Cemeteries are found on almost every continent and culture. For some they can be scary but mostly they are outdoor museums, revealing cultural and historical information for those who pay attention. And as interesting as they are, just establishing a cemetery, and a road to it, in a gold rush town could be exciting.
Although the Columbia Public Cemetery was officially established by Ordinance 14 in 1858, it had a sexton’s record book starting July 1, 1857, and burials were noted in 1855 way before that ordinance, suggesting the ordinance was a catch-up measure.
It was a result of the original public cemetery having been, as one newspaper article in Jan 1, 1854 states, “a disgrace to the town….fences has been torn down, the ground has been sluiced so near…A large stream of water is allowed to flow over it, washing away the graves…It is also impossible to get a body to its last resting place, without going all over Gold Hill to find a road.”
A previous report in the Columbia Gazette on Jan. 28, 1854, read the “Last evening the Miners Committee was to meet, to take measures to prevent the further desecration of the sanctuary of the dead, on Gold Hill.”
On Feb. 4, 1854, a letter in the Gazette stated: “A few days ago, I had the front gate and fence repaired, and requested the miners to stop digging near the fence, throwing tailings over the fence on the graves, or letting water run, or be stopped in reservoirs near the graves…
I as one of the committee on the graveyard politely asked the miners working on the claim which had undermined the fence to …put up the fence again. He answered…used very inappropriate language…”
In records of the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors dated Nov 9, 1855: “In the matter of the citizens of Columbia praying for a road to their new cemetery in a northerly direction to the Village of Columbia.” In the Supervisors’ records on Nov 19 the road was laid out, now it stretches from Italian Bar to Schoolhouse. In the 1858 map it stretched from Columbia to the burying grounds. After May, 1860 a road was built from Pacific Street past the schoolhouse to the cemetery and was known as Cemetery Avenue until the late 1860s when it became Schoolhouse Street.
For information on those buried in the Columbia cemetery, and on Daniel and William Stewart, Friends of Columbia will once again be presenting Stories in Stone, founded by Carol Biederman, on Oct 3 and 4. For information and tickets go to their webpage or call 532-3184 or 588-9128.