Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs was established in 1786 as Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery. In the middle of the 19th Century the congregation (First Presbyterian) decided to erect a church building. They chose the cemetery for the Dixon, Dixon, Balbirnie designed structure, placing the foundation on top of the burial ground. Completed in 1852, the Gothic Revival church is raised above a portion of graves creating catacombs. It closed in 1977 and is now owned and maintained by the University of Maryland School of Law. The facilities are available for functions and the cemetery is open to the public from 8am until dusk. The catacombs can be toured by appointment.
Several American heroes are resting at Westminster. Revolutionary War physician James McHenry was buried here in 1816. A signer of the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s aide-de-camp, McHenry eventually became the third United States Secretary of War. Fort McHenry was named in his honor.
Brigadier General John Stricker was instrumental in Baltimore’s defining moment during the War of 1812. In command of the third brigade of the Maryland Militia, Stricker was tasked with stalling the approaching British land force as they marched on Baltimore in September of 1814. His men were successful, enabling Major General Samuel Smith to carry out his fortification plans. Stricker was also a soldier during the Revolutionary War.
Next to the Stricker vault is the final resting place of Samuel Smith, merchant, statesman and war hero. Smith elevated to Lieutenant Colonel during the Revolutionary War and to Major General during the War of 1812. He commanded the city’s overall defense during the Battle of Baltimore and was a United States Senator from Maryland. He was mayor of Baltimore from 1835-1838. Smith died in 1839 at the age of 86. His politician brother Robert, Secretary of State under James Madison, is also buried at Westminster.
A number of Baltimore mayors are entombed here. James Calhoun, Edward Johnson and John Smith-Hollins join Samuel Smith in the small Victorian cemetery.
In 1849 Edgar Allan Poe was placed at Westminster next to his grandfather, David Poe Senior. A veteran of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, David was Charm City’s assistant deputy quartermaster during the Revolution and apparently committed $40,000 of his personal fortune to the American cause. He helped defend Charm City in 1814 at the age of 71. His tombstone reads: Patriot.
In 1875 Edgar Allan was moved to the front of the cemetery and placed under an Egyptian-themed George Frederick designed monument. Several years later, in 1913, a second headstone was erected at the writer’s initial burial site.