Mount Moriah Cemetery was established by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1855, one of several rural cemeteries developed in Philadelphia between 1845 and 1860. Located on the southwestern edge of the city, the private cemetery originally consisted of 54 acres. Over time it has grown to 380 acres spanning both sides of Cobbs Creek. Due to the massive size of the cemetery, many churches and other organizations have established smaller lots within its bounds. A majestic gatehouse provides entrance into to the cemetery. Designed by local architect Stephen D. Button in 1855, the Romanesque gatehouse is fabricated from brownstone.
Notable headstones in the cemetery include a granite marker constructed in the shape of the Civil War iron-clad ship, the USS Monitor. The headstone memorializes William Rowland, a sailor on the USS Minnesota, which was protected by the Monitor from the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) at the Battle of Hampton Roads.
For a time Mount Moriah Cemetery held the remains of Betsy Ross, reputed maker of the American flag. However, leading up to the local celebration of the 1976 Bicentennial, her remains were moved to Arch Street near the Betsy Ross house.
In the early 1870's, an African-American named Henry Jones purchased a lot in the cemetery. After his death, cemetery authorities turned away his funeral procession at the gate, on the basis of his race. A lawsuit was filed against the Mount Moriah Cemetery association on his behalf, and in 1876 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jones' right to burial in the cemetery.
Mount Moriah Naval Plot is associated with the U.S. Naval Asylum. The Naval Hospitals Act of 1811, passed through Congress with the help of Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton, established the U.S. Naval Asylum in Philadelphia. Architect William Strickland designed the main building, which was completed in 1833. Originally used as a naval hospital, in 1838 midshipmen began taking classes at the asylum.
With the 1845 opening of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, the asylum ceased serving as a school. In 1864 the federal government purchased a 10-acre site in Mount Moriah Cemetery for the re-interment of remains within the plot on the grounds of the Naval Asylum. More than 2,400 navy officers and sailors have been buried in Mount Moriah Naval Plot since the first interment on March 26, 1865. This lot is bordered by a low fence of chain-and-bollards, and contains many very old, non-standard headstones, as well as a naval anchor on a concrete base.
The National Cemetery Administration has jurisdiction over this section of the cemetery as well as the Soldiers' Lot.