Endangered Cemetery Report
Northwest of Snelling, Merced County, California
Note: On March 8, 2003, California Saving Graves contacted Merced County District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey regarding this report. The text of our email to her is copied below the Report text and includes Supervisor Kelsey's very prompt reply to us. We have now received information from the Snelling Cemetery District and the text of that correspondence is as follows:
email on May 19, 2003:
"Snelling Cemetery District has been taking care of Hopeton Cemetery since the early 1990's. The District put a fence around the Cemetery and started a week control program. The District checks the fence every quarter to see if any repairs are needed. The weed control program is on going.
"The Merced County Genealogical Society is complying [sic] a book that lists who is buried at the Hopeton Cemetery. They have visited the cemetery, taken names off the headstones and are using other records to comply [sic] this book.
"If the District can be of any help, feel free to contact us.
As early as 1850 settlers came to the rivers and streams of Merced County and established homes. The vast fertile areas along the streams were used for livestock raising and agriculture, and almost invariably the ranch houses on the through road became inns. Finally, centers of trade grew up about some of them. After the advent of the railroad, however, trade deserted the old river towns and they became little more than memories.
Located on the Merced River six miles below Snelling was Hopeton, at first known as the "Forlorn Hope." It was chiefly notable for the fact that it possessed two churches before Snelling had any.
[Historic Spots in CALIFORNIA, Third Edition; Mildred Brooke Hoover, Hero Eugene Rensch and Ethel Grace Rensch; Revised by William N. Abelow; Stanford University Press, Stanford, California; 1966.]
Hopeton (Merced County)
Street: Hopeton road (?)
City: Hopeton (old site)
Zip: 95340 (Merced)
Directions: Northwest of Snelling CA, north of the Hopeton school, down
Dairy road before the church
Features: Headstones broken, only one or two standing, tilled for fire
abatement, probably 30-50 sites
Gravestones: 30-50 Broken, hard to tell
Condition: Cemetery in danger of destruction
name: Vernon Givens
Only one or two stones still standing, most are broken and toppled, plowed
California Saving Graves correspondence with Supervisor Kelsey:
Email sent Saturday
03/08/03 10:07 AM
The Honorable Deidre F. Kelsey
Supervisor, District Four
County of Merced
2222 M Street
Merced, CA 95340
Re: Hopeton Cemetery - Endangered Cemetery Report
Dear Supervisor Kelsey:
California Saving Graves is a chapter of Saving Graves, an internet cemetery preservation resource website. As part of the service provided by the websites, we allow people to file Endangered Cemetery Reports in order that they may receive help and assistance from others interested in cemetery preservation. Yesterday we received a report about the Hopeton Cemetery in Merced County.
In reviewing the files we have accumulated on California's cemeteries, the records of the old State Cemetery Board on a listing dated March 1988, indicates that the Snelling Cemetery District was operating the cemetery at some time. The cemetery is identified as having been established circa 1850s. The "owner" of the cemetery was listed as being a "private individual." No name of this individual is identified on the list.
California is unique in that it's early cemeteries laws were crafted so that cemeteries used by the public would be owned by the public. Prior to the federal land surveys that later provided individuals with the federal land patents to the California lands claimed by them, California enacted legislation in 1854 which "declared" any place with six or more burials to be a "public grave-yard."
At the time of the state's first codification of it's statutes, in 1872, the state enacted the Political Code within which former Political Code sections 3105 through 3111 were contained. Section 3105 provided the following:
3105, Title to cemetery grounds.
The title to lands used as a public cemetery or graveyard, situated in or near to any city, town, or village, and used by the inhabitants thereof continuously, without interruption, as a burial ground for five years, is vested in the inhabitants of such city, town, or village, and the lands must not be used for any other purpose than a public cemetery.
Section 3109 of the former Political Code provided:
3109, Public cemeteries, under whose control.
The public cemeteries of cities, towns, villages, or neighborhoods must be inclosed and laid off into lots, and the general management, conduct, and regulation of interments, permits to inter, or remove interred bodies, the disposition of lots and keeping the same in order, is under the jurisdiction and control of the cities and towns owning the same, if incorporated; if not, then under the jurisdiction and control of the board of supervisors of the county in which they are situated.
This was later amended in 1911 to read:
§ 3109. Control of cemeteries.
The public cemeteries of cities, towns, villages, neighborhoods and of fraternal or beneficial associations or societies must be inclosed and laid off into lots, and the general management, conduct and regulation of interments, permits to inter, or remove interred bodies, the disposition of lots, and keeping the same in order, are under the jurisdiction and control of the cities and towns owning the same, if incorporated; if not, then under the jurisdiction and control of the board of supervisors of the county in which they are situated; provided, that in all cases, those owned by said fraternal or beneficial associations or societies shall be under the jurisdiction of and controlled and managed by said associations or societies or by trustees appointed by them.
At the time that the General Cemetery Act of California was enacted in 1931, the provisions of the former Pol. C. § 3109 was incorporated within the new Health and Safety Code as Section 8131, and now reads:
8131. If not owned by a city or by a fraternal or beneficial
association or society, public cemeteries are under the jurisdiction
and control of the board of supervisors of the county in which they
An Attorney General Opinion was issued in 1998 that related to cemeteries and the effect of the state's laws. You may access this opinion at the Attorney General's website via this link: http://www.caag.state.ca.us/opinions/published/98-503.htm.
I am presently out of town and have not had a chance to review the history of Hopeton and it's vicinity. However, my general knowledge of California history allows me to believe that it is highly likely the public acquired legal title to the Hopeton Cemetery by virtue of it's use pursuant to the provisions of former Pol. C. 3105, and that the public acquired the legal title prior to 1900. I would also suggest that an implied in law dedication of the cemetery to it's use as a public cemetery occurred also prior to 1900.
California's historic cemeteries are today in crisis. Hopeton Cemetery is but one of many throughout the state which lie dormant and vulnerable to the effects of time, the elements, and the handiwork of vandals. From the description contained in the Endangered Cemetery Report, I would believe Hopeton Cemetery has suffered all of these.
This coming week I will be reviewing the archived records of the State Cemetery Board to determine additional information submitted to it by the Snelling Cemetery District during it's tenure as the "operator" of this cemetery. If you would like, I would be happy to share that information with you.
In the interim, would it be possible for your office to advise us of any information it may have on this cemetery? It is entirely likely that at some point in the past, the Snelling Cemetery District obtained some sort of approvals from the board of supervisors relating to Hopeton Cemetery. The minutes of the supervisor's meetings might be helpful.
A copy of the text of the Endangered Cemetery Report follows at the end of this text. I have deleted the name and email address of the reporting party pending permission to release it.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter. I hope that there may be some way to help preserve the Hopeton Cemetery so that it is not lost to future generations of Californians.
Should you have any questions or require further information, please let me know.
Sue Silver, State Coordinator
California Saving Graves
Supervisor Kelsey's reply:
Reply sent Saturday, March 08, 2003 6:06 PM
Yes I know of the Hopeton Cemetary. It is a part of the Snelling Cemetary District. I will forward your note to them as well as to members of my staff to try to get some answers to your questions.