The Highlands are a natural bluff along the edge of the Mississippi River flood plain just south of Baton Rouge, LA. The early settlers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century were awarded Spanish land grants along this 10 mile stretch of rolling hills overlooking fertile flood lands. These early German and French families must have developed a sense of community apart from the nearby town of Baton Rouge. One of their leaders, George Garig who owned the plantation where the LSU campus is now located allowed the use of a high point on the bluff to be used as a community burial ground. The first known burial was that of John James Neilson on March 13, 1813. We use his death date as the birth date of Highland Cemetery.
On June 9, 1819, Garig donated the cemetery to the Congregation of the Roman Cath0lic Church in Baton Rouge, essentially, St. Joseph Church located in the town of Baton Rouge about three miles away. There is no evidence that the cemetery was ever actually, officially consecrated as a Catholic burial ground but it was certainly treated as such well into the twentieth century.
After the Civil War, during the devastating years of Reconstruction, the cemetery was largely abandoned. Many of the mausoleums and tombs were destroyed by wild tree growth and grave robbers. Some of the families reinterred their dead in the larger St. Joseph Cemetery in Baton Rouge. In the 1930's, as part of the WPA program, a largely undocumented attempt to clear and restore the cemetery took place but it was not long before it once again fell into neglect.
Finally, in the 1970's, Highland was rediscovered by one extraordinary lady, Evelyn Thom who happened upon the cemetery while visiting her husband's family in nearby College Town subdivision. She spearheaded an extensive restoration in conjunction with the American Bicentennial fervor of 1976. Since then, the cemetery owner, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge and its representative church parish, St. Joseph Cathedral Parish has allowed this group of volunteers, organized as Historic Highland Cemetery, Inc. to manage the remaining half-acre cemetery.