Category Archives: Cemeteries

Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery

[Detail of Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery from 1895 Map, showing location near intersection of Bagby and Lamar]

Newspaper articles about neglected and abandoned Houston cemeteries are not that uncommon.  What may surprise some, though, is that a newspaper article on the subject appeared over a hundred years ago, when the city of Houston was relatively new. Because of the length of the article, only the first part of the article (which concerns the old Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery) is reprinted below.  The other two parts of the article, which concern two other early Houston cemeteries, will be featured here on later dates.

A number of the words in the discussion of the Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery are difficult to read in the copy of the article that Houstorian viewed.  Bracketed words below are best guesses – bracketed question marks indicate a word is missing, and no guess was made.

The article is titled “Houston’s Oldest Cemeteries: Cities of the Dead of Past Generations Neglected and Some of Them Almost Obliterated,” and it appeared in the Houston Daily Post on February 15, 1903:

Within a dozen squares of the business [district] of Houston, almost hidden from [view] with a matted growth of rank vegetation, that at this season is sere and dead, [sits] the city’s oldest cemetery.

[It is] unkempt and forlorn and presents [an] appearance that is too often characteristic of old age.  In the hallowed spot [sleep] many of those who helped to hew [?] of Houston’s greatness.  Their [bodies] have long since changed to ashes [and] time has corroded the slabs that [marked] their resting places until the [?] letters on the perishable marble [are] no longer legible.

The younger generations and later residents of Houston, perhaps, do not even [know] of the presence of this sacred old [burial] ground.  But the old-timer who has [helped] to fashion the destinies of the city [in] the last half century is aware of its [presence] and not unlikely has dropped [?] within its inclosure.

Adjoining the Sam Houston city park on [the] north side is a narrow strip of ground [embracing] some six or seven acres.  It approaches within 100 feet of Bagby street, [?] a view of it is obstructed by houses [that] have long been built between it and the thoroughfare.  A high board fence [separates] it from the city park, like the [?] partition between the realms of life and death.

Many gay people as they have strolled through the park have paused and wondered what lay beyond the high fence.  At [one] point a stone structure, bereft of roof, [?] its scarred walls, like the ruins of [some] miniature monastery, above the [?].  A half century ago it was a vault [?] within it were coffined forms.  Now it is a mere shell.  A later generation has [removed] the bodies and placed them in [?] graves.

The burial ground is known as the old Episcopal cemetery.  No records are obtainable as to when it was laid out, but [?] common consent it is accredited the [?] of the most venerable cemetery in the city.

Years ago the city sought to condemn it, and similar steps have been taken at various times since.  The right of the city to do so was always questioned and with sufficient force to prevent the action being carried out.  Some two years ago the city [?] attempted to purchase the grounds.  If the deal had been consummated it was the [?] to remove the bodies and add the [?] to the city park.

Burials have practically ceased there and [?] one is recorded during the past two years.  In fact, from time to time bodies have been removed and placed in more modern cemeteries, until now the little [city] of the dead has not half its former inhabitants.  A number of family lots in which reposed all that was mortal of whole [?] of two generations ago have been [?] depopulated.

[?] slabs still lie scattered about and their simple graven announcements give [thoughts] to conjure by.  With but few exceptions the graves are entirely overgrown and the mattes mass of vegetation is so dense that parts of the grounds can not be penetrated at all.  In many lots [?] which are fragments of iron fences [?] have grown from the seed and the [?] reproduction of weeds and briers have flourished and withered, obliterating [?] traces of graves.

A few rambling notes gathered from old [?] and vault slabs may be of interest and may recall faces that smiled generations ago and hands that performed their [?] in the ceaseless struggle of human

“Sacred to the memory of R. Wallace, [died] September 8, 1858.  Age 25 years.”

“[In] memory of Dr. B.C. Dewey. Formerly a resident of Coldwater, Mich.; died in Houston, October 13, 1858.  Age 35 years.”

“Abraham Payne, died January 11, 1840.”

“Catherine Cartright Payne. Died 1841. Age 22 years.”

“Mrs. Hannah Payne, native of England. Died November 10, 1870.”

[One] vault bears the following inscription:

“Here lies the remains of Remi Miville De [?], born Quebec, Canada, May [20, 17??]. Died 1860.”

“[?] J.B. Anderson, born New York, October 15, 1807.  Died September 1, 1858.”

“James B., W.P. and Hellen Massie.  Died October 8, 1859.  Age 5.”  In the [same] lot is a shaft on which is carved the [square] and the compass, with the inscription, “William P. Massie, died March 7, [?], age 50.”

“In memory of Sarah E. J., wife of Dr. [?] Earl Hartridge, who departed this life [?], 1855.  Age 28.” Also “Luzetta, [?] 2 years, died 1858.”

“[?] A. Harris –” the rest illegible, the [?] being shattered and very old.

“Anna Marie, only daughter of U. and S. [?], born February 6, 1851; died January [?], 1856.”

“[?] loving memory of Kate, daughter of [?] and H.T. Rottenstein.  Died November [?], 1850.  Aged 4 years.”

“[?] M. Duval, born December [?], 1779.  Died April 30, 1860.” The inscription is [?] a massive vault, now partially uncovered.

“Sacred to the memory of Dr. John S. [Duval], born October 19, 1829.  Died November 14, 1858.”  This record is likewise [?] a large vault slab, but it is in a fair state of preservation.

“[In] memory of W.D. Smith, died February 13, 1858, in the fifty-second year of his [life].”

“Sacred to the memory of John Dawson, native of Northumberland, England.  Died [October] 1849, aged 27 years.”

“In memory of Daniel M. Cutter, born October 21, 1790.  Died April 26, 1866, aged 75 years.”

“James W. Oats, born 1797, in Sampson county, North Carolina.  Died in Houston March 5, 1870.”

“George Morgan, infant of G.A. Jones.  Died 1850.”

“Sacred to the memory of S.H. Skiff.  Died October, 1859.”

“Alberta Foster, died 1857.”

“Agness, daughter of L.S. and H.B. Perkins, died August 6, 1846.”

“This mortal must put on immortality.  In memory of Leonard S. Perkins, aged 49.  Died October 22, 1858.”

“Sarah M. Perkins, wife of Rev. J.W. Tays, died at Oxford, N.Y., September 24, 1870. Eunice, daughter of A.S. and F. Perkins, died November 13, 1859. They rest in hope.”

An old iron fence bears the inscription, “J.N. Dupree, 1857.”

On what is perhaps the largest shaft in the grounds is the following: “Sacred to the memory of Captain D.C. Farmer. Called from labor to reward August 4, 1870.”

. . . .

“Mason, Holland lodge No. 1, A.F. and A.M.
Who wears the square upon his breast does in the
Sight of God attest and in the face of man
That all his actions will compare with the
Divine, the unerring square, that square
Great nature’s plan.

Over the River company Fifth Texas regiment, Hood’s brigade.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.”

Near the entrance of the cemetery is a shattered shaft bearing the following:

“Henry Benchley, died February 24, 1867, age 46 years.  Erected by the Houston and Texas Central Railway company as a tribute of respect to an upright man and a faithful officer.”

“Enter rest eternal, the kindest husband and most indulgent father, the truest friend and the most generous man.”

The reference to the graves of Abraham Payne (died January 11, 1840), Catherine Cartright Payne (died 1841, at the age of 22), and Mrs. Hannah Payne, “native of England” (died November 10, 1870) is interesting.  These appear to be the father, older sister, and step-mother of Kezia Payne DePelchin, the founder of the DePelchin Faith Home (which now operates as the DePelchin Children’s Center).  DePelchin herself died in 1893, and some sites mention that she and her “parents” were relocated to Forest Park Cemetery on Lawndale.

The Masonic references in the article suggest that the author was exploring not just the grounds of the old Episcopal Cemetery, but also those of the adjacent Masonic Cemetery.  The two are often referred to as the “Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery”, and it’s quite possible that the boundary between the two wasn’t clearly marked, especially in later years.

William P. Massie, whose year of death is not legible, appears to have been a Mason.  He may be the William Massie who fought at the Battle of San Jancinto in 1836.  (The gravestone of a William P. “Massey” is mentioned in a 1960 Houston Chronicle article as one of a handful of gravestones still visible in the Masonic Cemetery next to the Episcopal Cemetery.)

The poem excerpted above was written in honor of Captain D.C. Farmer (died 1870), a captain in Hood’s Brigade in the Confederate States Army.

Leonard S. Perkins (died 1858) once owned a 10-acre parcel of land on Buffalo Bayou, near Frost Town.

S.H. Skiff (died 1859) appears to have been a charter member of the Houston Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 (a predecessor of the fire department), which was formed in 1858.  Dick Dowling was another of the handful of charter members.

Finally, Henry Benchley (died 1867) was the namesake of the town of Benchley, Texas.  Early in his life, he served as a state senator and lieutenant governor in Massachusetts and, in the 1850’s, he helped found the Republican party.  He is said to have moved to Texas to operate a station on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves, and to have been arrested and jailed in Texas for having done so.  His grandson, Robert Benchley, was a famous humorist and contributor to the New Yorker.

As noted in the Louis F. Aulbach article on the Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery, some remains were moved from the cemetery in the 1870’s, to Glenwood Cemetery.  Additional remains were moved to Brookside Cemetery in 1938, when City Hall was constructed.  Then, in 1959, 80 additional bodies were moved to Glenwood Cemetery.  However, in light of the information the Daily Post article gives about the neglected state of the Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery as early as 1903, it is unlikely that all remains in the cemetery were located, much less relocated.


Washington Cemetery

[Posted by isuredid on HAIF]

Washington Cemetery is located adjacent to Glenwood Cemetery, between Washington Ave. and Memorial Dr. It originally encompassed 27 acres, but now conists of 21.3 acres. A large aparment complex was recently built along its western perimeter. The land was purchased in 1887, by the Deutsche Gesellschaft von Houston, a group of local German businessmen. The cemetery was known as the “German Cemetery” (per a 1913 map) or “German Society Cemetery”, as its purpose was to serve as a cemetery for Houston’s German population. It was renamed “Washingon Cemetery” in 1918, due to increasing anti-German sentiment at the time of World War I.

There are nearly 7000 graves in the cemetery, including those of more than 100 Confederate soldiers, and a few Union soldiers (e.g., Emma Seelye). Two graves marked with dates earlier than 1887 appear to be mistakes. The cemetery was financially abandoned in the mid-20th century, but the widow of the caretaker attempted to keep it up. After she died, the graveyard was severely neglected. In 1977, after the murder of a (possibly former) caretaker who lived on the property, a group of Houstonians collected money and were able to significantly aid the cemetery (they hauled away trash, cleared brush, repaved roads, ran waterlines to the property, stabilized headstones, added front gates and security lights, researched the lives of the people buried there and published a history of them, microfilmed burial records, and located and marked previously unmarked graves of about 600 people). The Concerned Citizens for Washington Cemetery Care have since continued to make considerable contributions to the upkeep of the cemetery.

The caretaker murdered in July 1977 was named Leona Tonn. She appears to have been born in Round Top, Texas, on October 15, 1905. She lived in a house located on cemetery property, and was found dead by her brother, Gus. Tonn had suffocated, and a pillowcase was found tied over her head. The murder is unsolved.

The cemetery supposedly appears in a scene in the movie “Student Bodies”.

More information:
Willie Lee Noland (former superintendant of Washington Cemetery) geneology page

Old City Cemetery

The five-acre city cemetery known as Old City Cemetery was actually the second official cemetery. It was founded, in 1840, when the original City Cemetery, now known as Founders Memorial Cemetery, was becoming near full. At the time, the new site was about a mile north of town. Many of those buried in the cemetery were victims of yellow fever and cholera epidemics, and many were Civil War veterans. It is believed that as many as 10,000 people were buried on the site.

Burials continued until 1904, when the city de-designated the cemetery (though perhaps illegally). The city had grown significantly by then and, despite opposition from groups such as the Daughters of the Confederacy, it wished to make the land available for city use and industrial development. Some small portion of the graves were moved to other sites, but most remained.

In the 1920’s, the city of Houston and Harris County built the original Jefferson Davis Hospital directly on top of one portion of the cemetery. The hospital was elevated, likely so as to disturb as few graves as possible. Nevertheless, many graves were disturbed during the hospital’s construction, and it is unknown whether the remains of those exhumed were reburied elsewhere.

Bones were again uncovered in 1968, when the city built Fire Department maintenance facilities at 1010 Girard, on part of the cemetery. Those exhumed were reportedly reburied in Magnolia Cemetery. Another 25-30 graves were exposed in 1986, during construction at the Fire Department facility. A number of the graves were desecrated by souvenir-seekers before the city hired a local anthropologist to supervise the handling of the remains. The bones were reburied in a set-aside area on the Fire Department facility’s grounds, amidst original graves, but not until 2006. The area is only accessible by special permission.

More information:
Grant, A., “Human remains finally reburied,” Houston Chronicle, Aug. 4, 2006.
Stinebaker, J., “Awaiting prognosis,” Houston Chronicle, Nov. 30, 1998.
Tutt, B., “City Cemetery holds untold secrets,” Houston Chronicle, Sept. 28, 1986.

Founders Memorial Cemetery


The two-acre Founders Memorial Cemetery is located at 1217 West Dallas (at Valentine Street). It was founded in 1836, and was then known as the City Cemetery. West Dallas was then called the San Felipe Road. John Kirby Allen, who founded Houston with his brother Augustus, is buried in the cemetery. Also buried there are veterans of the Texas Revolution, the Battle of San Jacinto, and the Civil War. The cemetery has suffered periods of neglect, but is now well-maintained.

More information:
City of Houston, “Founders Memorial Cemetery



[City of Houston map of Frostown superimposed on current map]

Frostown (also seen as “Frost Town”, “Frosttown”, and “Frost-Town”) was located within the large square-shaped bend that Buffalo Bayou makes not too far from Allen’s Landing – Crawford Street once dead-ended at Frost Town. It stands out on early maps of Houston, such as this 1891 map, because its streets are oriented at a different angle than other streets on the downtown side of the bayou. Street names included Spruce, Arch, Race, and Bramble Streets. Some current electronic maps of Houston will still locate Race Street running a very short distance off of McKee Street.

The Frostown area was settled in 1822, years before the Allen brothers purchased the land that was to become Houston. However, it got its name from a family that bought land in the area from the Allen brothers in the late 1830’s. Before that, it was known as Germantown, because of the large number of German settlers (who started arriving in the late 1820’s), and both names may have been used interchangeably for some time thereafter.

Frostown had its own post office, school, churches, and cemetery, and was home to a variety of thriving businesses. Notably, Houston’s first brewery was located in Frostown – it was started by Michael and Peter Floecke in the 1850’s, and appears on some Frostown maps. In 1865, though, a Galveston and Houston Junction Railroad track sliced the community in two. The small town suffered from the loss of its post office in the 1880’s, and the cemetery (the site of which has since disappeared into Buffalo Bayou) stopped being used about the same time.

While many Frostown structures survived well into the next century, it had become a slum by the late 1930’s. The Elysian Viaduct was built through the area in 1952 and, later, Highway 59 was also run through the once-vibrant community. A number of pre-1900 gable-roofed cottages were destroyed in the process. Despite the efforts of preservationists, the last remnants of Frostown disappeared in 1992, the victim of a freeway expansion project. The structures removed included a house that may have dated to the 1800’s.

At the feet of Highway 59, James Bute Park now encompasses parts of the Frostown site. The non-profit organization Art and Environmental Architecture is working to acquire and preserve as much of the surrounding property as possible, so as to expand the park as an historical site.

More information:
Historic Frost Town,”
Aulbach, L.F., “Before there was Houston, there was Frostown,” Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2001).
Schafer, D., “The truth of a frosty town legacy,” City Savvy (Online Ed. 2005).
Gorski, L.C. and Aulbach, L.F., “Oktoberfest in Houston? Breweries on the Bayou,” Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2003).
Frost-Town Cemetery,”

Donnellan Crypt

[From Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings]

Just out of view of the thousands who drive daily over Franklin Avenue bridge at Louisiana Street is an intriguing artefact of Houston’s early history. While now empty, the Donnellan crypt was the initial resting place of certain members of the Donnellan family starting in 1849, and continuing until at least 1867. The large red brick outer wall is still visible, as is the single entrance at the bottom right-hand corner of the vault.

Among those members of the Donnellan family buried in the crypt were two boys (sometimes reported to be brothers) who were killed, in 1866, exploring the wreckage of an 1863 Confederate shipwreck at the foot of Travis street. The boys were killed by a bomb that they found among the remains of the ship.

The remains were removed from the crypt in December 1901.  Houston Daily Post articles list those whose remains were removed as Tim Donnellan (who died in 1849), his son Henry Donnellan (who died in the 1866 explosion), Emily Donnellan Dwyer (who died in 1867), and Charles Ritchey (who also died in the 1866 explosion – his relationship to the Donnellan family is unclear). They were reburied in a valut in Glenwood Cemetery.  The Daily Post reported:

Old timers will remember the death of . . . Donnellan and Ritchey. The two young men met a tragic and sudden death being literally blown to fragments by the explosion ot an old bomb that they had picked up in the bayou. Not knowing what it contained, or whether it contained anything at all, they were anxious to ascertain and to this end they carried the bomb to their shop and began operations on it with a large hammer. An explosion followed and the two young men were killed. The news of the tragic death of the young men quickly spread and thousands visited the scene. There was nothing left of the bodies when exhumed but the skulls and principal heavy bones.

For more information:
Louis F. Aulbach, “The Downtown Crypt,” Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2004)
Galveston Daily News, May 30, 1900, at 5 (referencing Donnellan request to remove remains, which may have been desecrated in building of bridge)

Olivewood Cemetery

[Photo by Houstorian Kate]

Olivewood Cemetery is a near-abandoned cemetery hidden behind Party Boy and the grocery supply warehouse on Studemont, just south of I-10 and White Oak Bayou. (Hence, one suspects, Party’s Boy’s claim that the haunted house it hosts each October – Nightmare on the Bayou – is “Houston’s only haunted house that is really haunted.”) The cemetery was the first black cemetery in Houston. Burials continued there into the 1960’s, but the cemetery became overgrown and neglected in the decades that followed. While various community service organizations have sponsored clean-up activities at the cemetery, much work remains to be done.

[Photo by Houstorian Kate]

One of the more interesting gravestone inscriptions reads: “Think what a wife should be. She was that.” Another reads: “Murdered at Dallas, Tex. Dec. 12, 1889.” A partial registry of those buried at Olivewood Cemetery is available online.

(Please note the additional comments below from Ms. Margott Williams, President of Descendents of Olivewood, Inc. Also, the book referenced in Ms. Rhonda McDonald’s comment below, Out of the Ditch, A True Story of an Ex-Slave, is available online here.)

More information:
Aulbach, L.F., “Ghosts of Houston’s Past Haunt the Cemeteries on Buffalo Bayou,” Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2001).
Perry, J., “Houston Heritage – Grave undertaking: efforts to preserve earliest black cemetery,” City Savvy (Online Ed. 2005).
Preservation Update,” Greater Houston Preservation Alliance