Land was acquired for the cemetery in 1917. The first burial was probably that of former Chief of Police Peter Wring in October of 1919. However, the cemetery plat wasn't filed until 1924.
Beyond its local significance, Hibbing Park Cemetery is of historical interest. Since its early years, Hibbing has been a melting pot for people from many backgrounds, but tolerance for blending ethnicities did not always extend to all aspects of life. The 1924 Plat Map and the names and text on many headstones show the physical segregation of ethnic and religious groups. Protestants—mostly Norwegian, Swedish, German, and Finnish—were buried in the west, Catholics—mostly Italian and Irish—in the center, and Serbian—probably Christian Orthodox—immediately around the chapel. The layout of the cemetery is a physical testimonial to the history of Hibbing.
More recently, the cemetery was expanded towards the east in 1969 and a new east entrance was added to Ninth Avenue in 1999.
Vegetation also tells visitors about the cemetery's history. Some vegetation, including maples, basswood, pine, and spruce are in locations and of ages that suggest that the cemetery was probably created by clearing a forest and that some trees were retained for character. Columnar arborvitae were planted as memorials on either side of the headstones of older plots, creating dramatic rows. Today many arborvitae are over 20 feet tall and they, along with towering Norway and White pine, dominate the cemetery landscape.
Vegetation grows and dies over time, so that the historic landscape can change dramatically. In the 1960s there were mature deciduous canopy trees, probably American Elms, along the boulevards of the older blocks of the cemetery. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dutch elm disease and old age ravaged those trees and cemetery caretakers were forced to remove 60-70 trees each year. No evidence remains of these boulevard trees.
Recent changes to the cemetery have added another layer to its history. The cemetery was originally located in rural Stutz Township. Today it has become part of the City of Hibbing, Highway 169 is bigger and busier, and commercial development is growing up around it. Limited access to Highway 169 made it necessary to move the main entry to the east, along 9th Avenue. Areas of the cemetery sold since 1969 look very different from older areas, with individuals no longer planting columnar arborvitae.
Many efforts are being made to maintain Hibbing Park Cemetery as an important community landscape. Things like re-instituting the white gate columns to create a more formal entry on 9th Avenue, planting a new generation of boulevard trees along cemetery streets, replacing other trees as needed, buffering views and noise from commercial development, and master-planning future expansion areas to fit with existing block layouts, will help keep the cemetery's integrity intact.
Certain elements in the landscape tell the story of the cemetery. The chapel/vault is an excellent example of Works Progress Administration (WPA) architecture with its local stone construction. Simple, upright, tablet-style family headstones mark most of the lots. Some gravestones have enameled images. Most gravestones are stone, but several graves are marked with crosses made of wood or metal. The veterans' graves are marked by military white grave markers.
The text on the gravestones is important in revealing Hibbing's cultural history, especially where names, iconography, or even language (some of the earliest Serbian stones are in Cyrillic) indicate ethnicity. There is also an exedra (a high-backed masonry bench) at the priests' memorial. In the past, there were white concrete columns supporting a gate framing the cemetery's main entry on Highway 169.
The cemetery faces many challenges. First, the historic chapel building must be carefully maintained. Second, it is important to establish landscape features at the new main entry on Ninth Avenue to give it suitable character and presence. Third, the canopy trees along the boulevards should be reestablished. Fourth, trees which are lost to old age or disease should be replaced. Fifth, an effort should be made to maintain the presence of columnar arborvitae on private lots.
The cemetery is important to the residents of Hibbing on a personal, as well as community, level. If you wish to learn more about how you can participate in the rehabilitation of the cemetery, contact the Cemetery Sextant at (218) 362-5960. Private plot owners can help by replacing plants, especially columnar arborvitae, as needed. In newer areas, where these trees aren't present, plot owners can add them as a memorial to loved ones. Protecting and maintaining the landscape will always be important. Together, the people of Hibbing can preserve this important landscape as part of the community's heritage.