History of the Cemetery
Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery was established as the result of an accident. In November of 1854 a young father, who had arrived from Missouri only weeks before, drowned in a pond near the center of town. He was buried on land that was part of a Mexican grant given to one of the earliest settlers of Santa Rosa, Doña Maria Ignacia Lopez de Carrillo. Soon other families needed burial places, and the area became an unofficial cemetery.
In 1867 the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Association was formed and burial plots in the 17-acre site were formally offered for sale.
Sales of plots continued through the late 1930s, though records of these transactions have been lost. During the decades that the cemetery was active, parts of the land were sold off and 3 separate but adjacent cemeteries were established: the Stanley, Moke, and Fulkerson Cemeteries. After the 1930s, neglect and vandalism took their toll on the cemetery through years of unclear ownership and sporadic maintenance.
The Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Association was formed because of a common concern for the site's maintenance and cultural value.
The City of Santa Rosa acquired ownership of the 4 cemeteries.
The City's Board of Community Services organized a trail through the property for the benefit of visitors who shared an interest in the sites.
A plan for a permanent cemetery organization was approved by the Santa Rosa City Council. The plan called for the organization of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Restoration Committee to assist with improvements and ongoing maintenance and fundraising. They made great strides in repairing damage, clearing overgrowth, and planning for permanent maintenance. The name was eventually changed from the Restoration Committee to the Preservation Committee.
The City of Santa Rosa awarded Historical Landmark status to the Rural Cemetery.
Today, the four cemeteries combined are owned by the City of Santa Rosa and known collectively as Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. The only burials permitted today are those of descendants of families who held deeds to cemetery plots. The total number of burials is over 5,500. Docent-led tours during the summer months acquaint visitors with the history of the town and the many town pioneers who are buried here. Lamplight Tours, conducted in September as fund-raising events, present dramatic vignettes from the lives of the famous and not-so-famous people buried in the Rural Cemetery.
Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery's Story
This short documentary tells the story of Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery, a historic landmark cemetery with graves dating back to the 1850s. The video takes us back to the diverse people who founded the community (made with assistance from the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Preservation Committee).
Historical Significance of the McDonald Avenue Houses
This short documentary explores the architecture and social history of McDonald Avenue in Santa Rosa, California. Showcasing some of the grandest homes on McDonald Avenue, their stories date back to the 1800s and include the filming of five Hollywood movies.
Historical Significance of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery
Take a tour at the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery and see the final resting places of some of the founding pioneers of Santa Rosa, California.
- Beloved Santa Rosa Graveyard Oak Topples (April 2013) (PDF)
- Gettysburg Veterans Rest at Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery (July 2013) (PDF)
- Ghost Stories (October 2010) (PDF)
- Memorial Garden a Sanctuary for Native Plants and Creatures (May 2014) (PDF)
- Reclaiming Santa Rosa's Century-Old Graves (November 2009) (PDF)
- Rose Brigade (November 2010) (PDF)
- Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Researchers Bring the Dead to Life (November 2016) (PDF)
- Santa Rosa's Civil War Monument Rededicated (November 2010) (PDF)
- Walking the Past in Santa Rosa (July 2014) (PDF)