Mount Hope was consecrated as a private cemetery in 1852. At this time, the City of Boston was seeking to develop a municipal rural cemetery. In 1857, after several years of consideration, the City purchased Mount Hope Cemetery. The Board of Trustees was first appointed under the ordinance passed December 21, 1857. It was the first large cemetery owned by the City, covering 85 acres. Following the design tenets of the Rural Cemetery Movement, considerable attention was paid to the landscaping of the grounds and the layout of roadways. In addition to the numerous tree species planted in the cemetery, the seasonal floral displays attracted considerable attention. Mount Hope was established prior to the development of Boston's park system and its beautiful grounds also served the local population as a site of passive outdoor recreation. The prosperous development and recognition of Mount Hope Cemetery was not as rapid as many hoped for a variety of reasons. In addition to competition with other public and private cemeteries, the site was not easily publicly accessible, public perception was low, the site was difficult to develop, financing was tenuous, and the politics of the times were stressful. In spite of these obstacles, burials increased and the cemetery acquired additional land resulting in its current area of 125 acres.
By Chapter 375 of the Acts of 1897, the Mayor was authorized to appoint a board of five trustees, subject to confirmation by the Board of Aldermen, to have charge of Mount Hope Cemetery and all other burying grounds owned by or in charge of the City of Boston.