About the Friends of the Highland Cemetery



The Highland Cemetery, originally named St. Joseph's Cemetery, was established in 1868 at the same time the first St. Joseph's Catholic Church was built at the intersection of Dodd and Pilot Knob Roads. In 1880, a cyclone destroyed all of the church but the bell.  The church was rebuilt in Rosemount, its location today.  Traveling back to the country cemetery proved a hardship so in 1885, the parish started a new cemetery in town across the street from the church.  At that time, the old cemetery was renamed the Highland Cemetery.

The original cemetery records have been lost.  Gerald Mattson, voluntary cemetery caretaker during the 1970's and 1980's, re-created records for the Highland Cemetery.  Mr. Mattson believes there are at least 260 people buried at the cemetery. Most were Irish or Irish-American and over half died before reaching the age of thirty. 

The cemetery has been neglected for most of its existence.  In 1998, the cemetery owner, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, commenced a "clean-up" which included the removal of the front fence and gate, the palings at three family plots, and dozens of gravestones.  The removal of the historic features and the loss of gravestones dismayed many descendents.

Highland Cemetery postcard, ca. 1912
Postcard of Highland Cemetery, ca. 1912. Insert: Father  Lawrence Cosgrove. From Church on the Seven Mile Prairie by Gerald Mattson. Used with permission.

By 2000, the cemetery faced new dangers as the Twin Cities suburbs reach this part of rural Dakota County.  In 2001, Pilot Knob Road in front of the cemetery will be rebuilt as a four lane divided highway.  The cemetery parking on Pilot Knob will be eliminated.  By 2005, the farm fields and sand quarry surrounding the Highland Cemetery will be replaced with hundreds of housing units and a strip mall. 

Dermot O'Mara who owns the shop, Irish on Grand in St. Paul, stopped by the Highland Cemetery on Easter Sunday 2000.  He, too, was dismayed by the changes at the cemetery and the encroaching suburban development.  Mr. O'Mara began organizing for the preservation of the Highland Cemetery.  His efforts were successful and on June 15, 2000, cemetery supporters met and voted to form an organization, the Friends of the Highland Cemetery. 


The goals of the Friends of Highland Cemetery are:

  • To honor, in a respectful manner, the memory of those buried here in both marked and unmarked graves.   
  • To provide a means of communication and support between involved families and those who care for the site.   
  • To protect the site by seeking the installation of a fence, which we consider this the most urgent priority that needs to be addressed.   
  • To raise public awareness of the historic significance of the site through educational and commemorative activities.   
  • To restore headstones and other traditional features of the cemetery landscape where possible.   


During summer 2000, members of the Friends of the Highland met with representatives of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, the cemetery owner, to explore ways in which we might work together.

The cemetery was documented as it is today. A videotape was made showing the perimeter.  Existing gravestones were photographed by two volunteers.  

Members who live in the Twin Cities area have begun cleaning lichens and dirt from the cemetery monuments.  A historic walking tour was presented October 14, 2000.

Members have contacted local historical and genealogical societies.  Organizational representatives from the Dakota County Historical Society, the Lakeville Historical Society, the Rosemount Area Historical Society, the Dakota County Genealogical Society, the Irish Genealogical Society and the Sacred Places Initiative of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota have joined our e-mail list.  We thank them for thier interest and support.


Membership is open to anyone who desires the preservation of the Highland Cemetery.  To join our e-mail list, click here.


Funds are needed for 1) supplies for cleaning and repairing gravestones, 2) printing a brochure and flyers, and 3) a historic marker noting the role of the Irish in the history of Minnesota.  You may specify how you want your donation spent.  Send donations to:  Friends of the Highland Cemetery, c/o Susan Bedor, Crowder & Bedor, 555 West 7th Street #201, St. Paul, MN 55102-3009.

More information

For more information about the Friends of the Highland or to arrange a historic walking tour, e-mail Jim Rogers.


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