Established in 1844, Laurel Hill replaced the town common’s crowded, neglected cemetery. The original 25 acres were designed by Waldo Higginson, Esquire, built around preexisting gravesites dating from the 1750s and inspired by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Higginson’s plan included meandering paths and roads, with deciduous trees and evergreen shrubs punctuating broad expanses of open lawn. Situated on the banks of the Saco River, the cemetery’s lawn areas merge with marsh grasses at the river’s edge. Graves are mostly aligned in simple rows except where they are arranged in circles or arcs reinforced with evergreen shrubs. A Queen Anne-style chapel built in 1890 remains in use. In the 1950s Shurcliff & Merrill planted additional trees and added tons of fill around the mounded gravesites for easier mowing, leaving the original lanes visible.
In 1919 the cemetery acquired adjacent land and created the section known as Deering Park. It is separated from the earlier cemetery by a wide buffer of native trees and shrubs and features a geometric Colonial Revival design by Sidney Shurcliff of Shurcliff & Shurcliff in the late 1930s. It opened in the 1970s.
Today the cemetery is used for strolling and meditation, with active burials in the Deering Park section. In May, tens of thousands of daffodils bloom along the lawn paths, an idea begun by Shurcliff and Joseph Deering II.