Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery at 2720 Riverside Blvd. is among the city’s historic cemeteries, as it dates back to the early part of the 20th century.
But that cemetery’s history links directly to earlier established burial grounds: the Odd Fellows plot at the old city cemetery, which is officially known today as the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery.
In telling the story of Odd Fellows burial sites in the capital city, it is perhaps best to present a brief introduction to the existence of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Sacramento.
General A.M. Winn, who would eventually become Sacramento’s first mayor to be elected under a state charter and the founder of the Native Sons of the Golden West, is recognized as introducing Odd Fellowship in the city as early as August 1849.
According to the 1913 book, “History of Sacramento County, California,” Winn desired to form that local, informal organization of Odd Fellows for the “purpose of affording relief to the sick members of the order, as well as to others.”
The same book praised the early work of the Odd Fellows, noting, “Their noble deeds should never be forgotten, for they spared neither time, work, nor money in relieving the distress and sickness that were prevalent at that time.”
The city’s first I.O.O.F. lodge was Sacramento Lodge No. 2, which was instituted on Jan. 28, 1851 and is recognized today as the oldest continuously operating Odd Fellows lodge in California.
The charter members of the lodge, which originally met in the Masonic Hall at 5th and J streets, were: Horatio E. Roberts, G.H. Peterson, George G. Wright, Lucins A. Booth, Samuel Deal, M. Kaliski, Robert Robinson, Noble C. Cunningham, M.C. Collins and William Childs.
In 1862, the local Odd Fellows Hall Association, which was organized on July 8, 1862 and was incorporated 17 days later, acquired the four-story St. George Hotel building, which was constructed at the southeast corner of 4th and J streets during the previous decade and was originally known as the Dawson House. The lodge quarters were located on the upper three floors, while businesses operated on the ground floor.
About eight years later, a newly constructed, four-story Odd Fellows temple opened at the northeast corner of 9th and K streets.
The aforementioned 1913 county history book notes that the 9th and K streets temple was “at that time the finest structure in the city, with the exception of the Capitol.”
Today, local Odd Fellows lodges meet at 1831 Howe Ave.
An article in the Nov. 25, 1861 edition of The Sacramento Union lists the chief duty and command of the Odd Fellows as being “to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”
In a reference to that institution’s early assistance to burying the dead, the 1913 county history book noted: “Rough pine coffins had ranged from $60 to $150, and even then the supply was far from sufficient, so hundreds had been buried without being wrapped in a blanket. The Odd Fellows spent thousands of dollars for coffins and when General Winn became the executive director of the city, no man was refused a coffin burial.”
According to a marker at the old Odd Fellows plot in the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery, the initial portion of that plot was purchased in 1861, and expansions of the plot were made in 1868 and 1878.
The grounds for the Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery were bought from the city in 1900.
On Dec. 4, 1902, the cemetery’s articles of incorporation were developed under the name of Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery Association.
The articles of incorporation of the Sutter Realty Co., a full endowment nonprofit cemetery corporation, were established on Feb. 11, 1905.
The corporation adopted various rules and regulations in regard to governing the operation of the cemetery on Aug. 2, 1932, and two months later, it obtained its nonprofit status.
Anthony F. “Tony” Pruitt, Odd Fellow Lawn’s manager, spoke about the cemetery’s formation, saying, “To me, the cemetery’s existence was poorly planned. Basically, configuration wise, I don’t think they knew what they were doing at that time. They put things here, they put things there. I find nothing in the records of a plan of how it was going to be laid out.”
The 22-acre Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery includes two parcels.
The smallest of these parcels, about a 2-acre parcel, runs along the southern boundary of the property, and was purchased from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District for $4,502 on Jan. 13, 1958.
On the west end of the cemetery, running north to south, is a mausoleum.
The mausoleum’s original section was named Chapel of Peace, while other sections of the structure were named Court of Faith, Court of Friendship, Court of Hope and Court of Tranquility.
In addition to the public mausoleum, the cemetery also includes the private mausoleums of the Ochsner, James, Porter and Fratt families.
According to Odd Fellows Lawn records, the first interment at the cemetery occurred on Aug. 6, 1905.
It was on that date that Georgie Zimmerman was buried at the cemetery. She died at the age of 30 five days earlier.
Also interred at the cemetery are former U.S. Rep. John E. Moss (1915-1997) and Anne Noel Fazio (1973-1995), who was the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Vic Fazio.
Located within the southwest portion of the cemetery is a 19th century city potter’s field with unmarked graves. The people who were buried in that section were done so, because they were either indigents or had no known families.
In sharing additional history about the cemetery, Justin Wilkins, groundskeeper at Odd Fellows Lawn, said that a long row of hedges that once marked the northern boundary of the cemetery was removed in 1968.
“The funny thing is that after the hedges were removed, our cemetery actually expanded by 3 feet,” Wilkins said. “We don’t know why they were removed. They could have been dying, but then they could have been removed simply to gain more burial space.”
It was not the first time that such action was taken at the cemetery, Pruitt explained.
“(Beginning in 1968), service roads on the property were converted to burial plots and now are called tiers,” Pruitt said. “Also, there was once a parking lot behind our office (at the front of the cemetery) that now has graves on it, and is referred to as Section P.”
Additionally, Wilkins said, “A house was once located on the cemetery grounds, which was occupied by various people, including one of the managers (Robert E. Uhls) of the cemetery. In 1971, the board most likely decided they needed to do an expansion of the cemetery property, so they decided to tear down the (then 29-year-old) house (which had the address of 2746 Riverside Blvd.).”
In addition to Uhls, who lived in the house from about 1966 to 1971, other residents of the home were: Donald G. and Clara G. Monroe (residents from 1942 to about 1944), Marjorie G. Duncan (about 1945 to about 1947), William E. and Mildred R. La Due (about 1948 to about 1950), Benjamin F. Quigley, Jr. and Margaret Quigley (about 1951 to about 1953), Vera Abbott (about 1954 to about 1955) and Clara E. Eaton (about 1957 to about 1965).
Like the neighboring Masonic Lawn Cemetery, Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery is not limited in use to those associated with a respective fraternal order.
And in making an announcement regarding that topic, Pruitt said, “At the end of this month, hopefully there will be a sign hanging on that clock out there (in front of the cemetery, reading) ‘open to the public.’ Our statement tells you that we’re open to everybody, but they don’t understand that, so I need a sign (which reads) ‘open to the public.’”
Additionally, Pruitt assured the community that Odd Fellows Lawn has a stable future.
“We are here forever,” Pruitt said. “Basically, as a fraternal organization, which owns this property, nothing is going to happen to this property. It will stay here and stay here. There are other (Odd Fellows) organizations that will take over for us, if we’re not here (some day). We have people in Stockton and in Yuba City, Shingle Springs, Placerville. It will always be Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery.”