Friday, August 25, 2006

Cities of the Dead

Cities of the Dead

I can't explain why, but cemeteries fascinate me.

Maybe it's because the ones in St. Louis seem to stand out so much. Most are pretty large pieces of real estate, surrounded by urban or suburban development -- but it's obvious they weren't always so confined.

Indeed, the St. Louis Genealogical Society web site explains that:
As the city expanded, it was necessary to establish regulations for
the cemeteries. On 12 February 1879, the city fathers passed ordinance number 10990, apparently still in effect today, to “regulate cemeteries and the interment of the dead within the limits of the city of St. Louis.”

The ordinance lists thirteen cemeteries: Bellefontaine, Old Picker’s or Holy Ghost, Rock Spring, Wesleyan, The Western, alias Western Evangelical Lutheran, Bremen-Saxon, Calvary, Holy Trinity, St. Paul’s Evangelical, St. Peter’s and Paul’s[sic], Episcopal, Public Cemetery at City Poorhouse, and St. Matthew’s and all other cemeteries established and now in use within the present city limits of not less than two acres in extant.


A search of the St. Louis City Revised Code turns up Chapter 11.62 Part IV. The following section was last amended by Ord. #57313 in 1977:
11.62.280 Legal cemeteries named.
The following named cemeteries are recognized as legal and proper places of interment of persons who may die in the city or who may be brought to the city for burial: Bellefontaine, Calvary, First Evangelical, New Picker’s, St. Marcus (New), St. Matthews, St. Peter and St. Paul.


Obviously, a lot of things changed in the 98 years from 1879 (some of those cemeteries had just been added to the city three years before in 1876) to 1977.

  • Bellefontaine Cemetery, of course, still exists and it is enormous! 327 acres, 86,000+ burials, including a number of locally and nationally famous people, non-denominational. Why there's no official web site, I don't know. It was originally called simply the Rural Cemetery, established in 1849 around the time of the cholera epidemic. It has accepted reinterments from dozens of cemeteries formerly located in and around the downtown area.

  • Old Picker's or Holy Ghost Cemetery has a complicated history. It was originally established in 1845 on a site bounded by Kansas (now Compton), Wyoming, Louisiana, and Arsenal. It was affiliated with Holy Ghost Evangelical & Reformed Church, whose pastor was Frederick Picker. (hat congregation has moved many times, but still exists as Holy Ghost UCC near Kingshighway and Chippewa.)

    Another cemetery, Independent Evangelical Protestant Cemetery, was established in 1862 at 7133 Gravois near Hampton, and eventually came to be called New Picker's Cemetery. To make it even more confusing, this cemetery later was renamed Old Picker's, because the original Old Picker's was closed, with the bodies disinterred about 1916 to make way for the construction of Roosevelt High School. And, New Picker's became the name for the newly-purchased section across Gravois, at 7212 Gravois, about that same time.

    Today, both the "new" Picker's are called Gatewood Gardens Cemetery. They are owned by the City of St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority, because the last private owner (Solomon Rooks) failed to pay back taxes. For a few years they were known as St. Louis Memorial Gardens. But in the 1977 legislation, they're still New Picker's. Some sources say Old Picotte or New Picotte instead.

  • Rock Spring Cemetery was a Roman Catholic Cemetery bounded by Sarah-Duncan-Boyle-Clayton in the area once known as Rock Spring, the source of Mill Creek. This closed, curiously, the same year of the legislation -- 1879. Reinterment at Calvary, and a vault beneath St. Bridget of Erin Catholic Church.

  • Wesleyan Cemetery moved several times, moving about the time of the 1879 legislation outside city limits, to the southeast corner of Olive and Hanley in University City. Eventually, in 1952, that too closed; with most reinterred at Memorial Park Cemetery in Jennings, and a group of early Chinese-American immigrant graves mostly reinterred in China.

  • The Western, alias Western Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, still exists in the city limits but has not taken new burials since the 1960s. It takes up most of the block bounded by Marcus, Cora, Lexington, and Ashland, just south of Natural Bridge. Immanuel Lutheran Church located on a corner of the site in 1928, but I think it has closed and/or merged with another church. So it's not clear to me the future of that property.

  • Bremen-Saxon Cemetery was located "e of Broadway between Thatcher & Calvary" according to the St. Louis Public Library listings. Around 1925, it closed, with reinterment at Friedens Cemetery, located at 8941 N. Broadway / Bellefontaine Road, mostly in St. Louis County but partly inside the city limits. But, although it opened c. 1865, it appears on neither list of 'approved' cemeteries. Admittedly, only a tiny sliver is inside the city limits. It was originally affiliated (and may still be?) with what is now known as Friedens UCC in Hyde Park, better known these days as the sponsor of Friedens Haus.

  • Calvary Cemetery, of course, is Bellefontaine's neighbor to the north, and the largest Catholic cemetery in St. Louis. Several smaller Catholic cemeteries were reinterred there over the years. 477 acres, at least 316,254 burials, including a number of locally and nationally famous people. It is, I think, the largest single parcel of ground in the city limits that's not a public park.

  • Holy Trinity Cemetery was a small Catholic cemetery for the poor, also known as "Poor Man’s Catholic Cemetery" adjacent to O'Fallon Park at N. Broadway and Taylor. About 1908, those buried there were moved to Calvary.

  • First Evangelical Cemetery is the Lutheran cemetery known better as Concordia Cemetery, along the north side of Bates Street (4031 Bates) near Leona in the Bevo neighborhood. Its records are online, like those of the Catholic cemeteries.

  • St. Paul's Evangelical Cemetery was located at 6417 and 6424 Gravois, along both sides of Gravois near Holly Hills. Nearly 10,000 burials were disinterred and relocated to the St. Paul's "Churchyard" along Rock Hill Road near Laclede Station Road in Affton, in 1924. Both were affiliated with what's now St. Paul's UCC on Giles near Grand and Gravois.

  • St. Peter & Paul Cemetery is only the Roman Catholic cemetery still located in South St. Louis City. It's at 7030 Gravois, with an annex across Gravois at 7139 Gravois, adjacent to the main part of Gatewood Gardens. As I've mentioned, many of my ancestors are buried in that annex part.

  • Episcopal Cemetery seems to have been located near 18th and Park, and affiliated with Christ Church Cathedral. It's not clear when it closed, but I suspect reinterment at Bellefontaine was likely, probably not long after the law was written.

  • The "Public Cemetery at City Poorhouse" no longer exists, although St. Louis Crematory and Mausoleum at 3211 Sublette seems to be the last remaining section of that property. The rest was developed in the 1950s with single-family houses along the north side of Fyler, and the Hampton Gardens Apartments at Hampton and Fyler. The land under those apartments is still owned by the city, under a long-term lease negotiated back when Joseph Darst was mayor.

  • St. Matthew's Cemetery still exists. It's along the west side of Morganford from Bates to Holly Hills. It is associated with St. Matthew UCC on Jefferson and Potomac. A small section of the property (6101 Morganford) is actually known as St. Nicholas Greek Cemetery.

  • Finally, there's the story of the two St. Marcus Cemeteries, neither mentioned in 1879. Both were affiliated with St. Marcus UCC on Russell Blvd. Old St. Marcus was abandoned and neglected for many years, and became a city park in the 1970s. It is located between the former site of St. Paul's Cemetery and the current SS Peter & Paul, at 6600 Gravois. New St. Marcus, 7901 Gravois, is mostly in the county, but a little strip alongside River des Peres Blvd. is inside the city limits.

    So today we have only a handful of cemeteries inside the city limits.
  • 7 comments:

    Rick Bonasch said...

    Cool post Joe.

    Reading twice, I didn't see a reference to Benton Park.

    It was an old cemetary too.

    Michael Allen said...

    Often I think that the best job in the world would be to work as a historian for Bellefontaine or Calvary cemeteries.

    Great work, Joe.

    Joe said...

    Rick is correct -- Benton Park was one of the early sites of the City Cemetery (Potter's Field) later relocated to the Hampton/Fyler site.

    Of course, there were many, many cemeteries located in or near downtown that were required to relocate during the 18th Century.

    The Public Library and the Genealogical Society lists are, naturally, more comprehensive than my narrative by far.

    Anonymous said...

    Do you have any idea where the Gravois-Saxon cemetery is? I have seen it written that it is the same as the Western Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery by Immanuel Lutheran Church, however, I have also seen it written that it was the same as the "New Saxon" cemetery, which is now Concordia cemetery.

    Tom said...

    Does anyone know if the CD on St. Louis Catholic Burials sold by the St. Louis Genealogical Soc'y has any value for searching for tombstones/records of those who died in the 1866 cholera epidemic?? I am looking for a family that immigrated circa 1854 with the last name(s): Vanderpluym, Vander Pluym, or van der Pluijm, First name unknown. Thank you. Tom Vander Pluym

    kkleen9 said...

    Becki has prepared maps showing the lot arrangement of most sections of Gatewood Gardens Cemetery:
    http://www.geocities.com/picker1855/
    Photos of many of the tombstones have been added to www.findagrave.com in an ongoing effort to inventory this cemetery.

    Anonymous said...

    Don't know if anyone is still reading this blog, but just in case, Gravois Saxon is the cemetery that is next door to what used to be Immanuel Lutheran Church, 3540 Marcus. The church is now a Baptist Church, but the cemetery still exists next door.