By Peter Bradley
In the October issue of the BYTE, Heritage Road focused on the impact of the 1919 Spanish Flu on the people of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The Archives Office received inquiries as to the burial locations for those Catholics who died from the Flu. For Catholics living in San Bernardino Valley, the primary Catholic cemetery in 1919 was Holy Rosary Cemetery in San Bernardino. The article for this issue will cover two of the early Catholic cemeteries from the 1850’s to the 1970’s.
Today, the Aqua Mansa cemetery is the last visible remnant of the first Catholic community in the Inland Empire. The original settlers for the Aqua Mansa community came from Abiquiu, New Mexico in 1842. They built their homes on the side of the Santa Ana River in today’s south Colton. The cemetery was developed on the bluff behind the church to avoid any possible damage from the flood plain of the river.
Burials in this cemetery began after the new parish, San Salvador de Jurupa, was begun in 1852 by the Diocese of Monterrey-Los Angeles. The first recorded burial was on May 26, 1854. The last burial was 1963. With no official cemetery records available, estimates done by several individuals indicate approximately 500 burials were done over the 110 years.
In 1867, San Salvador parish became a mission of St. Bernardine Church in San Bernardino. Rev. P.J. Stockman, Pastor at St. Bernardine Church, acquired the title to the cemetery in the 1880’s. The Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles (1853-1922) viewed the cemetery as a parish facility and thus had no responsibility for its maintenance. Fr. Stockman gave his title to a commission of three trustees for the cemetery. However, upon their deaths there was no one left to supervise the cemetery.
Fortunately, Marie Espinosa Wood of Riverside, a descendant of two of the original families, formed in 1955 the “Friends for the Preservation of the Aqua Mansa Cemetery.” After many years of dedicated determination, Mrs. Wood convinced the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in 1968 to preserve the cemetery as a historical site. The grounds were later designated as California State Historical Landmark #121 and today is administered by the San Bernardino County Museum.
Pioneer Cemetery (Catholic Adjunct) and Seccombe Lake
In August of 1989, bulldozer work for a ball field in the northeast corner of San Bernardino City’s Seccombe Lake State Park uncovered eleven forgotten burials. The remains were probably those of early Mormons who died between 1853 and 1857.
Seccombe Lake was the unofficial cemetery for the Mormon settlement in San Bernardino in 1851. Unfortunately, both the caretaker’s records and the gravestone census are unavailable. However, through the sacramental records of San Salvador de Jurupa and St. Bernardine churches, we are able to learn some burial information concerning Catholic families.
The chronological overview is most helpful. Aqua Mansa Cemetery opened in 1854; Pioneer Cemetery began in 1857; The Catholic adjunct to Pioneer Cemetery opened in 1869; and finally in 1875, the Catholic adjunct was sold to a Jewish congregation.
Aqua Mansa residents who died were buried at Seccombe Lake from 1851-1854. There were also other Catholics who were now residing away from Aqua Mansa who were buried at Seccombe Lake. Between 1851 and 1869, there were 50 Catholic burials at Seccombe Lake.
In 1857, Pioneer Cemetery opened as the cemetery for the city of San Bernardino at 7th Street and Sierra Way. In 1869, Senator William Conn sold a tract of land near the Jewish Home of Eternity Cemetery at Pioneer Cemetery for $1.00, so that a Catholic cemetery would be available. Most of the Catholic burials in Seccombe Lake were transferred to the Catholic adjunct at Pioneer between 1869-1875. When the “New Catholic Cemetery” opened in 1875 at 26th St. and “E” St., the Catholic adjunct was sold to a Jewish congregation.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.