Our Story

Our History

Dewey Vault
100th Anniversary Celebration in 2017

Columbia Gardens Cemetery was established in 1917 in the tradition of the garden cemetery. Its stated intent was “to make a place that will be attractive as a park and a credit to the county.”

The cemetery was created by the Alexandria Park Association, under the supervision of Colonel Robert Dye, superintendent of the Arlington National Cemetery. One of the founders was Judge Harry Randolph Thomas, who served in the roles of trustee and caretaker. The Thomas family has been responsible for the cemetery since it opened in 1917.

The landscape plan for Columbia Gardens was designed by the firm Jenney & Jenney, from Cleveland, Ohio. Their plan was based on the principles set down by designers such as Frederick Law Olmsted, but using a distinctly rural composition with winding roads and natural features.

In 1933, the mausoleum in honor of Admiral George Dewey, in which his body lay until its removal to a crypt in the Washington National Cathedral, was moved to the entrance of Columbia Gardens where it is used as a public receiving vault.

In 1935, Colonel Robert Dye built the Superintendent’s House. In 1953, Ned Randolph Thomas, grandson of Harry Thomas, moved his family into the Superintendent’s House. All the Thomas children were raised in this house. “This has been with us for our whole lives,” says Daun Thomas Frankland, President of Columbia Gardens Cemetery. “Folks used to think it was kind of funny that we lived in a cemetery. Many of our friends lived closer to the graves than we did because their yards backed up to the cemetery.”

During the 1940’s Ned Thomas worked in the cemetery for his father, digging graves by hand. In 1954 Ned took over as superintendent of Columbia Gardens. Shortly thereafter, he purchased a backhoe for the cemetery and parked it in front of the house to show people we were changing and evolving.

The Memorial Rose Garden was created by Homer Randolph Thomas, son of the founder, in 1967. It is located near the main gate and contains 200 rose bushes. The garden was lovingly tended by Peggy Thomas, Ned’s wife, for nearly 40 years – a family tradition that her daughter, Daun Thomas Frankland, continues today.

A Service Area barn was built in 1975 and is still used today for equipment storage and maintenance.

Daun Thomas Frankland, great-granddaughter of founder Harry Randolph Thomas, took over the position of president and superintendent from Ned Thomas, Jr. when he retired in 2015.

In 2017 our 100th Anniversary Celebration was held on our grounds with activities for children and adults, World War I memorabilia and delicious refreshments. The Classical Brass Quintet, playing a selection of tunes that were popular in 1917, provided music for the celebration.
Arlington County 100th Anniversary Proclamation (PDF Download)