Greenwood Cemetery is located at 6571 St. Louis Avenue in Hillsdale, St. Louis County, Missouri. The T-shaped property, is 31.85 acres in the rolling countryside to the west of the city of St. Louis. Bounded on the south by St. Louis Avenue (originally Hamburger Avenue) and on the north by a spring fed creek, the cemetery is divided into 22 burial sections. The sections are designated A-l, K-0, R, numbers 1 -5, and a Sexton's lot. After World War II, sections A and B were divided into the East and West lawns. The property generally slopes from south to north, forming a valley, with the highest section being at the base of the "T" near the entrance of the property. The cemetery contains approximately 50,000 graves ranging in date from 1874 to 1993. Marked graves are predominantly stone and concrete, although other types of grave markings associated with African American burial rituals are present. Recent work on the site has cleared parts of the cemetery of brush, sampling and dead trees revealing a property that, while weathered and partially overgrown, still retains a high degree of integrity.
History and Cultural Significance of Greenwood Cemetery
In January, 1874 after resigning his position as the Superintendent of St. Peter's Cemetery on Lucas-Hunt Road, a position that he had held for 19 years, Herman Krueger, a native of Germany and a member of St. Peter's German Evangelical Church, purchased 10 acres of land off Hamburger Avenue (now St. Louis Avenue) less than a mile east of St. Peters and established Greenwood Cemetery. According to the Watchman Advocate Newspaper and perhaps being an astute businessman, Krueger separated from St. Peters after a disagreement and started Greenwood in direct competition with his former employer. However, he did so with the intention of “not competing" for the burial of white people, he dedicated his whole plot to the burial of Negroes. Since its founding in 1855, St. Peters had always accepted African Americans for burial. By 1874 burials of African Americans were limited to the Public Grounds, a small (approx. 5 acres) section of the 50 acre cemetery. Perhaps, Krueger was a visionary who clearly saw the need and potential profitability of a private black cemetery. From its inception, the cemetery was intended to serve the African American community. Greenwood is noteworthy for being the first non-sectarian commercial cemetery for African Americans in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The cemetery reflected the post-civil war trend toward segregation in all aspects of life-and death. In 1880 after 6 years of successful operation, Mr. Krueger purchased additional acreage increasing the cemetery from 10 to 31.85 acres. Located in what was then a rural area, the park-like setting was a partially wooded property with winding roads and rolling hills. This was typical of 19th-century rural cemetery movement which was in part fueled by the threat of cholera epidemics, such as those that frequently struck densely populated St. Louis City.
In 1894 Krueger sold the cemetery to his son-in-law, Adolph Foelsch. Foelsch, a former superintendent of Bethany Cemetery, located at the intersection of St. Charles Rock and Lucas-Hunt Roads. Adolph, along with his wife, Louisa Krueger Foelsch, their ten children lived in a farmhouse in what would later become the East Lawn. Foelsch’s brothers also worked along side his family, while living in nearby communities. Together, they worked and maintain the grounds, digging graves by hand and horse drawn plow. Adolph Foelsch operated Greenwood until his death in 1932, at the age of 75.
The Foelsch family owned, operated and maintained the cemetery until 1981.
Beginning in the 1910’s, concrete tombstones were manufactured on the grounds; in the 1950s, when they had ceased producing the large planters that had been the standard, they began offering flat stones with embedded stained glass in a variety of colors. Burials were most numerous through the 1940’s and 1950’s. During the earliest burial years, caskets were brought to the front of the cemetery and taken to the gravesite by horse and wagon, with the funeral procession following behind on foot. The first motorized funeral procession occurred in 1904 and by the mid 1900’s all transportation to and through the cemetery was by motorized vehicles. On each Memorial Day, huge celebrations were held at Greenwood. Family members took streetcars from the city to visit loved one’s graves, while the Foelsch’s sold concessions such as sodas and sandwiches, and paint cans filled with water for planting. Memorial Day ceremonies were held which usually included an African American Post of the American Legion. A volley of shots would be fired into the air and a large wreath laid near the entrance of the cemetery to remember soldiers who are buried at Greenwood.
Eventually the land surrounding Greenwood was developed into residential neighborhoods. During the 1910's, '20s and '30s construction of homes proceeded to the east and west of the vertical base of the T; about this same time, the land south of the cemetery, along Hamburger Avenue, was developed for commercial purposes. By the 1940s, the land north of the cemetery was also being developed for residential use. The cemetery is now surrounded by residential neighborhoods and commercial property.
The family operated and maintained the property in the late 1970s until it was sold outside of the family in 1981. In 1993, the property was purchased by Solomon Rooks, who tried to secure more business for the cemetery thru the expansion of St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Unable to maintain the grounds due to limited income, Mr. Rooks discontinued his efforts to make the cemetery a profitable source of income. In 1999, descendants of the interred along with a group of academic professionals formed the Friends of Greenwood, Inc. Their goal was to restore and preserve the site as a historical park and educational resource to celebrate St. Louis’ African-American heritage. In 2002, the organization took full ownership, and in 2004, the site was added to the National register of Historic Places. In 2016, The Friends of Greenwood was formally dissolved. That same year, Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association, Inc. was formed. GCPA is a 501C3, non-profit organization and is committed to restoring Greenwood Cemetery. In 2016, Greenwood was added to the list of St. Louis County Historic Landmarks. On the day of February 25, 2018, County Executive Steve Stenger proclaimed Greenwood Cemetery Day. All honors, we hold with great pride and will continue our efforts to bring attention to this historic place, Greenwood Cemetery.
The article below is from an article in the Missouri Resources, spring 2017, provided by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Photo provided by Sherry McMurphy, great-great-great granddaughter of Adolph and Louisa Foelsch.