History of Higgins Cemetery

The Higgins Cemetery, located near the intersection of the Rockville Pike and Twinbrook Parkway, survives today as a reminder of how day to day life in America has changed. When James Higgins settled on his farm in the 18th century, there were few towns nearby and Washington D.C. did not exist. Travel would have been a slow process by horseback, carriage, or more likely, foot. The ability of the medical profession to accommodate the ill and infirmed under these circumstances was at best spotty. Most people died at home without the benefit of professional medicine or treatment. This resulted in a high mortality rate among all age groups but especially the old and the young. To accommodate the dead when mortuarial services were nonexistent, the family was forced to deal with death themselves in the privacy of the home. Bodies would be washed and prepared and burial would take place within a day or two of the death depending on the season of the year. It was not uncommon in the 18 th century for burials to be wrapped only in a shroud without a coffin. Many of these burials were marked with only a rock or a rudimentary wooden cross which has rendered their exact locations very ephemeral. Although life in the 19th century saw improvements on many fronts, the process of handling death remained mainly within the family.

The Higgins Cemetery remained in the unchanged environment of the estate until late in the 19th century. A plat dated 1891 entitled Spring Lake Park, shows the plantation being subdivided into small residential lots with the cemetery and the house site remaining on larger albeit separate lots. This plat also showed a park and a railroad station as part of the subdivision although neither is thought to have ever been built. An aerial photograph of the site from the late 1930s show the roads of this plat have been installed and a number of the lots have residential improvements on them. Both the main house and the cemetery are visible in this photograph. The cemetery lot appears much as the July 15, 1927 plat shows it.

1927 Survey

Today, the main house has been demolished as have most of the small frame bungalows. In their place are a number of one story, predominantly concrete block buildings. Warehouse and storage uses seem to predominate. While the larger lot on which the cemetery set in the 1891 plat has been subdivided, the Higgins cemetery sits within a clearly definable lot of approximately one third of an acre. It is surrounded on three sides by one story, concrete block building with flat roofs. All of the walls overlooking the lot are blank. There is approximately 120 feet of road frontage along Arundel Avenue, a public street with a 50 foot wide right of way. Public sewer and water services located within the public right of way services the buildings on either side of the cemetery. A 10 foot wide alley along the back of the buildings also provides access to the site.

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