On June 19th, 1855, following a twelve day quarantine, the merchant ship Benjamin Franklin arrived from the West Indies and docked at Gosport Shipyard for repairs. While emptying its bilge, mosquitoes carrying yellow fever were released. After learning of a death from yellow fever on July 8, 1855, the Town Council met on Sunday July 9, and quarantined the vessel. Before the epidemic ended, 10 percent of Portsmouth's population had died and countless others had fled town to avoid contracting the disease.
Of those who remained, many volunteered to assist the community during the epidemic. Bob Butt, a slave owned by a Mr. Britton was leased to the town to bury victims in Cedar Grove Cemetery. After the epidemic passed, a collection was taken to buy the slave's freedom in appreciation for his work as a "grave digger".
The house at the end of the park was used as an orphanage during the epidemic.