From 1750, all burials in Staunton took place in the 2 ½ -acre plot of Augusta Parish Church. By the late 1840s this cemetery in the center of town was so crowded that it was nearly impossible to dig a new grave without unearthing an old one. A new cemetery was needed.

A committee was formed in 1848 to pursue the creation of a new burying ground, and on February 24, 1849, Thornrose Cemetery Company was chartered by act of the Legislature. Twelve acres west of Staunton were bought and laid off in lots, roads and walks. The first burial in Thornrose occurred on March 29, 1853, with the new cemetery being formally dedicated on May 28, 1853.

After the Civil War, Confederate dead from the battlefields of Alleghany, McDowell, Cross Keys, Port Republic and Piedmont were interred in a newly created soldiers' section. This led to the establishment in 1870 of the Augusta Memorial Association, which eventually spearheaded the 1888 dedication of the cemetery's Fort Stonewall Jackson. Its centerpiece, an Italian marble statue of a Confederate infantryman, rises 22 feet above the graves of some 1,700 fallen Southern soldiers.

In the 20th century, Thornrose continued to improve its already impressive landscaping with stone structures, above-ground vaults and momuments that honored those who fell in America’s armed conflicts. Today Thornrose is considered one of the most beautiful and historic cemeteries in the country.