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RICHMOND

Hebrew Cemetery


Hebrew Cemetery

Hebrew Cemetery
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

 

Hebrew Cemetery is a tangible reminder of Richmond’s Jewish community, which was important in the city’s history from the late 18th century.  The cemetery, which the first Jewish congregation in Virginia established, is the oldest active Jewish cemetery in continuous use in the South and saw its first burial in 1818. In the early 19th century, the small Franklin Street Jewish Burial Ground no longer had space for additional burials.  In 1816 to meet the need for burial space, Richmond’s Sephardic Jewish congregation, Beth Shalome, obtained a grant of one acre from the City of Richmond for a new and larger consecrated burial ground. 

The new cemetery site was on the northern end of Shockoe Hill at the outskirts of Richmond overlooked Bacon’s Quarter Branch Valley.  A committee raised $1,322 to lay off the ground, build a matahar (burial preparation) house, and enclose the burial ground with a wall.  The original matahar no longer exists.  Designed by Richmond architect, M.J. Dimmock, and completed in 1898, the cemetery still has its handsome and well-preserved Mortuary Chapel.  The original one-acre burial ground of 1816 was the nucleus of Hebrew Cemetery.  Expansions in 1871, 1880, 1896, and 1911 increased the area of the cemetery to five acres.  The oldest part of the cemetery is laid out in a regular grid with family plots.   

Hebrew Cemetery contains a wealth of monuments that illuminate the Jewish history of Richmond and Jewish burial practice.  The grave markers are simple overall, reflecting the Judaic tradition of equality in death. Chest and table tombs, cradle graves, and rustic tree monuments are interspersed among the tall obelisks, broken columns, and draped urns. Jewish symbols such as the Star of David, ram horns, and the hands positioned for the priestly blessing of the Kohanim in the cemetery illustrate historic burial practices.   Some of the markers in the cemetery contain Hebrew inscriptions and dates that reflect the Jewish calendar.  Many of the monuments specify the birthplaces of those buried, who were from numerous American cities as well as Bavaria, Holland, Russia, Prussia, Poland, England, and various German states. 

Hebrew Cemetery 2

Hebrew Cemetery postcard
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

The cemetery historically had ornamental trees and shrubs.  Surviving historic plantings include elm, cedar, magnolia, arborvitae, and a Japanese maple that are noteworthy and mature. A wrought iron entrance gate and cast iron gates and fences enclosing family burial plots are examples of significant metalwork. 

The Confederate soldiers’ burial section contains the graves of 30 Jewish Confederate soldiers who died in or near Richmond.  The Hebrew Ladies' Memorial Association formed in 1866 to care for this section.  The association around 1873 commissioned Richmond artist, Major William Barksdale Myers, to erect an ornamental iron fence around the enclosure.  The completed fence is arguably the most outstanding cast iron fence in Richmond, an elaborate construction of iron muskets, swords, and furled flags. 

Hebrew Cemetery is one of the most well preserved cemeteries in Richmond.  The cemetery is still an active place of burials with an expanded modern section across Hospital Street. 

Plan your visit

Hebrew Cemetery is located at 400 Hospital St. at the intersection of N. 4th
St. just north of Downtown Richmond adjacent to Shockoe Cemetery.
The cemetery is open to the public Monday-Friday from 9:00am to 3:00pm and by arrangement with the Temple office. A security guard is also present on the first and third Sundays of each month from noon until 3:00pm. Call the Congregation Beth Ahabah office at 804-358-6757 for information about historical tours of the cemetery, and visit the Hebrew Cemetery website for additional information.

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