Just three blocks east of Rice Street lies, very quietly, one of St. Paul’s loveliest, most serene, and most interesting greenspaces – the Oakland Cemetery. Founded in 1853, Oakland is St. Paul’s oldest public cemetery. It is also a relatively early exemplar of the American “garden cemetery” style, which grew up, starting in the 1830s, as a public alternative to the traditional (and very small) church cemeteries.
The design belongs to Horace Cleveland, one of the great landscape architects of the 19th century. Just in the Twin Cities area he did the University of Minnesota campus, Lakewood Cemetery, and Minnehaha Park, and the Grand Rounds of the Minneapolis park system.
Amongst Oakland’s gentle contours and beneath its towering hardwoods rest the bones of pioneers, magnates, heroes, nameless poor (acres were set aside as the “county plot”), the first immigrants to the city and the most recent. Among the permanent residents: Henry Sibley, fur trader, congressman, first state governor, and military leader of the 1862 Dakota Conflict; Alexander Ramsey, first territorial governor, second state governor, and U.S. Senator; Norman Kittson, magnate of the oxcart trade and an early mayor of St. Paul; schoolteacher and early settler Harriet Bishop (see the Lower West Side guide), and of course Henry Rice; merchant Amherst Wilder and 3M stalwart Archibald Bush -- the Wilder and Bush Foundations today still reinvest their founders’ fortunes in the community.
There is a plot for war veterans, going back to the Civil War. St. Paul firefighters who lost their lives on duty are also honored by a touching monument here. A striking feature of Oakland is the large number of new black tombstones erected by people from the Hmong community; the remains of the city’s pioneers lie as neighbors to those of its most recent immigrants. And for those interested in Rice Street there is a plot on the cemetery’s east side, near Jackson and Jenks, which is exclusively Romanian.
No place in Saint Paul more deserves an hour of the visitor’s time than Oakland Cemetery.