Santa Barbara Cemetery Association - Established in 1867


"... the Santa Barbara Cemetery is a fascinating place to visit, offering us a wealth of information about our community, history, and culture and a wealth of information about ourselves.  It is truly the best last place."

~David Petry, author of
The Best Last Place
a history of the Santa Barbara Cemetery

The following content is copyright © 2006, David Petry, from his book The Best Last Place: a history of the Santa Barbara Cemetery.

The Santa Barbara Cemetery came into being on July 10, 1867.  The men who signed the incorporation document were Charles Enoch Huse, Roswell Forbush, Reverend Joseph A. Johnson, Reverend Thomas R. Williams, N.C. Adams, Nelson W. Winton, and S.T. Maxfield.  The document was signed at N.C. Adams's hotel.

Conceptually, the newly formed board appears to have been following the New Haven Burial Ground model.  They formed as a nonsectarian, nonprofit association, with lot ownership the only requirement for membership in the association. 

Photo of the Santa Barbara Cemetery's Grounds at Sunset.

The association was eventually to be governed by a board elected by the lot-holders.  The Santa Barbara Cemetery would begin as a town cemetery, fulfilling a direct community need, proceeding with neither aesthetic considerations, a profit motive, nor much attention to longevity.

Like other such boards in the country, the first Santa Barbara Cemetery board members approached their role with an innocent naiveté.  Although the rural cemetery movement had been in full swing for thirty-five years and lawn parks had been around for more than a decade, the board either failed to preserve records or, more likely, did not create them.  They developed the property slowly, fitfully, and inadequately.  When records do appear, nine years after the opening, they picture the board bickering inflexibly among themselves.

As the first order of business, the board members went looking for land.  In doing so, they remained true to the town cemetery model: they looked for five to ten acres of land with an adequate water supply just outside town limits.  They may have also been concerned about the potential for future expansion, but this is unlikely since it would have been at odds with their other practices of the time.

When the association finally selected the land for the cemetery, it was a mile from town in an area where future development was not considered likely--it sat on the far side of the seasonal estero or lagoon, alongside the southern stage road.  The initial purchase was subsidized by the Town Common Council, which sold the property on September 11, 1868, "for and in consideration of the sum of one dollar gold coin of the United States."  It was roughly 5 acres, which was larger than a typical denominational graveyard and right in line with the New Haven Burial Ground model.  For the dollar, it acquired:

...all that tract of land situated within the surveyed limits of the Town of Santa Barbara, East of and adjoining the Montecito Salinas and South to the Stage Road...commencing at the N.E. corner of a tract of land granted to Mary K. Nidever and known on the records of the County as survey No. 92...and thence running along said tract North 1.17 chains to the Stage Road: thence West along said road 16.00 chains to the edge of Salt Pond: thence along same South to intersect the Northern boundary of the first mentioned survey: thence along said survey North (North 75° E. 16.51 chains) to the place of beginning: containing 5.12 acres of land more or less according to survey.

The initial plat map for the cemetery consisted of a large rectangle laid over the smaller triangle of association property beneath it; the plat was split on a diagonal, corner to corner, by the property line, the entire southeastern portion of the plat hanging over into Mary K. Nidever's property.  It appears that the Nidevers willingly allowed this use of their land.


Read about the full history of the Santa Barbara Cemetery in the book,
The Best Last Place: a history of the Santa Barbara Cemetery.

  Image of the book cover of The Best Last Place: a history of the Santa Barbara Cemetery by David Petry - Click for more information.

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