Pioneers and Soldier Memorial Cemetery (formerly known as Layman’s), the oldest existing cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Layman’s Cemetery was established in 1853 at 2925 Cedar Avenue South in Minneapolis, five years before Minnesota achieved statehood. In 1928 Layman’s was renamed Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery in honor of the settlers and early residents buried there who contributed to the growth and prosperity of the city and the state.
Since the first burial in 1853 the cemetery has been the final resting place of those who helped shape the history of early Minneapolis. Several prominent territorial pioneers, including Charles Christmas, Edwin Hedderly, and Philander Prescott are buried here.
Approximately 200 military veterans who fought in wars ranging from the War of 1812 to World War I are buried in the cemetery. It is the burial site for many of the city’s early African-American residents and for many people who had ties to the abolitionist movement in Minnesota. Several thousand immigrants, primarily from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, are buried here, as are many of their children. Over half of the cemetery’s 20,000 residents are children.
On June 2, 2002, Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places—one of the few cemeteries that has that honor. It received its historic designation for two primary reasons: The cemetery has several distinctive architectural features including the caretaker’s cottage which dates from about 1871. Other decorative structures, such as the flag pole, the fence and gates, and monuments to territorial women and military veterans date from the 1920’s and 30’s. The second reason is the significance of the contributions of those buried in the cemetery to the social history of Minneapolis.
Unfortunately, the absence of a perpetual maintenance fund has left Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery in a fragile condition. The wrought-iron fence that defines the boundaries of the site is in need of restoration, and the effects of pollution, neglect and vandalism threaten grave markers and other elements. Burial records and other historic documents in the cemetery office building remain to be inventoried and catalogued.
A nonprofit group, Friends Of The Cemetery, is working to promote appreciation and revitalization of Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery, and the City of Minneapolis has taken initial steps to document important elements, make capital improvements and prepare a long-term maintenance plan. In 2006 the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission designated the site as a local landmark. These efforts have provided some relief, but private, nonprofit funding is needed to ensure the future preservation of Minneapolis’ oldest cemetery.