Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn (1782-1851,) a retired statesman and ardent horticulturalist whose Roxbury estate "Datchett House" was that of a gentleman farmer and who served as the second mayor of the city of Roxbury, laid out Forest Hills Cemetery. Dearborn had impressive credentials, as he was among the founders and the first president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, founded in 1829, as well as having laid out Mount Auburn Cemetery, a rural cemetery north of Boston. Opened in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery was the progenitor of the picturesque rural cemetery movement in the United States, closely following the example of Pere La Chaise, a cemetery founded in 1804 in Paris.
Like its predecessor, Forest Hills Cemetery was envisioned as a very different place from the colonial burying grounds throughout the city of Boston, addressing the public health problems and concerns of these overcrowded places of burial. Rural cemeteries were laid out with lands undulating in different topography, with dells and valleys and curvilinear carriage roads and paths lined with a variety of trees and shrubs, all of which created not just a place of burial but an arboretum, or a park to be enjoyed by family and friends visiting their departed ones. The new cemetery allowed for the flowering of a romantic landscape of marble gravestones and funerary sculpture of the Victorian era. Forest Hills was envisioned as a burial place with a cross-section of people that reflected almost every aspect of Victorian Boston, from statesmen and political leaders to industrialists, artists, writers and the people of every day life.