Historical Society gains ownership interest in Pioneer Cemetery in Sylmar, CA
14451 Bledsoe Street, Sylmar, CA 91342 Map
California State Historic Landmark 753 • L.A. Historic Cultural Monument 586
In a surprise turn of events that began Thursday, September 26, and ended
on Tuesday, October 1, with the recording of a quit claim deed, ownership
interest of the Pioneer Cemetery in Sylmar has been given to the San
Fernando Valley Historical Society by the family of the late Carolyn Riggs,
longtime member and supporter of SFVHS.
As related by Jim Gulbranson, SFVHS President, he was approached by members of the San Fernando Women's Club to discuss how the Society might help preserve the non-sectarian cemetery that is said to be the second oldest cemetery in the San Fernando Valley.
Jim met with club members and outlined what role the Society could play in helping keep the cemetery from further deterioration.
The cemetery is located at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Bledsoe Street in Sylmar, and covers just under four acres of what once was part of Senator Charles Maclay's ranch. Established around 1870 as Morningside Cemetery, it operated continually until it was abandoned and the last person was officially buried there in 1939. There were approximately 750 graves, many belonging to Native Americans, and purportedly veterans of both the Civil War and World War I. In addition to many prominent citizens of the day, there were many young children who died of influenza and others who died in floods caused by the St. Francis dam disaster.
At present, several service organizations, including the San Fernando Valley Women's Club, Native Daughters of the Golden West, Sylmar Women's Club, VFW, Sylmar Lions Club, and the Sylmar Chamber of Commerce have been involved in keeping up the cemetery and many are contributing to the water bills each month. Their main contact has been longtime SFVHS member Edith Reber, 92, who has been a volunteer caretaker of the cemetery for the last 30 years and who spoke to the Society last year about the cemetery.
Currently, the site has about 15 monuments remaining, 30 bases for others that have been destroyed or removed. Jim said he would hope to contact the 500 families whose names are on a plaque inside the cemetery and encourage them to replace the markers and give new respect to their family members who've been buried there for so many years. Jim also would like to find the missing gravestones, which local vandals have taken and possibly used as building materials for home improvement projects.
Additional plans would include involving landscapers in finishing a master plan for the cemetery that would include native plants. Such landscaping could enhance the historical aspect of the cemetery for visitors who may wish to take self-guided walks once the cemetery is reopened to the public a few hours each week. After Jim met with the Women's Club, he also talked with Carolyn Riggs' daughter and she agreed to sign over the property to the Society, allowing access to her mother's research and notebooks on the history of the cemetery that she collected over the years.
"This is a major project for SFVHS, but an exciting one," said Jim. "We've got a lot of work to do to appeal to various groups, keep everyone interested and to make sure those who've worked so hard are still involved in a very big way."
Jim will present a full update on the developments about the cemetery at the October 24th program meeting. If you are interested in helping save the Pioneer Cemetery, then this would be the meeting to attend. Strategies and plans for community involvement will be discussed.
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San Fernando Valley Historical Society
Andres Pico Adobe * Box 7039/10940 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills, CA 91346 * 818 365-7810