It may surprise you that Sacramento's earliest cemetery vanished decades ago when it became a city park and later a school, the current Sutter Middle School at Alhambra Blvd. and J St. Only an historic marker is evidence of its prior existence. But one question persists: where did all the tombstones go? Lance Armstrong of Valley Community Newspapers sheds light on the mystery in his recent two-part series on the defunct New Helvetia Cemetery.
Armstrong traces its history from its Gold Rush beginnings as a burial plot for Sutter's Fort. New Helvetia operated until 1912 after which Sacramento officials took steps to convert it into a city park. Over several years the remains were re-interned at various cemeteries in the region. Many of the grave markers were also relocated, but some were simply lost. Strangely, some of the flat tombstones ended up in the gardens and driveways of a couple East Sacramento homes.
The Bee reported in 2008 on the transfer of grave markers from Sutter Middle School to East Lawn Memorial Park. Volunteers carried the rescued tombstones in a horse-drawn wagon to underscore the solemnity of the occasion.
PHOTO CREDIT: An historic marker in East Sacramento tells how the property that is now Sutter Middle School, was once the New Helvetia Cemetery, established in 1847 by John Sutter. 2010 Sacramento Bee photo by Lezlie Sterling