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A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNION CEMETERY

Before Union Cemetery

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Times and Gazette Building
The first entry that mentioned a cemetery in the Times and Gazette (which was the only newspaper in San Mateo County at that time) was in early January 1859. William Cary Jones had allowed 13 burials on his property, the site of today's Sequoia High School. Now that Horace Hawes had taken over the property, he informed the county that he no longer wanted the dead to be buried on his property and he wanted all 13 bodies exhumed and moved elsewhere. This caused great anxiety in Redwood City.

A meeting was held in the new courthouse soon after the announcement, and Charles Fox, W. T. Gough and James McCrea were appointed to look into the legality of Mr. Hawes' decision. They decided that he had the right, and they recommended that a committee be established to find a new cemetery location.

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Charles N. Fox
A meeting held February 7, 1859 established a committee to form an organization whose purpose was to find a suitable location for a cemetery and to develop rules of use and financing. Charles N. Fox, James W. Turner and John Vinton Diller, accepted the challenge and went to work. A six acre plot of land was located well out of town on the road to the redwoods (Woodside Road) and a purchase agreement was made by the three men and Baird and Berry, the owners of the property.

Mr. Horace Hawes redeemed himself in the eyes of the community when he donated a large portion of the purchase price for the property.

Acquiring the Land for Union Cemetery

The Union Cemetery Association was formally established at a meeting in the courthouse on February 28, 1859. Committee members Fox, Turner and Diller wrote a formal “Articles of Incorporation.” “This organization shall be known as the Union Cemetery Association of San Mateo County in the State of California ….. The sole and only object of this Association shall be the purchase, support, and maintenance of a cemetery for the burial of the dead. Officers will be elected annually by election ballot with majority vote.” It goes on to elaborate that a vacancy will be filled in the same manner.

These articles of incorporation were sent to the State of California since there was no organization locally that could legally accept them. A number of communities were having similar problems establishing new cemeteries so the state took possession of Union Cemetery. The incorporation papers were approved on April 18, 1859.

The Start of the Union Cemetery

By May the cemetery had been established and a report in the Gazette announced, “There are one hundred and ninety-four family lots, all of good size and public ground sufficient for over four hundred graves.”

The process of exhuming and moving the 13 bodies from Hawes’ property to the cemetery began in May. The first to be moved was 4 year old Anna Augusta Douglass. She was buried on Central Avenue about mid cemetery. She was joined by her brother Nathan who also died at age 4, but more than 10 years later. Walking down Central Avenue you can easily see the two small markers side by side.

The original entry to Union Cemetery was at the east end near Woodside Road. The wagons proceeded into the cemetery through an open gate that had an arch over it. Roses were planted on each side of the arch and they were bright red in the spring. It was a beautiful entry and the people of Redwood City were proud of their cemetery.

Meetings in the American House

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American House Hotel - corner of Main St. and A St.
The Cemetery Association had been meeting in the courthouse since its inception but in April of 1873 it found a new location in the American House hotel on Main Street at “A” Street. The change of officers was announced at this meeting and a newspaper article was submitted by Herman (H.A.) Schofield now the secretary. Schofield, a well known attorney and newspaper editor was one of the most prominent citizens of Redwood City.

A month later the annual meeting of the association was convened at the American House. At this meeting a new resolution was adopted, “Resolved… where private lots are purchased by individuals, no burial shall be permitted until the said lots are paid for.” This was required because in several occasions people had buried relatives in lots that had not been paid for. A 12 by 12 building was ordered erected and a well with a pump was to be completed. An election of officers was held and Curtis Baird was elected President, Charles Ayers was elected Superintendent and George Wentworth became Secretary and Treasurer.

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George Wentworth
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George Rice

More Good Press

By 1876 the Times-Gazette newspaper wrote about the great monuments that George H. Rice and George W. Fox had erected even to the extent of naming the manufacturer, Muldoon, Walton & Cobb of San Francisco.

Memorial Day, 1885, and the larger Group plots

An article in the Times-Gazette on May 30, 1885 announced that, “Today is Memorial Day and there are no deceased members of the Grand Army of The Republic in the cemetery.” One year later the Grand Army of The Republic began meeting at the Congregational Church and marching from the church to the cemetery and decorating the grave of “the late Will Frisbie.” The new post became the General George S. Evans Post #72 of GAR. Shortly after that a formal plot was established for the GAR and subsequent burials were made in the new plot.

The Superintendent’s register showed that 345 interments as of 1878 and it listed the largest majority were born in California. Something new was added in this register, the designation of specific large lots for several organizations, the largest of which is the Odd Fellows lot at the rear of the cemetery. They also listed the lots for the Grand Army of The Republic, the Masonic Lodge and for the Improved Order of Redmen.

The Grand Army of The Republic received an annual grant of $100 from the county for upkeep of its plot. Certainly the GAR was the most visible entity with their annual Memorial Day march from the Congregational Church (which stood on the northwest corner of Middlefield and Jefferson), to the cemetery and members were a colorful lot with all of them wearing company uniforms that they received during the Civil War.

The GAR was deeply indebted to Mrs. Leland Stanford for her generous donation of the statue of the soldier which stands upon the towering pedestal that contains the words, “Mustered Out.”

The people of southern San Mateo County and, more specifically, the people of Redwood City were beginning to recognize the value of this cemetery in terms of the history of the people who were buried there. The local citizens in the later part of the 19th Century were talking about “recognition.”

Geraldine Cooley
Geraldine Cooley

Memorial Day 1886

On Memorial Day 1886 Geraldine Cooley-Frisbie, organizer and chairwoman of the “Women’s Relief Corps” an adjunct of the GAR, gave a very moving speech at the church before the march.

“To the officers and members of the General George S. Evans Post 72 of the Grand Army of the Republic, Redwood City, I am requested to perform a very pleasant duty. The ladies of San Mateo County have, with true, loyal and patriotic zeal made a flag for your post.

“Words cannot express how deeply they realize and appreciate the noble purpose that had called you together today. I can imagine no word or act on their part whereby they can prove their sincere regard and esteem, and that you treasure more sacredly, than this old flag we all so dearly love, the very sight of which causes the pulse of the nation to beat with pride; whose colors so many times have wafted intelligence of the movements of friend or foe and under its starry folds you have so often marched to victory.” Mrs. Cooley-Frisbie’s words rang with the emotion of the moment.

The Cemetery in 1889

By 1889 the triangular lot that is 75 feet long 42 feet wide at the rear and 20 feet wide at the front entrance was surrounded by 8X16 granite coping. The monument now had emblems of the four services on each of the sides. The inscription read: “To the Memory of California’s Patriotic Dead, who served during the War for the Union. Mustered Out.” On the opposite side it read, “Erected by the Grateful People of San Mateo County.”

“It was built by the Western Marble and Granite Company of San Jose and it was a handsome addition to the cemetery” expressed the San Mateo County Gazette on May 25th 1889.

November of the same year revealed a dramatic increase in the number of monuments in the cemetery. While people were placing monuments for recently buried members of families but others were also purchasing and locating monuments for themselves or other older family members

The small house that was built a number of years earlier and placed in the Odd Fellow’s plot was removed following the burial of Judge Buck’s son, Norman, who had been run over by a train. Judge Buck would be buried there in the 1930s.

1923: GAR headstones and James Peace

The Redwood City Standard of June 21, 1923, reported that Mrs. Archer Kincaid and Mrs. Mary Winter, representing the Women’s Relief Corps, were working on getting proper headstones for the men buried in the GAR plot. It was through their dedicated efforts that the federal government recognized and made the standard head stones we see today in that plot. The newspaper article also addressed the fact that James Peace was buried in the GAR plot. He was an exception as he was never a soldier, but he is considered to be the first person to raise the American Flag in San Mateo County. Needless to say he probably was also a good friend and drinking buddy of a number of the men buried in the plot.

Memorial Day 1927

At the Memorial Day service at the cemetery in 1927 only four Civil War veterans remained alive. They were P. P. Chamberlain, Howard E. Woodward, George Shugart and W. Werder.

Werder and Shugart
Werder and Shugart
Joining the veterans for the ceremony were the Spanish American Veterans, bands from as far away as San Jose, the Boy Scouts and their color guard, the Girl Scouts with their color guard, and members of the American Legion.

Potter's Field and Woodside Road

A new policy established long before 1945 called for the development of a potter’s field, an area for the burial of the indigent and poor. The area in question was against the hedge alongside of Woodside Road. During that period Woodside Road was two lanes; it wasn’t until the mid 1960s that the road was widened to four lanes. The state highway department simply removed the hedge and graded and paved a second lane on each side expanding the existing road by about 15 feet with the new shoulder included.

A California State Landmark and The National Register of Historic Places

On July 12, 1945, Mary Cereghino, a newspaper reporter, compiled an unofficial history of the cemetery and through this process a title search was done. During that same year Dr. Frank Stanger, with Mrs. Cereghino’s paper in hand, wrote his own history of Union Cemetery. All the research resulted in further inquiry as to the agency responsible for upkeep in the cemetery. Sometime (and I have not been able to pinpoint exactly) City Ordinance #456 was enacted by the City Council. This ordinance states, “An ordinance of the city of Redwood City regulating burials and the sale of lots or plots in Union Cemetery in said city.”

The ordinance provided for a $300 fine or imprisonment in the county jail for ninety days as a threat for violating the ordinance. It was therefore illegal to bury people except in lots, or plots, owned by the family of the deceased. All further burials were prohibited.

The work done by Cereghino and Stanger was instrumental in forming the application for California State Landmark status. No cemetery had ever been given this honor but Union Cemetery history was so vivid that the State Office of Historic Preservation felt it deserved a status that many other cities had coveted but none had received. So Union Cemetery was given California State Landmark #816. On March 26, 1963, Redwood City Council passed Resolution 3667 accepting a deed for Union Cemetery from the State of California.

In 1975, the Archives Committee of the library incorporated and then began work to get the Cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places. Jean Cloud, chairwoman of the archives committee, and Nita Spangler, along with several other members, began this challenging project.

This Historic Union Cemetery Association

In October 1991, Peak & Associates and Woodward-Clyde Consultants began work on a Cultural Resources Management Plan for Union Cemetery. A month later Brian, Kangas and Faulk agreed to do an aerial laser survey of the cemetery for $5,000 and the city council authorized the expenditure.

In November of 1992, the Historic Union Cemetery Association was formed as a non-profit corporation. The original board consisted of Jean Cloud, John Edmonds, Francis Hutchinson and Helen Graves. The board sat down with the City Manager and told him that members were going to do everything possible to improve the cemetery and that the board would work with the city’s park and recreation department to accomplish that goal.

The organization was approved and the park and recreation department assigned Ramon Aguilar to the board as liaison. The board began holding public meetings and soon a number of people joined and helped efforts to raise a membership list. Enough people joined and paid the $10 annual dues that the board was finally developing a financial foundation.

Recent Improvements

The condition of the cemetery was appalling and the task before the board was daunting. However the board was able to raise enough money to pay V. Fontana and Sons, of Colma, to come down and fix 6 monuments for which the board had salvaged all the parts. The restoration company was so impressed with the project that it did twice as many monuments as the board had planned. This was such a great improvement that Fontana was invited two more times.

A descendant of the Pool family donated $20,000 for replacement of the totally destroyed soldier statue in the Grand Army of the Republic plot. Hutch (Francis Hutchinson) and John Edmonds travelled to Fort Ord where they located a foundry that would rebuild the soldier from pieces of the original statue and a number of pictures.

Union Soldier Statue
Union Soldier Statue
It took several months for the foundry to complete the task but when the statue was finished and erected it on the pedestal the event spawned a joyous celebration. Hutchinson was failing at that time and was brought in by automobile to see the accomplishment neither he nor any member of the board originally would have believed possible.

A book was written on many of the people buried in Union Cemetery. The cemetery board sold 1200 copies of the book and it was republished with some additional people included, and new information by Star Publishing. It continues to raise money to improve and maintain the cemetery today.

The cemetery has been greatly improved by Boy Scouts working on their Eagle Scout Award. The first Scout worked on the Cooley-Frisbie plot fence that had been knocked to the ground and had to be completely rebuilt. He did a beautiful job. The two lawns, the paths and a number of fences have been finished and a bench was done by one Scout. One group built the monument in the front of the cemetery that holds the California State Landmark Plaque. The board continues to welcome any groups, especially children, who wish to improve the cemetery by doing projects, as long as they fulfill the necessary requirements with the city’s Park and Recreation Department and the Historic Union Cemetery Association.

The humble order of E. Clampsus Vitus joined the Cemetery Association and they continue to help us every Memorial Day as we honor those who have given their lives for our freedom and those veterans who have put their lives in harm’s way and survived.

An Invitation for You!

If you have not attended the Memorial Day celebration in Union Cemetery before, please plan to do so in the future. The community still celebrates with a parade, speeches and flags, just as they did in 1869 to honor our veterans.

John Edmonds

President

Historic Union Cemetery Association

© 2011 Historic Union Cemetery Association

Send questions, comments, and feedback to ellen[at]HistoricUnionCemetery[dot]com