Sacramento Historic City Cemetery established in mid-19th century

The Sacramento Historic City Cemetery is located at 1000 Broadway. Photo by Lance Armstrong

The Sacramento Historic City Cemetery is located at 1000 Broadway. Photo by Lance Armstrong

Editor’s Note: This is part seven in a series regarding Sacramento area cemeteries.

Certainly one of the Land Park area’s most notable landmarks is the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery at 1000 Broadway, between Riverside Boulevard and Muir Way.
This cemetery has the notoriety of being Sacramento’s oldest existing cemetery, as it dates back to the mid-19th century.
The initial acreage for the cemetery was donated on Nov. 28, 1849 by Capt. John Augustus Sutter, who a decade earlier established one of the area’s most historically important sites, Sutter’s Fort, and Henry A. Schoolcraft, who came to California in 1847 and became the first alcalde of Sacramento in the spring of 1849.
On Dec. 3, 1849, the city passed an ordinance establishing a public cemetery and regulating interments.
The ordinance included the following words: “Be it ordained by the president and council of Sacramento City, that from and after the passage of this ordinance, the (10-acre) square donated to the city by John A. Sutter and H.A. Schoolcraft, south of Y Street (now Broadway), between 9th and 11th streets, shall be the public grave yard (sic), where the bodies of deceased persons shall be buried.”
The cemetery was laid out sometime in 1850.
A report regarding the city’s common council meeting of Nov. 26, 1850, notes: “The committee on the subject (of the city cemetery) recommended that the sexton in charge of the burial ground be requested to make out a plat defining the places where persons have been buried.”
Four days later, the Sacramento Transcript reported that common councilmember Dr. J.M. Mackenzie had commenced making a list of those who had been interred at the city cemetery.
By 1858, the cemetery included about 3,000 graves, 300 trees, a well and irrigation pipe.
Although the cemetery’s earliest known burial was that of a Capt. James T. Homans of the U.S. Navy in 1849, the grave of Franklin B. Davis has a more historical background, considering that his original burial occurred three years earlier.
The remains of Davis were relocated to today’s Sacramento Historic City Cemetery, either from Buckeye Knoll – an earlier established burial place that was located on the city block bounded by 9th, 10th, V and W streets – or from another early Sacramento burial site.
Among the earlier residents to be buried at the cemetery was James H. Crocker, who was the son of Capt. Rowland R. Crocker, who was known as having crossed the Atlantic Ocean more times than any then-living shipmaster.
James H. Crocker, a New Bedford, Mass. native who worked at Capt. Rowland Gelston’s Sacramento store, died from dysentery at the age of 43 on April 1, 1850.
According to James H. Crocker’s obituary in the April 10, 1850 edition of the Transcript, his coffin, which was covered with an American flag, was carried to his grave in a long procession, which was accompanied by music played by a band.
A few of the most notable people buried at the cemetery are: Sacramento’s founder John Augustus Sutter, Jr. (1826-1897); lawyer and famous art collector, E.B. Crocker (1818-1875); storekeeper and railroad mogul, Mark Hopkins (1813-1878); and several California governors and early Sacramento mayors.

The cemetery’s 120-year-old mortuary chapel houses the cemetery’s official records. Photo by Lance Armstrong

The cemetery’s 120-year-old mortuary chapel houses the cemetery’s official records. Photo by Lance Armstrong

Among the former mayors who were interred at the cemetery was Hardin Bigelow, Sacramento’s first mayor to be elected under a state charter.
Bigelow, who was shot in Sacramento’s tragic squatter riots in August 1850, passed away at the age of 41 on Nov. 27, 1850.
Also interred at the city cemetery was Col. William Stephen Hamilton (1797-1850), the second youngest son of Alexander Hamilton, the first treasurer of the United States.
Although William has been speculated to have died of cholera during the city’s nearly three-week cholera epidemic in 1850, the Transcript, on Oct. 8, 1850, recognized his death as occurring the previous day, or about two weeks prior to when cholera was recorded to have arrived in Sacramento.
According to the 1880 book, “History of Sacramento County, California,” cholera was brought to Sacramento from San Francisco on Oct. 20, 1850.
A trivia regarding William was that he was buried at two previous locations before being interred at his present burial site near the then-future location of the mortuary chapel on May 29, 1889.
Other notable persons who were interred at the city cemetery include former state Senator William Johnson and Henry Elliot, builder of the first Weinstock, Lubin & Co. store at 400-412 K St.
Visitors of the cemetery can also tour special sections such as the Exempt Firemen’s plot (1858), the Pioneer Society plot (1862) and several war veterans memorials, including the Spanish-American War Memorial (1898).
Another special monument at the cemetery was established in memory of about 1,000 people who died during the city’s aforementioned cholera epidemic of 1850.
At the time of the epidemic, no one knew what caused cholera or how one became infected with it.
Thousands fled from the city in panic, and 17 local physicians died.
Historical cemetery records indicate that 16 of these 17 physicians are buried at the cemetery, although their exact locations are unknown.
The cemetery also consists of the Sacramento Historic Rose Garden, which is located on a portion of the cemetery’s land that was donated by John Augustus Sutter, Sr. and Henry A. Schoolcraft.
In the middle of the cemetery sits the aforementioned mortuary chapel, which was constructed 120 years ago and is now used as a museum and archives library.
The building, which originally served as a holding vault, where remains were kept until proper burials could be arranged, presently serves as a different and more permanent style of holding vault, as it houses the official records of the cemetery.
In contrast to its beginnings on a 10-acre parcel, the cemetery consists of 31.8 acres and about 30,000 burials.
However, the cemetery, which had gradually expanded with the growth of the city, actually reached a size of nearly 60 acres in 1880, with a property donation by one of the city’s all-time greatest philanthropists, Margaret Crocker, who was the widow of E.B. Crocker.
That donation was described in the July 1, 1880 edition of The Sacramento Union, as follows: “Margaret E. Crocker to Sacramento City – Addition to city cemetery, June 25th, 2.22 chains wide by 10.51 chains long, fronting Y Street, and lying on west side of city cemetery.”
The Margaret Crocker addition, which remains a part of the cemetery, was laid with lots blocks, and avenues named Azalea, Eglantine, Linden, Maple, Mulberry and Myrtle.
As the years unceasingly pass by, the value of the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery as a historic treasure continues to increase.
The cemetery’s present winter hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
For additional information about this cemetery, call 448-0811.

Lance@valcomnews.com

Sacramento’s 1885 Floral Festival concluded with the gifting of the Crocker Art Gallery

 

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a two-part series regarding Margaret Crocker.

 

One hundred and twenty-five years have passed since a grand celebration was held in honor of one of the city’s all-time greatest philanthropists, Margaret Crocker.

This May 6, 1885 photograph shows a western view of the interior of the Pavilion at 15th and N streets during the floral festival honoring Margaret Crocker. Near the center of the photograph are young girls dancing around a maypole, while a banner reading, “Lover of Our Homes,” hangs in the background. / Photo courtesy, Crocker Art Museum

This May 6, 1885 photograph shows a western view of the interior of the Pavilion at 15th and N streets during the floral festival honoring Margaret Crocker. Near the center of the photograph are young girls dancing around a maypole, while a banner reading, “Lover of Our Homes,” hangs in the background. / Photo courtesy, Crocker Art Museum

On the afternoon and evening of May 6, 1885, practically everyone in the city turned their attention to this woman who had donated so much for the good of Sacramento.

Among Margaret’s most notable contributions were her donations of a large tract of land to increase the size of the city cemetery, the Bell Conservatory (a large greenhouse structure that was built to supply flowers for the city cemetery), and the Marguerite Home, a home for “aged gentlewomen” at 1617 7th St.

As an extreme showing of gratitude for the generosity of Margaret, who was the wife of Judge Edwin Bryant Crocker, a well-known art collector and the brother of railroad baron Charles Crocker, a grand floral festival paid tribute to this self-sacrificing citizen.

Prior to this free-of-charge event, newspapers in and outside of Sacramento previewed the upcoming gathering and showered Margaret with much deserved compliments.

The San Jose Times-Mercury, for instance, published the following words regarding Margaret: “Her name for years has been the synonym of disinterested charity. She has shown by her works how worldly possessions can adorn a noble character. She has poured out her money in every conceivable channel of benevolence without ostentation. She has aided all public-spirited enterprises and has contributed without stint to adorn and beautify the city in which she lives. Her benefactions, which have known neither creed nor religion, amount to millions of dollars. Sacramento does well in honoring one so noble, and this testimonial by a grateful people will mark an epoch in the history of that city.”

The Colusa Sun echoed the words of the Times-Mercury and many other newspapers of the time through the following words: “Mrs. Margaret E. Crocker has endeared herself to the people of Sacramento by a long life studded with gems of charity. Her whole life has been one of charity and love for her fellow beings.”

And locally, the Sacramento Record-Union in its May 5, 1885 edition posed the question, “What more fitting oblation could they bring than these free gifts of nature, sweet lovely flowers?”

This floral display, which was a tribute from the Congregational Church, which was located at 909 6th St., was among the many exhibits that decorated the interior of the Pavilion on May 6, 1885. / Photo courtesy, Crocker Art Museum

This floral display, which was a tribute from the Congregational Church, which was located at 909 6th St., was among the many exhibits that decorated the interior of the Pavilion on May 6, 1885. / Photo courtesy, Crocker Art Museum

In likening Margaret to flowers – “Odors of Edeu and offerings divine” – the Record-Union published the following words: “Mrs. Margaret E. Crocker has wealth of gold, and like flowers, she distributes its {sic} brightness and its {sic} worth for the benefit of the sick, weary and homeless, and for the lovers of the beautiful. This will no doubt be the most magnificent floral fete in the world’s history.”

And in making it such an event, many people consistently worked for an entire week to prepare for the gathering, including those men and women who constructed the elaborate floral designs.

This latter work, which was enhanced by attached cards bearing words of affection for Margaret, was such an undertaking that the Record-Union of May 7, 1885 reported that “in no floral display were pieces of such magnitude ever attempted in this country.”

As the greatest demonstration of honor for a private citizen in the city’s history, the floral festival, which featured flowers from throughout the state, was held at 15th and N streets in the then-new Pavilion of the California State Agricultural Society on May 6, 1885.

On this day, every business was closed throughout the city and thousands of people gathered to pay tribute to Margaret, and many people, businesses and organizations that were unable to be present at the event sent letters of remembrances.

Those entering the Pavilion saw displays of flowers of every variety and hue throughout the building, pine, cedar and evergreen trees, hanging baskets of ferns and evergreens and large banners bearing the inscriptions, “Consort of Our City” and “Lover of Our Homes.”

The scene was illuminated by both gas and electric lights, with the latter being made possible through the introduction of electric lighting in the city during the previous year.

Electricity of a different kind entered the pavilion at 2:30 p.m., as Margaret and her party were greeted by about 3,000 children who created double lines at the Pavilion’s entrance.

A guard of honor consisting of 20 girls strewed flowers in the pathway of the procession.

After Margaret was escorted to her seat on the grandstand, the aforementioned children passed by Margaret and delivered floral offerings to the stage.

The afternoon program, which was attended by a crowd, which was widely estimated to have consisted of 12,000 to 20,000 people, featured tribute banners carried by local schools, musical presentations and a maypole dance by the young ladies’ guard of honor.

An even larger crowd, which was primarily composed of adults, arrived for an evening session.

Margaret was seated on the grandstand shortly after 8 p.m. and the program began with floral tributes, including a unique presentation in which members of the California Pioneers marched from a miniature model of Sutter’s Fort prior to presenting their floral offerings.

The Pavilion, which was located east of the state Capitol, was the site of a floral festival honoring Margaret Crocker on May 6, 1885. / Photo courtesy, the Lance Armstrong Collection

The Pavilion, which was located east of the state Capitol, was the site of a floral festival honoring Margaret Crocker on May 6, 1885. / Photo courtesy, the Lance Armstrong Collection

The program also consisted of musical performances, including a grand chorus performance by the Ladies Choral Society, Turner Harmonie and others, a speech made by George W. Chesley, president of the Sacramento Pioneer Association, and a maypole dance by the same young ladies who performed in the afternoon session.

But by far the most notable segment of the evening was Margaret’s gifting of the E.B. Crocker Art Gallery – presently the Crocker Art Museum – to the city of Sacramento and the California Museum Association “in trust for the public.”

Prior to handing Mayor John Q. Brown the key to the gallery, Margaret briefly addressed Brown.

This address included the following words: “Mayor Brown, in this midst of this sweet atmosphere of love and fragrance and upon this occasion – one of the happiest days of my life – it affords me great pleasure to make a formal delivery to you of the E.B. Crocker Art Gallery; the bestowal of which I feel sure I am but carrying out the wishes of my late husband, and the only wish I breathe as I bestow it is that great good may come to Sacramento by its possession.”

With the recent, $100 million, 125,000-square-foot expansion of the Crocker Art Museum, Margaret’s dream for the gallery has likely exceeded her wildest expectations, and coupled with the prosperity of the city cemetery, the name Margaret Crocker continues to be a name worthy of a grand celebration like the one held 125 years ago.

lance@valcomnews.com

Margaret Crocker’s goodwill toward Sacramento celebrated 125 years ago

Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a two-part series regarding Margaret Crocker.

It is certainly not every day that a community celebrates one of its residents with elaborate gifts and a special ceremony that draws thousands upon thousands of people. But such was the case 125 years ago, when a special ceremony attended by about 30,000 people was held for Margaret Crocker.

Margaret Crocker made many contributions to Sacramento, including a section of property for an expansion of the city cemetery and the Bell Conservatory, a large greenhouse structure, which was located across from the cemetery on property bounded by 9th, 10th, W and Y (present day Broadway) streets. / Photo courtesy of Crocker Art Museum

Margaret Crocker made many contributions to Sacramento, including a section of property for an expansion of the city cemetery and the Bell Conservatory, a large greenhouse structure, which was located across from the cemetery on property bounded by 9th, 10th, W and Y (present day Broadway) streets. / Photo courtesy of Crocker Art Museum

Arranged by city citizens and officials, a festival of flowers was held on the afternoon and evening of May 6, 1885 to honor Margaret Crocker, the widow of Edwin Bryant Crocker, who assembled a grand collection of art pieces that would later be used in forming what is known today as the Crocker Art Museum.

On its own merit, Margaret’s decision to gift the art gallery to the city of Sacramento and the California Museum Association “in trust for the public” would have been more than a sufficient cause to celebrate this gracious citizen.

But the donation of the gallery, which Margaret would make official during the festival, represented only part of her many contributions to Sacramento.

Right here in the Land Park area, for instance, Margaret donated a large tract of land by deed on June 25, 1880 for the purpose of expanding the acreage of the city cemetery.

Bell Conservatory/Bell Florist

Two years earlier, Margaret had a large greenhouse structure, which was known as the Bell Conservatory, constructed north of the city cemetery for the purpose of supplying flowers that could be sold to those who desired to decorate the graves of their relatives.

And for those who desired to do the same, but could not afford to purchase flowers, the Bell Conservatory, which was located on property bounded by 9th, 10th, W and Y (present day Broadway) streets, originally donated flowers to such citizens.

Built for $38,000 and featuring colored glass that was ordered through Tifanny’s in New York and shipped from Belgium, the Bell Conservatory, which specialized in cut flowers and garden and greenhouse plants, was operated by the Geisreiter family during the majority of its existence.

On Oct. 30, 1884, The Sacramento Daily Record-Union announced that Margaret was having a 54-foot by 85-foot structure, which would mainly be used for cultivating high quality roses, constructed on the conservatory grounds.

According to city directories, John McCallum served as the superintendent of the Bell Conservatory during at least the mid-1880s, and by the late 1880s, nurseryman, farmer and Illinois native Michael Joel Dillman, who resided at 1420 O St., was managing the business.

Dillman and German immigrant Eugene Geisreiter, who shared an office at 607 J St., later partnered in the ownership of the Bell Conservatory.

The Bell Conservatory, which was located in the approximate location where the Sacramento Works Center now sits at 915 Broadway, is overlooked from the portion of the cemetery property that was donated by Margaret Crocker on June 25, 1880. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

The Bell Conservatory, which was located in the approximate location where the Sacramento Works Center now sits at 915 Broadway, is overlooked from the portion of the cemetery property that was donated by Margaret Crocker on June 25, 1880. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

By at least 1900, however, Dillman was living at 2025 M Street (today’s Capitol Avenue) and was serving as the vice president and manager of the Capital Telephone and Telegraph Co. at 918-920 5th St.

It was around this time that the Geisreiter family began its full proprietorship of the Bell Conservatory, which had the longtime slogan of “floral designs shipped to all points.”

Like McCallum, the Geisreiter family resided on the grounds of the Bell Conservatory, which was under the sole proprietorship of Eugene Geisreiter from about 1900 to his death in 1930.

Eugene Geisreiter’s son, Hubert Eugene “Bert” Geisreiter (1905-1987), who lived on the conservatory grounds with his wife Elsa (Jurgens) Geisreiter, who was the sister of the local band leader Dick Jurgens, owned the business from 1931 to 1956.

According to the March 23, 1934 edition of The Sacramento Bee, one of the old Bell Conservatory buildings was replaced by a brick, white-washed structure, which was accompanied by the garden grounds and hothouses.

An open house for the business’s new display rooms and floral shop was held on Saturday and Sunday, March 24 and 25, 1934.

Bert Geisreiter’s son, Richard E. “Dick” Geisreiter, who was raised at 10th and X streets and graduated from McClatchy High School in 1946, said that he believes that the original conservatory building was torn down in the mid-1950s.

A Safeway grocery store building, which now houses the Sacramento Works Career Center at 915 Broadway, was constructed in about 1958 in the approximate location of the 1885 conservatory structure.

Margaret Crocker (1822-1901) is buried alongside her husband, Edwin Bryant Crocker, in the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery at 10th Street and Broadway. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Margaret Crocker (1822-1901) is buried alongside her husband, Edwin Bryant Crocker, in the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery at 10th Street and Broadway. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

In about 1947, Bell Conservatory was renamed Bell Florist and was moved to a new location within the same block.

In about 1961, the florist relocated to 4420 Del Rio Road, where it would operate for about four more years. And a few years following this closure, Dick Geisreiter moved to Mendocino.

In addition to his connection to the Bell Conservatory and Bell Florist, Bert Geisreiter was also known for his involvement in local politics.

A last moment candidate for mayor, Bert Geisreiter eventually served as the city’s mayor from 1950 to 1951 and altogether, he served for nine years on the city council.

Richard E. “Dick” Geisreiter operated the florist from about the mid or late 1950s to the closure of the business.

Despite the absence of the old Bell Conservatory and later Bell Florist, a link to these businesses still exists through the Dixon Florist, which was founded in the city of Dixon in 1962 by Joe Williams, a former Bell Florist employee.

The Marguerite Home

Another one of Margaret Crocker’s local contributions was the Marguerite Home at 1617 7th St.

On the evening of her 60th birthday on Feb. 25, 1884, Margaret formerly opened the home for “aged gentlewomen” of limited means.

A previous effort to build such a home on a quarter block of land at 9th and W streets had been unsuccessful, which led to Margaret’s work to purchase the north side of Q Street, between 7th and 8th streets, and have the Marguerite Home established at the site.

The plans for the Marguerite Home were drawn by Nathaniel Goodell, who had gained much notoriety in Sacramento during the previous decade for his work as the architect of Albert Gallatin’s mansion, which later became the Governor’s Mansion at 1526 H St., and the renovation of Leland Stanford’s mansion at 800 N St.

Goodell designed the 24-bedroom, well-furnished Marguerite home as a remodeling project using a two-story house that was already present on the property when Margaret acquired it.

The entire project, which was completed at a cost of $130,000, was under the supervision of Michael Joel Dillman’s father, W.P. Dillman.

Features of the home included a parlor and reception room, a kitchen, a linen room, a sewing room and a fireplace in every room.

A brick building that was already present on the property was restructured as a laundry room with storerooms.

The remaining portion of the property was laid out with walks, trees, flowers and shrubbery.

The Festival

As the day finally arrived when residents of the city and beyond gathered to pay tribute to Margaret Crocker for her many contributions, the free-of-charge floral festival would prove to be one of the grandest events in the city’s history.

lance@valcomnews.com