The Early Years
Columbia Cemetery (also known as “Pioneer,” “Park,” “Masonic,” “Old,” “Boulder,” and “City” Cemetery) is located west of Ninth Street between Pleasant Street and College Avenue in Boulder, Colorado. Columbia Lodge No.14 A.F. & a.m. (“Ancient Free and Accepted Masons”), which had organized in Ward, Colorado on Jan. 3, 1867, determined that there was a need for a cemetery in Boulder.
After moving to Boulder in 1869, the lodge purchased the ten-acre tract of land for $200 from one of their members, Marinus G. Smith, and his wife, Anna, on April 28, 1870. Several weeks later, Columbia Cemetery had its first burial—Anna Eggleston, who died on May 16, 1870. In December of 1870, the Masons sold one-fourth of the cemetery (all of Section A; Section E, Lots 1-9, 87-102; Section F, Lots 1-8, 29-37) to Boulder Lodge No.9 Independent Order of Odd Fellows (chartered July 10, 1869.)
In spite of the employment of several cemetery sextons during the 1880s and 1890s, the cemetery grounds were not being well maintained. Early photographs show cowboys herding cattle among the tombstones, and a wire fence was eventually placed around the grounds. In April of 1901, an article in the Boulder Daily Camera noted that the Masonic Cemetery had not made a profit until 1900, and this had made it difficult to properly maintain the grounds. The Masons put this newfound profit into cemetery improvements, laying out new streets and planting trees.
Green Mountain Cemetery Opens
In late 1904, the Boulder Cemetery Association developed a new cemetery named Green Mountain in south Boulder to the east of Chautauqua. A number of people were removed from Columbia Cemetery over a period of several years, and were reburied in Green Mountain and other cemeteries. These persons’ names appear in red in the Index of Burials on this website, which was provided courtesy of the Boulder Genealogical Society and the City of Boulder Information Technology Department.
Columbia Cemetery was reported as “a disgrace to Boulder” in the June 4, 1909 issue of the Daily Camera. The Park Cemetery Association was incorporated on May 20, 1910 in an attempt to improve the conditions at Columbia. In April of 1912, the Daily Camera reported that, “Columbia Cemetery is rapidly being transformed into a place of burial, which for beauty, will soon equal that of any in Colorado outside Denver. It is to be made modern as far as money can make it, and will be enclosed with a pretty hedge or iron fence to take the place of the present barbed wire contrivance. The work is being done under the able direction of W.W. Parce, the landscape architect who is also in charge of the improvements at the Chautauqua, at Green Mountain Cemetery and at the University of Colorado.”
During the next few years, the Odd Fellows and the Masons transferred their cemetery land titles to the Park Cemetery Association, who in turn handed the plat maps for Sections A through F over to Mr. Parce, who also served as the Cemetery superintendent. In May of 1912, Mr. Parce was instructed to plat the abandoned streets “with a view to selling lots.” These abandoned streets became the Reserve Sections of the cemetery.
Arthur Hayden and Irving Burr served as caretakers of Columbia Cemetery in the early part of the twentieth century. Harry Weaver served in the position from 1918 until his death in 1936, when Ben Grass took over. Ben, along with his son, Donald Grass, and seasonal employees cared for the cemetery for the next 30 years.
The City of Boulder Takes Over
The Park Cemetery Association faced financial difficulties, and the City of Boulder took over ownership of Columbia in 1966. Since then, the cemetery has been managed by the Boulder Parks and Recreation Department. Columbia's gates were closed to vehicular traffic in 1977, and the cemetery was landmarked by the City of Boulder that same year. The decision was made to restrict burials only to those who can demonstrate ownership of a burial plot. No new plots have been sold since the City acquired the property.
Columbia Cemetery became the responsibility of the City of Boulder Parks and Recreation Department in 1966, but the staff and Parks board were less than enthusiastic about this new “stepchild.” At the time, the department had had little experience managing cultural properties, and had no desire to get into the burial business. There was minimal funding allocated to the management of the cemetery, and it continued to be a target of vandalism as well as an unofficial campground for the homeless.
The City of Boulder approved a much sought after landmark designation for the cemetery in 1977, and during the following decade, Historic Boulder, Inc. spearheaded an effort to convince Parks of the importance of being good stewards of this historic cemetery. Their efforts included organizing walking tours and a biennial "Meet the Spirits" costumed event to educate the public about Columbia Cemetery.
Preservation in Action
Significant cemetery improvements were initiated in the 1990s thanks in large part to grants received from the State Historical Fund of the Colorado Historical Society. State Historical Fund grants and cash match monies (funded by the City of Boulder's 1995 Cultural Resource Ballot Issue and Historic Boulder, Inc.) have enabled the completion of a gravemarker survey and database, the development of a cemetery master plan and conservation plan, photographic documentation of gravemarkers, restoration of the fence and other historic features, staff training, and gravemarker repair and conservation.
In 1997, Columbia Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The professionally-trained Columbia Cemetery Conservation Corps volunteer group was established in 1999, and has performed conservation work on hundreds of grave markers.
Columbia Cemetery Today
The city has grown up around Columbia Cemetery, and today it is a historic, cultural, and artistic resource in the heart of the historic University Hill neighborhood. The cemetery is the final resting place for a number of Boulder’s founders and pioneers.
Noteworthy residents include “Rocky Mountain Joe” Sturtevant, Andrew Macky, Mary Rippon, Marinus Smith and Tom Horn. Grave markers also reflect the ethnic diversity of the community, and Latino, African-American, Japanese, Swedish, French, Greek, and German lives are all commemorated in Columbia Cemetery. The nearly 3,000 grave markers are of many types and materials, including ornate marble and granite, simple sandstone tablets, and homemade “folk markers.”
Today, approximately 6,500 persons are buried in Columbia Cemetery. The Cemetery is still an active burial ground, although burials are restricted to those who can demonstrate ownership of a burial plot. There are generally fewer than five burials annually, and that number is expected to decrease with time. Relatives continue to visit their loved ones, and this is especially apparent around such holidays as Memorial Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Christmas.
The cemetery is a favorite place for people to stroll among the grounds and enjoy the quiet serenity afforded by this historical treasure. Cemetery ordinances were developed in 2003 to provide further protection for Columbia, and to ensure that it is treated with respect and appreciation so that it can be enjoyed by future generations. Historic Boulder, Inc. and Boulder Parks and Recreation continue to provide interpretive and costumed programs to educate the public about the importance of Columbia Cemetery to our local history. And thanks to additional State Historical Fund grants, ballot issue monies and the work of parks staff and volunteers, ongoing restoration and conservation efforts are ensuring that Columbia Cemetery receives the attention that it deserves.
If These Stones Could Talk: Tales from Columbia Cemetery
Copies of "If These Stones Could Talk: Tales from Columbia Cemetery" are now available at the Boulder Bookstore, 1107 Pearl Street, CO, firstname.lastname@example.org or (303) 447-2074. These handsome books make great gifts for cemetery buffs, historians, teachers, artists, preservationists, and anyone with an interest in historic cemeteries and Boulder's pioneer burial grounds.
Notable Residents and Grave Markers
- Dorothy Gay Howard Previously unidentified murder victim whose gravestone reads, "Jane Doe, April 1954, age about 20 years" was recently determined by the Boulder County Sheriff's Office to be Dorothy Gay Howard, from Phoenix AZ. Her family has not yet decided if her remains will reside in Columbia Cemetery or be re-interred elsewhere.
- Tom Horn Legendary "Old West" stock detective (Lot C-74)
- Mary Rippon Beloved and mysterious early University of Colorado professor (Lot West Avenue Reserve-1)
- "Rocky Mountain Joe" Sturtevant Colorful early Boulder photographer and painter (Lot E-37)
- Captain David Nichols controversial political figure and participated in the Sand Creek Massacre (Lot C-62)
- Marinus "Marine" Smith, early gold-seeker, farmer and original Columbia Cemetery land-owner (Lot E-15)
- William "Billy" Martin and George Lytle Discoverers of the Caribou Lode that initiated the Colorado silver boom (Lot D-109) and (Lot B-68)
- Marietta Kingsley Boulder 's illustrious "lady of the evening" (Lot D-23)--No marker
- Many war veterans, including several whose markers simply read, "Union Soldier" (Lot D-26, Lot B-50)
- Anna Eggleston , the first person buried in Columbia Cemetery, (Lot E-3), who died on May 16, 1870
- Sylvanus Wellman , Boulder farmer (Lot B-45), who planted the first crops in the Boulder area
- Dr. Mary T. Lowrey , early Boulder physician and surgeon (Lot C-69)
- George Fonda , fire chief, hose runner, and drug store merchant (Lot A-12)
- James B. Viele , early homesteader and farmer, (Lot B-58), who brought the first threshing machine to Boulder County
- Eben G. Fine , pharmacist (Lot E-9), who was known as “Mr. Boulder” for his regular national lecture tours promoting his adopted city
- Andrew J. Macky , postmaster, banker, University of Colorado financier, and builder of Boulder’s first frame house, (Lot A-94)
- James P. Maxwell , early engineer and builder of the first Boulder Canyon road, (Lot D-8)
- Paula Barchilon: The bright red marker for little Paula (Lot East Avenue Reserve-2) is one of the Cemetery’s most recognized grave stones, and has been nicknamed the “Lollipop Stone” by local children