(aka Garden Valley and Alabama Flat Cemetery)
Assessor's Parcel No. 060-690-36
North side of Marshall Grade Road
Garden Valley, California
Supervisorial District 4 - Charlie Paine
The town of Johntown was first established in 1848 or 1849. It was
located on Johntown Creek near Alabama Flat, west of present-day
"downtown" Garden Valley. The County's 1975 cemetery survey
identified the location of this cemetery, and noted that only one grave
remained marked in that year. That was the grave of John Cody
Samuel McConnell, owned and operated a saw mill on the creek.
In later years the property came into the "ownership" of pioneer family descendant, Fred Veerkamp and his wife. The Veerkamp's sold the property to a three family partnership - former county surveyor, Fred DeBerry and his wife; former supervisor and State Assemblyman, Eugene Chappie and his wife;, and Georgetown native Amy Horn Drysdale and her husband.
The group subdivided the parcel for five acre or larger residential properties. The subdivision map was surveyed by DeBerry, who seems to have failed to note the Johntown Cemetery on the map of the five-acre parcel within which it exists.
In the Fall of 2001, members of EDCPCC noted that the parcel within which the cemetery existed, was listed for sale. A call to the real estate agent to inquire about the property resulted in being told the property had already sold. When the agent was asked if the cemetery was included in that sale, he shouted "No!" Had he not known of the cemetery's existence, one might have expected him to inquire: "What cemetery?" or "What are you talking about?" Instead, he provided an immediate and resounding, "NO!"
Karen Wilson of General Services was immediately notified and she sent a letter advising the current property owner that no burials would be allowed to take place in the cemetery unless the records and plot map were recorded with the county. As we understand it, Ms. Wilson also sent a copy of this letter to the real estate agent. It was a way in which to notify the seller and the agent that we knew the cemetery existed on that property.
In early November 2001, while leading members of the Cultural Resources Preservation Commission on a tour of cemeteries for their evaluation, EDCPCC president Sue Silver took the committee members to the Johntown Cemetery property. The resident the group encountered was the new owner of the property, and had no idea a cemetery existed on the family's newly acquired home property.
The last remaining tombstone, that of John Cody, and the ornamental iron railing that had "cribbed" his grave, were no where to be found on the little hill behind the mobile home residence. Only the hand dressed stone corner blocks, with square cutouts in the center for the railing supports were found to evidence this was a cemetery, or that Cody's grave existed there.
Even though the county had recorded this cemetery as being on the "old Fred Veerkamp"** property in the 1970s, the county planning department had issued a permit to install the mobile home and to cut the west bank of the cemetery hill for the installation of the mobile home. One wonders what purpose the 1975 survey has really served if, in light of the known existence of a cemetery, no one is willing to ascertain that such a sensitive property will be protected.
As a consequence, there is no burial plat map and no interment register noting the actual names of all those who were interred in the cemetery. Even more frightening is the failure to survey the grounds to establish the true boundaries of the cemeteries for the protection of all of the graves that existed BEFORE permitting residential construction to occur so close to this cemetery.
Subsequently, we have no way of knowing if all of the graves that once existed in the Johntown Cemetery have been left intact and undisturbed. Without having performed any archaeological review or ground penetrating radar BEFORE fixing the site of the mobile that was installed within feet of where John Cody's grave is located, the builders could not have known whether graves existed on the west side of the hill.
It would be our opinion that there is a substantial likelihood some graves were obliterated by the cut to the hill bank to the east of the mobile home, and the earth in which they were resident was likely used as fill to grade the pad for the home.
** An undated and
unidentified published article in a scrapbook at the archives of the El
Dorado County Museum notes that Cody's grave was located near "Fred
The Johntown Cemetery, where the mortal remains of pioneer John Cody are
buried, and within which his marble tombstone and iron railing remained
for over 100 years, is a public county cemetery through operation of law
This cemetery was used from at least 1849 to 1883, at last report. Information regarding the 1883 burial of the man known as "Old Pasquale," came to our attention through a copy of a 1947 letter from Garden Valley native, Warren T. Russell, who was born there in 1875. He specifically states that "Old Pasquale" was buried in the "Alabama Flat Cemetery" in 1883. Russell's letter also informed us that there were at least one hundred other graves in the cemetery.
In 1854, the State of California enacted its' first cemetery statute. It was an attempt to protect the cemeteries and graveyards that had been established at nearly every mining camp and town that grew up out of the thrust of the Gold Rush. By 1854, it had become apparent to the State that mining companies had little regard or respect for the dead and had already impacted a number of the early burial grounds.
As the community (first as Johntown, then as Garden Valley) continued to use the Johntown Cemetery to bury their friends and loved ones, in 1872, the State provided that the title to these places would vest in the public since their use was by the public at large. The State also provided that a civil entity would become the authority for the jurisdiction and control of these cemeteries. In the unincorporated territory of a county in which a cemetery is located, that authority is the board of supervisors.
Despite the mandate established through this 1872 law, in El Dorado County it appears no one was minding the store. The County did not act to secure these hallowed public lands in any way. Nor did it act to administer, supervise or otherwise attend to the further requirements established in Chapter V. of the Political Code (Stats. 1872).**
Given all this, it is our opinion that the Johntown Cemetery is a public cemetery through operation of law. We also believe the County of El Dorado has been grossly negligent by failing to protect this cemetery from the molestation it has suffered.
In our opinion, the present property owners can also look to the County of El Dorado for failing to protect them from being defrauded in their purchase of their little "ranch" by failing to file or record a notice sufficient to provide constructive notice that the cemetery existed on this parcel.
Even now, as we prepare this report for placement on our Website, we maintain that this is a public county cemetery and, had the county properly and legally attended to its business as required by law, this family would not now be in "ownership" of an historic county cemetery and John Cody's grave ornamentation would still be intact.
** For more about the matter of public title to California's historic cemeteries, the California Attorney General issued Attorney General Opinion No. 98-503, answering a number of questions related to Gold Rush pioneer cemeteries.
|WHAT THE FUTURE
Two lawsuits have been filed as a result of the property having been sold without disclosing that it contained the Johntown Cemetery. One complaint names the previous landowner; the other names the County of El Dorado. Each case is still pending.
EDCPCC members devote vast amounts of time and energy researching deaths
and burials in El Dorado County. By utilizing old county burial
permits, church records, newspaper obituaries and death notices, funeral
home records, descendant provided information, and previous tombstone
inventories taken by earlier research, it is possible to identify actual
burials, those that did occur in the cemetery, and probable or possible
burials of persons who died at or near a community with a cemetery for
which no other burial information is presently available.
Because a great deal of information from the earliest years of El Dorado county's past is not readily available, we recognize that these interment identification listings may never be considered complete. We believe they are, however, the most extensive effort ever made to identify those previously unknown and presently unmarked graves in our many historic cemeteries. This becomes vitally important in the instance of those cemeteries which continue to be operated without having historic burial records or plot maps.
In the case of the Johntown Cemetery, had the cemetery been surveyed and its boundaries properly delineated at a time when the graves were most notable on the surface, perhaps there would have been no opportunity presented to contribute to the potential obliteration of grave containing human remains. Unfortunately, not even the county took proper precautions to protect this little cemetery.
As stated by Warren Russell, the burial of "Old Pasquale" in 1883, may have been the last interment in the Johntown or Alabama Flat Cemetery. There is no way to know if Pasquale's burial was the last or not because no one was keeping records of the cemetery as required by law.
As John Cody's grave appears to be the last and only one recognizable, at least in 1975, it is difficult to determine when the earliest burial occurred in this cemetery. However, it appears that one James Kennedy died "in John Town Creek" sometime during the week of November 13, 1852. The news of Kennedy's death was sent by John Stowers, a miner from Georgia, to his brother in a letter of that same date.
Writing from "Wite [sic] Rock"**, Stowers wrote, "...as for the health of the georgens [sic] in this place it is good. we have not had enney [sic] sick but there as [sic] been some sickness in John Town Creek & some Deathes. James Kennedy Died this week and Gerberl Hyde Died also..." [Original letters transcribed by Rebecca Wilson, Dawson County, Georgia historian, now deceased. Letters found by Ms. Wilson in the University of Georgia Library.]
In 1853, both the Sacramento Daily Union and the Empire County Argus published the notice of death of Mrs. Mary Jane Pile who had crossed the Plains to California in 1850. Mrs. Pile was buried in the "Garden Valley cemetery."
Our research appears to show that many people who died at Garden Valley in the years beyond the late 1870s to late 1880s, were taken to Georgetown for burial there. Not every death, however, was noticed in the paper and there is just no true way to know the identities of all the one hundred or more persons Russell notes were buried there.
** The "Wite Rock" from which Stowers wrote, was the town of White Rock, north of Placerville, between the City of Placerville and the town of Mosquito. It was located on the ridge on the south side of the South Fork of the American River, whereas Mosquito was located on the ridge above the north side of the river. One had to pass through White Rock to get to Mosquito.