The Cemetery is located on the south side of the Church in a ravine that is between Highway 56 and the Church. Many Mexican-Americans who settled in nearby Eden Gardens, an agricultural area in south Solana Beach, obtained plots for their families, as well as others who worked the valley for the sisters and early settlers. Area pioneer – Catholics and Protestants, were buried on opposite sides of the 1.5-acre cemetery divided by a cleft in the hillside. According to records kept at the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, Mother M. Michael Cummings donated the cemetery and an adjacent 10–acre plot in 1894 to Most Reverend Bishop George Montgomery of Los Angeles. In 1937, Most Reverend Bishop Buddy, obtained a transfer of the deed to that property from the Los Angeles Diocese.
The cemetery was part of a 1,000-acre plot owned by the Sisters of Mercy, who ran St. Joseph’s Hospital and Sanatorium, now known as Mercy Hospital in San Diego. The Sisters of Mercy arrived in San Diego from San Francisco in 1890 and eventually acquired the land from the McGonigle family, who were Irish settlers and the first Anglos to settle in the valley. They homesteaded 2,040 acres in the area in the late 1800s. The McGonigle’s were unable to pay a $4,000 mortgage on their land, so they offered the Sisters of Mercy 1,000 acres in return for enough money to clear the mortgage. When the McGonigles passed away, they were buried in the cemetery marked with a wooden cross, but the cross was destroyed with no record exacting their burial site.
In the early 1900s, the sisters built a three-story Victorian house on the land, then called Mount Carmel Ranch, adjacent to the cemetery. During World War I, the ranch was used as a home for neglected children, funded through donations to the sisters. The nuns also raised vegetables, primarily beans, and dairy cattle on 300 acres of the ranch, and the money this brought in was used to build a surgical wing at the San Diego Hospital. In 1919, a group of investors thought there might be oil on the property and the sisters agreed to allow drilling, including on the cemetery plot, for which they would receive 12.5 percent of the oil. However, the oil venture never materialized and the sisters continued their farming.
The nuns were given permission to sell the land in 1935 for a minimum of $100,000. Three years later, the state of California indicated it was interested in buying the land for a state prison, but political considerations interfered and the land was passed over for one in Chino. Eventually, the sisters were able to sell all but 10.69 acres of the ranch. This land is controlled by the Catholic Diocese of San Diego and maintained by St. William of York Church, now renamed St. Therese of Carmel.
Over the years, the burial ground has been subjected to an increase in vandalism as the area’s population grew and more people became aware of the cemetery. Additionally, there were cattle that grazed there along with brush fires that destroyed the hand carved wood crosses, the headstones crudely modeled from clay, rocks and seashells. The past several years has not seen any vandalism. The Knights of Columbus Council has maintained the cemetery grounds since 2006, although it is under the jurisdiction of Holy Cross Cemetery. Despite its small size, the cemetery, which has also been called the Del Mar Cemetery, has a long and colorful history.
The cemetery has 83 recorded burials, according to the Death Register Book, kept at St. James Catholic Church in Del Mar, but the number of interments is probably over 100, because burials at the turn of the cemetery may not have been recorded. The last recorded burial occurred in 1980. No one seems to know where the non-Catholic burials were recorded.
The first recorded burial was Juana Jauriqui on Valentine’s Day 1919, who died of “old age,” according to church records. Since then, there have been no more than seven burials in any one-year and no burials in 17 of the years between 1919 and 1980. The earliest burial date still legible on the gravestones in the Protestant section of the cemetery, which is on the extreme east side of the cemetery grounds, is for Caroline Nieman, 1839-1899. Her husband, Martin Nieman, 1833-1908, lies nearby under a matching marker. Both headstones look almost new. Other early stones bear the names Knechtel, Switzer and Sawyer. The Knechtel family were pioneers in the valley. The Neiman, Switzer and Sawyer’s were also long time residents in the area.
There is a concrete marker that had an inscription on a metal plate, which is no longer legible. Two names were recorded on that plate which read Miles and Virginia Standish whose deaths were in 1956 and 1957. There is a legend that these were descendants of the Miles Standish who was chosen captain, or defender, of the Colony of New Plymouth in 1621. That family had a farm that was located just south of Del Mar west of Interstate 5. The Standish family is known to have come from Montana before settling here.
In June, 1995, Ms. Terry Renteria, who at that time was the Mayor of Solana Beach, and whose sister, Josephina Renteria, 1/22/1931 – 7/29/1938, is buried in the cemetery, wrote to the San Diego Catholic Diocese in an effort to have the cemetery declared a State of California Historical site. This was promulgated by the construction of housing, commercial buildings, the vandalism that was occurring at the cemetery and the proposed Highway 56 construction. To our knowledge, nothing became of this.
A recent survey of the cemetery completed on March 18, 2006, by one of the members of our Knights of Columbus Council, revealed that of the recorded graves, known and unknown, there are only 45 sites where a known grave exists either with a name on the marker, a marker where a name is illegible, or there is no identification whatsoever on the Catholic side of the cemetery. On the Protestant side, there are 11 sites, of which only one is unknown and the third is the Standish headstone, of which as mentioned above, the plate is now illegible. The names on that plate were legible back in 1985, but weather has since worn away the Standish’s names.
Since the date of the recent 2006 survey, four more graves have been found through the semi-annual Knights of Columbus maintenance program of the cemetery, which are nothing more than indentations in the ground without any hint of identification. Rocks have been placed on those sites as markers.
Written by Armand Olvera, Parishioner
August 3, 2008