, and the old marker and memorial shop, which has been replaced by Upper Ivy Place, a new millionaires’ row of stately mausoleums. Just to the west, Lower Ivy Place features three modern outdoor mausoleums. As two-thirds of customers now choose cremation, in 2011 Fairmount added High Line Gardens, a natural cremation area along the High Line Canal and near a fifty-foot-tall wind chime. In 2016 Fairmount expanded its office, funeral home, and chapel with a 4,000-square-foot addition to create the Quebec Place at Fairmount events center.
Defying a national trend toward consolidation, Fairmount Mortuary and Cemetery remains an independent, locally owned nonprofit. The cemetery still has another thirty undeveloped acres.
Fairmount Heritage Foundation
The Fairmount Heritage Foundation was established in 2001 to sponsor tours and interpretive programs, publications, and recitals. The foundation encourages public use of the cemetery as a park, which is especially popular with fans of architecture, bicycling, birding, history, sculpture, and wildlife. From the beginning, Fairmount has always been free and open to the public from sunrise to sunset.