Cemetery History - Woodland

2021 Woodland Tour Schedule

Woodland Cemetery

  • This cemetery was planned prior to the incorporation of the town of ‘Fort Des Moines’ on September 22, 1851. 
  • In 1848, area farmers on the outskirts of the city - John Dean, Abel Cain, Lewis Jones, Henry Everly, and Jonathan Lyon -donated the first 5 1/2 acres for Woodland Cemetery. 
  • In 1857 the city of Des Moines became the owner of Woodland. 
  • 36½ acres were added to the cemetery in 1864 from land purchased from J. B. Bausman. 
  • Today it totals 65 acres, including the adjoining St. Ambrose Cemetery. 
  • St. Ambrose was deeded over to the city by the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines in 1923. 
  • Woodland and St. Ambrose eventually became an oftentimes forgotten part of the city’s inner core, remembered only by neighboring residents, genealogists and distant relatives of the nearly 40,000 people buried in the park.
  • Lots in Block #1 were purchased in November of 1849. 
  • The first burial was that of Thomas Casady (1849-1850).  Thomas was the son of early Des Moines pioneer lawyer and Judge Phineas M. Casady – also buried at Woodland.
  • Sitting high on a hill in the cemetery is the Children’s Monument, likely to be one of the most unusual in any cemetery. 
  • In Des Moines’ early days, an orphanage served as the first home for many babies who were brought there by mothers who could not care for them.  Many of the infants died and were buried in a small plot at Woodland in wooden, crate-like caskets, one on top of the other in stacks of three.  The graves were unmarked, hence the single monument.  Although 44 names are listed on the monument, many more are listed as “unknown.”

Notable Burials

  • Hoyt Sherman
  • George Hanawalt
  • Ebenezer J. Ingersoll
  • Richard Ashworth
  • Drake University Founder George Thomas Carpenter
  • Des Moines University Founder Summerfield S. Still
  • Samuel Merrill
  • Supreme Court Justice Chester Cicero Cole