Following the devastation of Quantrill’s Raid in 1863, Lawrence survivors searched for ways to memorialize those killed in the attack. In 1864, the mayor urged the city to build a new cemetery since most raid victims were buried in Pioneer Cemetery which was far from town and difficult to maintain. A local newspaper editor helped gain public support for the project when he wrote that raid victims buried at Pioneer Cemetery were forgotten and their graves left unmarked.
Early in 1865, the city purchased land for a new cemetery. Instead of a simple, open cemetery, Lawrence’s city commissioners selected a rural cemetery design, with rolling hills, trees, and curving carriage paths which was the popular trend at the time. The new cemetery created a park-like space for the public. Oak Hill Cemetery soon became an important place to commemorate that terrible day in August 1863.For many years, citizens sponsored elaborate Decoration Day observances at Oak Hill, and by 1895, a local committee had raised funds to erect a large monument to honor the raid victims. The city continued to improve the cemetery through the late 1890’s by bringing city water to the site constructing a receiving vault and building a sidewalk from the downtown area.
There are so many individuals buried in Oak Hill who were influential during territorial days and the state's formation that William Allen White once call the cemetery, "The Kansas Arlington."