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In this cemetery were laid to rest many early pioneers of Contra Costa County. Many were drawn to California by gold, but fulfilled their dreams for a better life in other ways. Although it is currently unknown when the cemetery was founded, when it’s first burial occurred, or what it’s original name was, it is believed to be one of the oldest cemeteries in the state.
The land was part of the Don Ygnacio Martinez 1823 land grant, Rancho El Pinole, platted in the original 1849 survey of Martinez by surveyor Thomas A. Brown for Col. William M, Smith. Col. Smith was the son-in-law/agent for the Martinez family and founder of the City of Martinez. Most likely it began as their personal family cemetery before it was seized for back taxes.
Extremely high taxes were accessed by the US Government to perpetuate a “legal” land grab from former Spanish/Mexican land owners. Later it was sold to Beverly Holiday and John Livingston through a Sherriff’s Auction in 1854, which (coincidentally) is the first year recorded burials at the old cemetery are entered in the City of Martinez death register.
While Don Ygnacio Martinez remains in Alhambra, the rest of his family and almost all Catholics originally buried prior to 1882 have been reinterred across the street in the Saint Catherine of Siena Cemetery. According to an article published Feb 19, 1875 by Oroville’s The Weekly Mercury, “Three Acres have been purchased and inclosed for a Catholic Cemetery on the sharply-rising ground west of and overlooking the Alhambra Cemetery, near Martinez.”
It is not known how many plot deeds are still held as a cemetery overseer sold some plots to more than one person. He later ended up in San Quentin Prison.
Written by Joseph Palmer with special contribution by Richard Patchin
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