Sonora’s Old City Cemetery

Compiled by Patricia Perry, City Historian
August 2012

Sonora’s Old City Cemetery is located at the west end of Jackson Street in Sonora, CA. There is no official map of the cemetery that shows burials. It is alleged that records were kept at City Hall until the mid-1900s, when a disgruntled employee threw them out. He was told to clean out a closet, which he did. However, he didn’t care what he threw out, and by the time it was discovered that he had discarded the cemetery records, it was too late to retrieve them.

Although referred to as the Old City Cemetery for many years, there was actually an earlier Old City Cemetery which was located on the east and west sides of Barretta Street at Cemetery Street, now Cemetery Lane. In 1872 a map was produced by Andrew Beauvais and John Dart of Sonora, which shows the location of the Old City Cemetery on Barretta and the New City Cemetery at the end of Jackson Street. It is not known when the old cemetery stopped being used and the new began, probably in 1862. In the Tuolumne County Historical Society Publication, CHISPA, page 385, it states that “the bodies there (Old City Cemetery) were removed and re-interred in Sonora’s second cemetery on the western edge of the city.” To date, this is the only reference I have seen regarding the cemetery on Barretta Street, and there is no documentation as to source.

According to Edna Buckbee, Saga of Old Tuolumne, page 406, “The City Cemetery, in 1862, was annexed to the City of Sonora. It was then immediately fenced, and from that time onward was in the charge of the municipal government. Charles Howard Burden was made the first city sexton, and when he died in 1895, his eldest son, Charles Henry Burden, was appointed his successor. The City Minute book of June 2 1862 established the position of City Sexton and required, among other duties, that the sexton shall register the name, age, sex, date of death, disease, and place of nativity of each deceased. The original of this sexton report has not been found; however, copies are available, although they show that there was more than one report for the same time period, 1862 to 1890. The sexton recorded the number assigned to a grave in order of burial, with no plot or indication of location. If we had the original map, we might be able to determine the place of burial, but without the map these numbers are meaningless.

During the second half of the 1800s Sonora had two primary undertakers, Charles Howard Burden and Fred Freund. Both served on the Sonora City Council and each served as Mayor. Burden and Freund each held the position of sexton during these years. Apparently, they did not worry about a conflict of interest. Both men died in 1895.

The Burden Undertaking Company continued to operate until 1953. Other undertakers in the 1900s were W. B. O’Beirne, Frank Bigelow, Josie Terzich, Russell Heuton and Holly Wilson. Today, Sonora has two funeral homes, Heuton Memorial Chapel and Terzich & Wilson Funeral Home.

Josie Terzich began her career assisting W. B. O’Beirne who had his business on the east side of Washington Street, opposite Stockton Road. She and Frank Bigelow, who also worked for O’Beirne, started their own business, operating as Terzich-Bigelow. In 1939, Frank Bigelow bought out Josie Terzich. In 1940, Mrs. Terzich established her own business and in 1949 added a partner, Norbert (Holly) Wilson, creating the firm of Terzich & Wilson.

Frank Bigelow continued to operate the Bigelow Funeral Home until 1959 when he sold the business to Russell and Dorothy Heuton, establishing Heuton Memorial Chapel.

There has been much discussion over the years regarding the condition of the cemetery. Some perpetual care monies were collected, but never enough to adequately maintain the cemetery. Historically money was raised by appealing to the local citizens. Not surprisingly, this was not always popular, nor practicable.

Many sources have been used to produce this report. Tom Rasmussen did a headstone survey in 2000, which he put into an Excel spreadsheet. He kindly allowed me to use this database as the beginning of my report, which has been transferred into Access. I then compared Rasmussen’s database with the survey done by Hart Ralph Tambs in 1988. There were a few discrepancies, but overall the two headstone surveys are very similar. Both men found approximately 1,100 grave markers. After researching several additional resources we now have over 3,300 names of individuals buried in the cemetery. If there is a reference next to the name of TAR or HRT, there is now or was a headstone. If there is a different reference no headstone has been found, and unless we have recorded information the location of the person’s grave is unknown.

I first added individuals from C. H. Burden’s Sexton Report covering the period from 1862 to 1890. While the report is titled Sonora City Cemetery, Burden noted that some burials were other than the city cemetery, and these burials are not listed on this report. I next went through the C. H. Burden Undertaking Company Burial Records from 1890 to 1953 compiled by the Tuolumne County Genealogical Society and added those listed as buried in the Old City Cemetery.

Other sources for this report are the Tuolumne County Genealogical Society miscellaneous obituary files, Tuolumne County death and burial records and various newspapers. I have also been helped considerably by individuals who have been able to supply me with information on family members interred in the Old City Cemetery.

In 1929, the city opened a new cemetery on Lyons Bald Mountain Road, across from the Catholic cemetery. In January 1929, the city entered into a contract with A. J. Sylva to purchase the new cemetery property. In April 1929, City Engineer C. W. Terry submitted a map for the cemetery to the Sonora City Council. The first burial was in June 1929. In 1931, a contest to name the new cemetery was advertised in the Union Democrat newspaper. Mary Symons was awarded a $10 prize for submitting Mountain Shadow as the name for the new cemetery.

Because the new cemetery was not named until 1931, it is sometimes difficult to determine if a burial is in the old city cemetery or the new city cemetery. Some records, including the newspaper, only refer to city cemetery. If I did not find the person in Mountain Shadow during the 1929-1931 time period, I included them in this report.

I would like to thank Sue Schillerstrom for her assistance with creating this report, especially with proofreading and inputting data.

As with any report of this type, where sources are sometimes not clear, and records are lacking, corrections will periodically need to be made. If errors or omissions are found in this report, please contact City Historian, Patricia Perry, at 94 North Washington Street, Sonora, CA 95370, by email at [email protected] or at (209) 532-6331.