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The Santa Maria Cemetery
The Santa Maria Cemetery was a joint effort of the two local Odd Fellows and Masonic Lodges. It can trace its beginnings back to July 9, 1883, a time when it was generally felt that the property was located far enough away from the downtown area to not be affected by any planned growth. Gertie Buel Hopper, who died during that same month, became the first person buried in the new cemetery. The Santa Maria Cemetery District was established on August 6, 1917 as a special district in and for the County of Santa Barbara. In 1926, when Mark Holgate Whitney became superintendent of the Santa Maria Cemetery, the burial grounds were nothing but dirt mounds with uneven markers. It was he who took the preliminary steps in transforming the grounds into the vision of beauty and peace that the Santa Maria Cemetery is today. Mr. Whitney passed away in March of 1949.
The Thornburgh Cemetery
The Thornburgh Cemetery, located about six blocks from town, predated the Santa Maria Cemetery by about 14 years. Its history goes back to 1869 when Walt Rodenberg came to the area from northern California and settled on a quarter section of land south of what soon would be the "Four Corners." Rudolph D. Cook, along with his brother, Larken, arrived in the area during that same year and located north of Rodenberg on the southeast section of what is now Broadway and Main Streets. Not long after Rodenberg's arrival he was killed in a hunting accident and was buried on his property. Larken Cook, a single man took possession of the dead man's property and sold it to John Thornburgh when he arrived in the valley in 1870. When Cook, who was in poor health, died in 1871 at the age of 37 and was buried near the body of Walt Rodenberg, the property evolved into the Thornburgh Cemetery.
As the town began to grow and the little cemetery was in the way, it was decided to move the bodies from the Thornburgh site to the new cemetery on East Stowell Road. January of 1884 marked the starting date of exhumations. According to Cemetery District information, the last of the 56 bodies were removed in 1886. However, the remains of Elizabeth Oakley, Leonard Lee Johnson and Sarah E. McGuire were moved to the new cemetery in 1887.
Although Santa Maria had a Potters Field, its exact location isn't known. Cemetery records show that in April of 1884, Rudolph D. Cook purchased the entire Block of 252 in the new cemetery and that the bodies of his brother, Larken, and Rodenberg were transferred there. Rodenberg's gravesite has no marker.
The old Thornburgh Cemetery was located between Broadway and Lincoln in the vicinity of what is now Boone, but the exact location is somewhat of a mystery. Some people have heard that it was located where the Minerva Club's parking lot is, while others say that it was located on Boone Street, at the western end of where the Holiday Motel is located. Even the area near Jones Street has been mentioned. When Mrs. Bright purchased property at 616 South Lincoln, the realtor, Mr. Smith, told her that the property had once been a cemetery. That seemed possible as the back end of the property showed two or three deep indentations in the ground, indicating that some large items had been removed. Bill Bright, then in his early teens, began digging up the entire back yard in search of clues relative to such a cemetery. Although he didn't find any evidence of bodies, he did find a silver bracelet and a gold brooch with a diamond set in the middle.
From all indications, it seems that the old cemetery ran north and south, in the middle of what is now South Broadway and South Lincoln Streets, as opposed to east and west; thus making all theories relative to the old cemetery's location correct. In those early days, Broadway was nothing but a dirt road running one mile north and one mile south from Main Street. All of the remaining property was farmland.
By Shirley Conteras
Used with permission