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State Historical Society of Iowa

Mason City Cemetery Added to National Register of Historic Places

Jun 29, 2018

DES MOINES – The Elmwood-St. Joseph Cemetery in Mason City has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Today's announcement comes from the State Historic Preservation Office, which oversees the National Register of Historic Places program in Iowa in conjunction with the National Park Service. The State Historic Preservation Office is overseen by the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

"We're pleased the Elmwood Cemetery has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and we commend all the stakeholders who worked so hard on this successful nomination," State Historian Laura Sadowsky said. "This recognition marks an important milestone for Mason City as it continues to preserve the legacy of its past for future generations of Iowans to enjoy."

In 1867, five acres of land were purchased for the Elmwood-St. Joseph Cemetery in Mason City with its first burial, of Willie Doolittle, taking place in July of that year. In 1875, four acres of land north and adjacent to Elmwood Cemetery was established as St. Joseph Cemetery.

During its 150-year history, the cemetery has grown to nearly 70 acres. Many notable Mason City citizens are buried there, including American composer and playwright, Robert Meredith Willson, whose most famous work, "The Music Man," pays tribute to Iowa.

In the nomination, the cemetery's historical significance is noted for its association with:

  • families and individuals who were instrumental in the settlement and growth of the city.
  • the community's social history and ethnic heritage.
  • immigrants and religious groups that played a role in Mason City's history.

The nomination also cited the cemetery's architectural significance as well as its mausoleums and other structures, such as the Ascension sculpture. The nomination also highlighted the cemetery's overall design, which reflected national trends.

"It originated in the late 19th century as a formal grid pattern design reminiscent of the Old Burial Ground tradition," according to the nomination. "It then evolved into a rural, scenic cemetery influenced by the Rural Cemetery and the American Picturesque landscape design movements of the 19th century. In the early to mid-20th century, new additions to the cemetery were designed in the more open and less elaborate 'lawn-park' and 'memorial park' cemetery designs that became popular during this period."

The cemetery's overall period of significance begins in 1867, when it was first established, to 1968, when the last major building was constructed on the site. Significant dates include:

  • 1908, 1912, 1915 and 1920, when four mausoleums were built.
  • 1935, when the South Federal Avenue stone walls and gateway were built.
  • 1950, when the 10th Street SW stone walls and gateway were built.
  • 1958, when the Ascension bas-relief structure was installed and the cemetery office building was constructed.
  • 1962 and 1968, when the two cemetery maintenance tile-block buildings were added.

Learn more about National Register of Historic Place sites in Iowa by downloading the Iowa Culture app.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.