History Of The Vacaville-Elmira Cemetery
It began less than two years after California statehood and the Vacaville-Elmira Cemetery reflects the growth of the community and the transition from pioneer ranches to suburban and urban cities. Burials dating from 1852 in the old section attest to the history of the families and towns of Vacaville and Elmira. The beautiful groomed grounds of the contemporary cemetery continue to honor those who have lived here. Providing a secure and orderly 'place of rest' has taken the efforts of the whole community.
Even before statehood, Spanish and pioneer property owners created family plots on their land and buried the deceased themselves. The Vaca and Peņa families had established family plots on the Rancho Los Putos in the 1840's. Another cemetery came into use on the area overlooking Ulatis Creek in Vacaville (just west of what is now Andrews Park) by the early 1850's. Adjoining the "old cemetery" in Vacaville was a Chinese cemetery, which was used from 1860 to the turn of the century.
The California State Legislature established in 1850 that any plot with six or more graves was defined as a public graveyard. There were state entities to implement the new laws and each county, through a Board of Supervisors, was responsible for governance. Vacaville did not have a large enough population to focus on the finer points of cemetery definitions. Property titles were all speculation until 1858, when the United States gave clear title to the Los Putos grant and the population base was only a dozen families.
Originally the Vacaville-Elmira Cemetery was known as Hawkins Place. It began as a private family cemetery on Arculus Hawkins Ranch. The earliest burials were of six Native Americans who worked for him. This is the result of a typhoid epidemic in 1852, so there may have been other burials. Over time, family members and neighbors were placed there. Gold miners and travelers passing through the area were not always healthy, those who died were buried in the nearest place available while the rest of the family or friends journeyed on. While customary to bury them in established burial grounds there were no regulations and few records kept other than grave markers in those days. As with most early burials simple wooden markers indicated the place of burial for the deceased. This has made it difficult in the succeeding decades to verify all who were buried. The earliest problems in the cemetery arose from grazing cattle and winter rains. Grazing resulted in more variety of weeds growing and the cattle knocked down and walked on grave markers. Rains further contributed to the deterioration of the wood markers. The two each lead to obscuration of the early burials, identification and location.
1866 marks a significant change for the cemetery. Arculus Hawkins sold land deeds for $1.00 each to the Masons, The Odd Fellows and the Christian Church for the express purpose of cemeteries. The graveyard transitioned into a church and two country cemeteries. Each cemetery had it's own entry road which was accessed off Marshall Road. As private entities, each deed holder was responsible for how they organized the space and each grave was to be maintained by the family of the deceased. Burials were still conducted by the family without supervision.
Throughout the 1870's and 1880's rapid growth, relocation's and fires all took their toll on records associated with cemetery. The Christian Church, which had located once already, divided in 1872. The Elmira branch found a new location and the church building was moved to Vacaville and used by the other members, It was not established which faction retained the deed for the cemetery. The fire of 1878 burned E.F. Gillespie's store and the Mason Hall above it, destroying nearly all of the lodges records. With another fire in 1894 and the 1906 earthquake the records kept by the three entities of where members were buried have not been conducive to preserving that information. Lack of families to weed, repair the burial sites and uncontrolled burials continued.
Many influences contributed to the greater use of the Hawkins place cemetery. A population shift accured in the local area due to the 1893 depression, both towns offered electricity, entertainment, and schools. Another fire in 1895 so soon after the fire of '94' near downtown Vacaville began discussions of removing the Chinese cemetery to other locations that had incinerators for the traditional of burning gifts at the burial. Some remains were taken back to China, others to Fairfield and Rockville Cemeteries. In 1899 the State Legislature authorized rural cemeteries permission to bury cremation remains as well as guidelines for remains of those that died of epidemic or contagious diseases. The last burial at Los Putos Cemetery occurred in 1909 when a team and wagon were rented from J. Max Brazelton Livery business for transport of a casket and body from the Vacaville railroad depot to the Los Putos Cemetery. All the above pressures resulted in the gradual disuse of the "Andrews Park" area cemetery and increased use in the Hawkins' place. By 1910 the Christian Church Cemetery appeared to be called the "Public Cemetery" by the general public.
Funeral parlors were established and sold caskets and stone markers. Families or organizations were still responsible for the burials. In 1912 there was one Undertaker in Vacaville. In 1913 various Fraternal organizations and social clubs organized an annual cleaning of the cemetery. In 1914 The Saturday Club led the clean up day. After WWI and the 1918 Influenza epidemic, local groups contributed to a improvement fund. By 1922, everyone having lots in the cemetery was asked to clean them up prior to the International Order of the Redmen's general spring clean up. The goal being "when we go out on Decoration Day to lay a flower on the grave of some loved one we will not have to wade through a patch of wild oats to find their last resting place."
In 1926 the Solano County Board of Supervisors formed the much-needed Vacaville Public Cemetery District to provide maintenance and care. The tradition of communtiy involment continued with the early Cemetery Board of three appointees. This tradition continues today with the appointment of five members all from within the bounderies of the Vacaville-Elmira Cemetery District.
To be continued