Fifty Memphis gentlemen committed $500 each to purchase land and establish a new cemetery 2.5 miles from town in 1852. Originally consisting of 40 acres, it was expanded after the Civil War to 80 acres.

In the 1870s the original corporation was dissolved and Elmwood became one of the oldest nonprofits in Tennessee. Since then, Elmwood Cemetery has become the final resting place to over 75,000 inhabitants including mayors, governors, madams, blues singers, suffragists, martyrs, generals, civil rights leaders, holy men and women, outlaws and millionaires.

Elmwood was established as part of the Rural Cemetery Movement which swept the nation in the early to mid 1800s. It is a classic example of a garden cemetery with its park-like setting, sweeping vistas, shady knolls, large stands of ancient trees, and magnificent monuments.

During the Victorian Era, the popular view of death became romanticized; death was now represented by symbols including angels, flowers, and plants. These ideas are reflected in the many magnificent monuments, mausoleums and life-sized figures.

Elmwood is the final resting place of those who created Memphis history and has emerged today as Memphis' finest and oldest active cemetery. 

The grounds of Elmwood Cemetery were entered on the National Register of Historic Places as project number #02000233 on March 20, 2002.