Congressional Cemetery Maingate
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO
Historic Congressional Cemetery was founded in 1807 by eight civic-minded residents of the new Capitol Hill neighborhood who recognized the need for a local burial ground. Its first burials included the master stone mason of the new United States Capitol building, the wife of the Navy Yard Commandant, Senator Uriah Tracy and the infant daughter of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the Capitol. In 1812, the cemetery was deeded to Christ Church † Washington Parish, and over the next 100 years it grew from 4.5 to 37.75 acres.
Among those buried at Congressional Cemetery are 16 Senators, 68 members of the House, and Vice Presidents Elbridge Gerry and George Clinton. Congressional Cemetery is also the final resting place of many other notables including Tobias Lear, personal secretary to George Washington; Commodore Thomas Tingey, first commandant of the Washington Navy Yard; Generals Jacob J. Brown and Alexander Macomb of the U.S. Army; General Archibald Henderson, commandant of the Marine Corps for thirty years; William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol, and Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument. Several prominent Native Americans who died in Washington during diplomatic missions were buried at Congressional Cemetery, including Push-ma-ta-ha, Chief of the Choctaws, who held the rank of General in the U.S. Army, and Kan-Ya-Tu-Duta (Scarlet Crow), a delegate of the Dakota Sioux nation. More recent burials include Matthew Brady, Civil War photographer; Belva Lockwood, first woman to practice law before the Supreme Court; John Philip Sousa, conductor of the U.S. Marine Band; and J. Edgar Hoover, first director of the FBI.
Built with money from Congress, the public receiving vault at Congressional Cemetery temporarily held the remains of Presidents John Q. Adams, William H. Harrison, and Zachary Taylor, as well as First Ladies Dolley Madison and Louisa Adams.
The cemetery has a fine collection of 19th century tombs in various styles, materials, and forms. Particularly significant among the monuments are the striking memorials designed for members of Congress by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. These monuments were placed in memory of members of Congress who died while in office between 1807 and 1878, some of whom were buried elsewhere – hence the common reference to Latrobe’s monuments as “cenotaphs” (empty grave).
Congressional Cemetery is located at 1801 E Street, SE, on Capitol Hill. The grounds are open every day from dawn to dusk. Free tours are given every Saturday from 11:00am to 1:00pm from April to October, and 10 theme self-guided walking tours are available at the visitor center and on the website. Metro stop: Potomac Avenue.