Written by Judie & Joseph Palmer
One of the rough gems of the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery is the cement remnants of what once was a very large water container. It has been popularly mislabeled a horse trough built to also defend against fires. However, it was actually a water reservoir whose main function was to support Alhambra’s past landscaping and beautification efforts. From recently found articles regarding the Alhambra Cemetery Association (ACA) meetings in the County’s library digitized newspaper collection, we discovered its origins. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly when or why it was eventually abandoned or have any photographic evidence of its prior use.
We think the reservoir might have been built on the unused abandoned family plot of Don Francisco Galindo, (Concord cofounder) but some context is needed. In 1875, Martinez’s Catholic community chose to have their own cemetery. According to an article published February 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.” All if not most Catholics interred in Alhambra were exhumed and reburied across the street in the St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Cemetery which officially opened in 1888.
Many years ago, while researching Alhambra’s origins and ownership history, we discovered something interesting regarding Don Galindo. Dr. Strentzel (John Muir’s father-in-law) was the largest individual property owner of both the cemetery (close to 1/3) and the Alhambra Valley (coincidently enough). Upon his death on October 31, 1890 his wife Louisa inherited the entire estate and when she died September 24, 1897 it was passed on to their daughter, Louie Strentzel Muir.
Later Louie, (putting her affairs in order) indentured it to her daughter Helen along with other land on July 11, 1905 (nearly a month before her death on August 6). Within the document it states, “… and the South half of Block No. Two Hundred and Two (202), less cemetery lot of F. Galindo.” Unfortunately, we don’t know where his lot’s exact location was within Block 202 but it’s very possible the former water feature is sitting on it. (Side note, when Helen Muir-Funk sold the land to the County on August 30, 1915, there was no mention of F. Galindo’s lot.)
This brings us back to Don Galindo who (along with Don Juan Salvio Pacheco) founded the City of Concord. He and his family were widely known for their community philanthropy and influence. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that he or his family might have donated the land for the water feature, as they no longer needed their plots.
As for its origins, this article from the Contra Costa Gazette published May 20, 1876, Water at the Cemetery gives us a clue, “The want of water, which has heretofore been the great drawback to the embellishment of the beautifully situated Alhambra Cemetery grounds with ornamental shrubbery, is now to be measurably supplied. The Trustees of the Association have built a massive brick reservoir, of about one hundred barrels capacity, at the highest point of the grounds, which is to be supplied with water through 1,400 feet of iron pipe extended from Mr. Buckley’s inexhaustible well. The water is raised and driven through the long pipe by a Thurston windmill, the reservoir being at an elevation of seventy or eighty feet. The reservoir has a three feet thick Portland cement concreted foundation, laid on the rock base ledge, and a massive cement laid brick and covered curb wall that looks heavy enough to stand the cannon-shot of a Columbiad.”
Unfortunately, no known trace of the windmill or Mr. Buckley’s well have survived. Nor are we able to yet determine the exact location and size of Mr. Buckley’s ranch due to Covid, but we suspect that Telfer’s former corp. yard bordering the cemetery was most likely the well’s location (Buckley St. is nearby).
From the Contra Costa Gazette August 19, 1905, Directors Finally get Together and Hold Meeting, “…It was the consensus of the board that immediate action should be taken to provide ample water facilities for the grounds. A campaign for cleaning the grounds and repairing the fences will also be inaugurated.” So almost 30yrs after the reservoir’s completion it seems the cemetery still needs water and is in a state of neglect and disrepair.
A few months later much has changed. From the Gazette’s November 2, 1905 issue – Must Bury their Dead Elsewhere, “…since a new board of directors took charge of affairs. The windmill formally used to pump water to the tanks in the cemetery has been replaced by a pump capable of raising 900 gallons of water an hour and which is operated by an electric motor. A neat frame house encloses the pump and motor. The fence around the grounds has been repaired and other steps taken to improve the looks of the cemetery.”
Three years later, the Daily Gazette on April 1, 1908, published C.C. Swain’s (ACA’s Secretary and Cemetery Superintendent) report detailing more remarkable changes in its article Cemetery Association Meets, “A great many needed improvements have been made since my last report. An electric motor and pump was installed at a cost of over $300. New fencing was placed around part of the cemetery and all of the fence put in perfect repair. The water pipe running from well to tanks has all been taken up to see if any repairs were needed. All of this entailed a great expense. The cost of pumping and water and electric power amounts to $3.00 a month for water and pumping and $2.50 for the motor.”
He further stated, “If people going in and out of the big gate leading into the cemetery, would be more particular to close it when coming out there would be not be so many complaints about stock being in the cemetery.” It seems that Mr. Buckley most likely owned a cattle ranch, whose occupants we imagined created a lot of havoc and damage to the grounds and markers.
The article further reported, “The matter of employing a permanent gardener for the cemetery was discussed at length. If the gardener would also dig the graves, the amount he would receive for such service, together with voluntary contributions from the members of the Association, should be sufficient for his salary. The matter was thoroughly gone over, but no definitive action was taken.”
However, a year later Cemetery Superintendent John Pitt Woods is hired according to the Daily Gazette on September 21, 1909, Our “Silent City”, “Many favorable comments have been passed on the improved appearance of the Alhambra cemetery. For some months past the directors have had J. P. Woods employed there looking after the premises, cleaning driveways, avenues and in many instances, lots owned by individuals from whom there was no chance of allocating any money in payment for services rendered. Many people owning lots in the cemetery have been so favorably impressed with the improvements that they entered into an agreement with the superintendent of the cemetery to pay a stipulated amount per month for the care of their lots.
In an interview with a member of the board of directors the following facts were learned: It is the aim of the directors, if possible, to keep a man constantly employed at the cemetery. It will be his duty to make preparations for all interments, locate lots, to see that fences, walkways and drives are kept in proper repair and to see that the water supply which was installed by the directors at a considerable cost, is always sufficient.
In order to realize sufficient money to meet the expenses incurred the directors have arrived at the conclusion to make a request of all persons owning lots in the cemetery to make arrangements with Mr. Woods, who is always to he found there, to have their lots cared for by him, assuring them that the money so earned will be paid into the treasurer of the cemetery association for the purpose of meeting current expenses.
It is the aim of the directors, if funds are available, to plant ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers during the coming wet season so that by next spring all persons visiting the Cemetery will notice a complete transformation. Where formerly weeds, grass and unsightly bushes greeted the eye, we will then be able to see handsome trees, well-kept drives, flower beds, walks free from all rubbish and the cemetery as a whole will be a credit to the community and a place to which you may refer with pride as a fit resting place for the departed dead. It is to be hoped that all parties interested will join with the board of directors so that the plans contemplated may be carried to a successful conclusion.”
Now that we have tackled its origins we’re left to answer, what led to its ruination? For that, we turn to the history of the “Glanders” epidemic that exploded nationwide from 1908-1914. Although we haven’t found any evidence yet to prove or disprove that Glanders was the cause, it is both an interesting and very plausible explanation. Glanders (much like Covid-19) attacks the pulmonary system, can be passed via air born transmission and is very deadly if untreated. Although mostly found in horses, it is known to spread to humans and other animals. Unlike Covid, (a virus) Glanders is a bacterium.
In 1908, the California State Veterinarian, Dr. Charles Keane, remarked that communal water troughs were the most dangerous way for Glanders to spread. He claimed that any type of nasal discharge from infected horses while drinking could infect the entire trough and pass the disease on to other horses. Once infected, a horse sneeze or snort could cause airborne transmission to other horses, animals and humans.
Making the disease even more dangerous was its 100% mortality rate and an infected horse usually had atypical presentation showing no outward signs of the disease before it suddenly dropped dead. Since there were no vaccines or cures available, unsuspecting people suffered a horrible death. Only two things could be done; Horse troughs had to go dry, and horses tested with a biological product called mallein. If the horse had an allergic response to the mallein test, it was destroyed. (Fortunately, there are a series of antibiotics available today that prevent such a grizzly outcome for both animals and humans.)
In 1909, Dr. Charles Keane made a plea to city and county officials throughout the state to shut down all water troughs knowing that he would get blow back. Business owners refused to let their troughs go dry, complaining it would ruin their livelihood if people could not water their horses in front of their establishment. Women horse advocates of Los Angeles and San Diego did not like the idea of standing pipes instead of water troughs. They felt the teamsters would be too lazy to draw water in their buckets or refill them, leaving their horses thirsty. By August, Dr. Keane gave up on trying to get Southern California counties to comply.
In the Sacramento Bee on April 20, 1911, Dr. Keane states, “Systemic efforts have been adopted by this department to eradicate Glanders in the state. During the past year over 800 head of horses and mules, which were affected with this disease, were destroyed. …”
However, by November Glanders was raging in Los Angeles with the loss of over 300 horses within weeks forcing County Veterinarian W. B. Rawland to finally recognize that valuable horse deaths were traced directly to public water troughs. Therefor the County Board of Supervisors ordered all of them to be abolished.
By 1914, eradicating Glanders became a nation-wide movement resulting in the removal or destruction of hundreds if not thousands of water features around the country. The resulting aftermath sped up the country’s transportation transition from horses to motorized vehicles. Perhaps this is what happened to ours, although exactly when is unknown.
During the epidemic there were some experts who believed that stagnant water allowed the disease to spread, while running water prevented its survival. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest they may have been right. Buffalo kept their 200 fountains of flowing water and had no infections, while Cincinnati removed all of theirs and still had a major outbreak. Although it no longer exists in N. America, there are still numerous cases worldwide with the most recent major outbreak occurring in India.
Some final thoughts, should you visit the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery maintained by the City of Martinez and pass by the old water reservoir, now a flowerbox, give it a loving touch. You won’t catch glanders but now you will know why it might be a planter. Also, when you next visit the grounds give a node to Mr. Woods, who is peacefully interred there, and thank him for his service while imagining the cemetery’s past beauty due to his efforts.
The information above reflects what we know currently. As we learn more, we will update it accordingly.