In 1781, a tract composed of 184½ acres of land and 100 acres of marsh was purchased by prosperous merchant Colonel William Cunnington, namesake of modern day Cunnington Avenue. Named Magnolia Umbra Plantation, the land functioned as a rural country seat for Cunnington, never developing into a productive, working plantation. Cunnington constructed a Federal style house on the property between 1798 and 1805 that currently serves as the administrative offices of Magnolia Cemetery Trust. Following the seizure of the property in 1804 to pay Cunnington’s debts, the tract was divided into smaller lots for the development of a “Village of Magnolia Umbra.”
The transformation of this land into a collection of cemeteries in the 1850’s followed a national trend in urban reform known as the Rural Cemetery Movement. This movement called for new burial grounds to be designed as picturesque landscapes on the outskirts of urban centers. The motives for the movement centered on promoting public health and creating public green space. These garden cemeteries were meant to encourage contemplative thought and repose from the age of industrialism.
Beginning in 1849, the rural property underwent an 18-month transformation process under the guidance of Charleston architect Edward C. Jones, hired to design Magnolia Cemetery, a picturesque burial ground for Charleston’s elite. In 1856, additional lots from the Village of Magnolia Umbra were sold for use as burial grounds by organizations representing a variety ethnicities and religious affiliations. Through the late 19th and 20th centuries, additional private burial grounds were developed. Encompassing more than 20 separate cemeteries, the CCHD provides a peaceful place to honor and reflect on our diverse past.