About Columbia Cemetery
Situated on 10.5 acres at Ninth and Pleasant Streets, the cemetery is a virtual "Who's Who" of early Boulder--a historic, cultural, and artistic resource containing the remains of many of our city's founders and pioneers.
Nearly 6,500 persons are interred in Columbia Cemetery. The gravestones are not simply inanimate markers of granite, marble, sandstone, or metal--they are narratives that reveal provocative clues about who we were, how we lived and died, what shaped our values, attitudes, and traditions. The epitaphs, engravings, and decorations provide insight into the minds and hearts of the hardy pioneers that have helped to make Boulder and Colorado what they are today. We invite you to browse the various links below to enhance your understanding and appreciation of Boulder's historic pioneer cemetery.
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
A book about Columbia Cemetery history includes information on its "residents," grave markers, symbolism, and preservation efforts. "If These Stones Could Talk: Tales from Columbia Cemetery" by Mary Reilly-McNellan, Lise Cook Cordsen, Judith Gould Dayhoff and Barbara Walsh Myers is available at Boulder Bookstore and on Amazon. To order directly from the authors ($20/book, includes S&H) please email Mary Reilly-McNellan at [email protected] Proceeds benefit Columbia Cemetery preservation efforts.
- 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)
- Colorful early Boulder photographer and painter
- "Rocky Mountain Joe" Sturtevant (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)
- Boulder 's illustrious "lady of the evening"
- Marietta Kingsley (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.
Columbia Cemetery Conservation Corps
Volunteer with the Columbia Cemetery Conservation Corps (CCCC). This cadre of professionally trained volunteers was established in 1999 to assist with simple grave marker repair and conservation tasks. The group has spent thousands of hours documenting, cleaning, and resetting the markers, landscaping, providing educational outreach, and performing minor repairs.
Some of their skills and accomplishments include:
- Proper grave marker condition assessment and documentation
- Appropriate cleaning techniques for grave markers
- Safe use of appropriate equipment for moving and setting grave markers
- Proper excavation techniques for partially buried grave markers
- Resetting unstable grave markers
- Trimming/pruning of vegetation
- Research on persons buried in Columbia Cemetery
- Public education and outreach
- Photographic documentation of the grave markers and conservation work
Formerly "A Disgrace to Boulder"
Throughout its history, Columbia has suffered from neglect, apathy and vandalism, and more recently, the infirmities of old age. As early as 1909, Columbia Cemetery was reported as “a disgrace to Boulder” in the local newspaper. When the City of Boulder took over Columbia Cemetery in 1966, much of the historic cast iron perimeter fence was damaged or missing and the grounds were overgrown. The site was used as an unofficial campground, a location for illegal activities, and was a favorite spot for midnight parties and destructive behaviors.
Fortunately, historical accounts also chronicle a number of concerted efforts to maintain Columbia Cemetery. Cemetery sextons, seasonal workers and Parks employees have all contributed to the upkeep of this wonderful resource. Organized groups, including Historic Boulder, Inc., neighborhood associations, scout groups, various fraternal organizations, and other volunteers have all donated time, effort and money to help with Columbia Cemetery preservation.
Preservation in Progress
In the 1990s, preparation of a Columbia Cemetery Preservation Master Plan was funded by the Colorado Historical Society’s State Historical Fund. This plan outlined a preservation action plan for the rehabilitation, restoration and conservation of the Cemetery. Additional grants from the State Historical Fund, along with cash match monies from the City of Boulder, Historic Boulder, Inc. and private donations have enabled completion of a number of the recommendations outlined in the Preservation Master Plan. These have included:
- Restoration of the historic cast iron perimeter fence
- Professional conservation work on several hundred grave markers
- Re-roofing of the historic tool shed
- Construction of a new informational entry way sign
- Inventory and digital photography of each of the nearly 3,000 grave markers
- Preparation of a Columbia Cemetery Conservation Plan
- Establishment and professional training of the Columbia Cemetery
- Conservation Corps volunteers
Grant monies have permitted more technical repairs by professional grave marker conservators. Intensive outreach efforts have been undertaken to educate the public about the importance of preserving this cultural treasure. Hundreds of grave markers have received conservation work, the beautiful iron fence has been restored, and the Cemetery continues to shine as one of Boulder’s premier historical resources.
Columbia's "Endangered" Grave Markers
For many, part of the charm of an old cemetery is exhibited by the collection of weathered tombstones, all leaning at appropriately precarious angles. Although this may seem fitting for an old graveyard, gravity eventually takes its toll, causing many markers to topple and break.
Many of the early grave markers were placed in Columbia with no thought to the idea that they may someday become targets of vandalism, or casualties of settling soil.
Hundreds of grave markers have been stolen from the grounds, the victims of theft and pranks. Others bear chips and breaks that indicate repeated toppling. Still others exhibit damage inflicted by Frisbees, balls and other projectiles.
Fragments and corners have broken off many markers that were originally attached to bases by iron pins and sulfur adhesive. The pins rusted and expanded, exerting pressure on the stone. Sulfur chemically reacted with the environment, leading to the formation of corrosive sulfuric acid.
Even such a seemingly innocuous activity as grave rubbing has taken its toll on gravemarkers. Many of the stones are quite fragile, and can be easily toppled or damaged by rubbing. In addition, wax is sometimes left behind by careless rubbing. Volunteers have discovered that the wax marks are nearly impossible to remove. For these reasons, as well as for public safety, grave rubbing is not permitted in many historic cemeteries, as well as Columbia.
Grave Marker Repair and Conservation
Grave markers are private property, and owners are accountable for repair and maintenance. Some family members have faithfully overseen the upkeep of their loved ones' graves for many years. However, as families have moved away, and relatives have passed on, a number of graves have been neglected.
A great deal of professional and volunteer conservation work has been performed on those neglected grave markers that are considered endangered. Those markers that have received attention were selected by considering several factors, including public safety, potential for further damage, potential for theft, and historic and/or artistic significance. Some markers have been removed to an off-site location for safe storage until they may be appropriately repaired.
Much has been learned about proper and effective grave marker repair and conservation. Many early repairs have now been found to be quite damaging to grave markers, and more information is being discovered each year about how to best preserve historic graveyards.
In general, the philosophy of grave marker conservation in Columbia Cemetery has been one of minimal intervention. Stabilization and repair have been the primary goals, rather than attempting to make the markers look brand new. Cleaning of grave markers is rarely an "emergency."
Conservation efforts involving cleaning for appearance's sake have been minimal, primarily because the stones can be easily damaged during the process. When cleaning has been undertaken, it has usually been effective to use plain water and a soft bristle brush (never a wire brush.)
For advice on appropriate procedures for repair, cleaning or conservation, please contact the Columbia Cemetery Preservation Project Manager.
Columbia Cemetery Conservation Corps received first “Betty Chronic Preservation in Action Award”
The City of Boulder Parks and Recreation Department’s Columbia Cemetery Conservation Corps received the first “Betty Chronic Preservation in Action Award” during Historic Boulder, Inc.’s annual membership meeting and awards ceremony.
If you are interested in learning more about the Columbia Cemetery Conservation Corps, please contact the program coordinator at [email protected].
Help preserve Columbia Cemetery!
Columbia Cemetery is a place of memory and quiet reflection. It also functions as a sculpture garden, a primary source for genealogical research, and a rich resource for local history. Most importantly, Columbia Cemetery is still active as a burial ground. Please treat this historic cemetery, its residents, and its visitors with respect.
Cemetery Visitor Rules and Regulations
- The Cemetery is open from dawn until dusk (BRC 8-7-3.)
- Pets must be leashed, and all excrement must be picked up and properly disposed of (BRC 6-1-16, 6-1-18.)
- For visitor safety and resource protection, it is unlawful to lean against, push, pull, shove, kick, climb on, or strike any grave marker (BRC 8-7-9.)
- Projectiles (balls, boomerangs, frisbees, paint balls, model airplanes) are prohibited (BRC 8-7-5.)
- Gravestone rubbing can damage grave markers and is prohibited (BRC 8-7-8.) Instead, use a mirror to direct sunlight onto the face of the marker to read the information on the stone. Preserve the epitaphs and artwork by taking a photograph.
- You are responsible for knowing and obeying all City of Boulder Revised Code Cemetery regulations. Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, 90 days in jail, and/or full restitution for damage.
Burial Index and Interactive Map
Death Data Difficulties
Columbia Cemetery did not give up its burial information easily. The earliest books (if any existed) maintained by the Masons and Odd Fellows have never been located. The first known book of the Masons begins in 1887. The Boulder Clerk & Recorder’s office does have records of some lot purchases in Columbia, but in the early days it was not necessary by law to record lot purchases.
Several maps have been drawn by various people that include names of owners and occasionally of burials. Responsibility for keeping the records of Columbia Cemetery fell to Howe Mortuary. Norman Howe gave these records and maps to Carnegie Branch Library for Local History in 1988. Some Columbia Cemetery maps may have been lost.
Several Columbia Cemetery grave markers contain names, but no death dates. This may be due to the fact that they are not yet deceased, they are deceased but have been buried elsewhere, arrangements for inscribing the marker were never made, or there is simply no available information. The remains of 56 persons went to the University of Colorado Medical School, eventually being buried in “boxes” in Columbia Cemetery. And there is a question of whether some of the people named are indeed buried in Columbia—early obituaries did not always state the name of the cemetery in which the deceased were buried.
“Columbia Cemetery, Boulder, Colorado 1870 to the Present" A Monumental Effort
The most comprehensive information on burials in Columbia Cemetery is included in an eight-volume document entitled, “Columbia Cemetery, Boulder, Colorado 1870 to the Present." Initially published in 1997 by Mary McRoberts, author, genealogist and Columbia Cemetery volunteer, and the Boulder Genealogical Society, these volumes contain an index of Columbia Cemetery burials, maps of lots, and biographical information.
The authors have permitted the inclusion of much of the information contained in the publication to be made available to the public on this site. The eight volumes are available for reference at the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History. Please note that there are more than 700 persons who are believed to be buried in Columbia, but their specific burial location in the cemetery is unknown. Their location is listed in the Index of Burials as “Section X.”
The goals of the publication were to locate every burial in Columbia Cemetery, compile biographical information about each person, ascertain the purchasers of each lot, and to attempt to determine descendants of the deceased. Many sources were used for research, including Columbia Cemetery Ledger books at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, records of Howe Mortuary, Crist Mortuary, Boulder County Clerk and Recorder records, censuses of Boulder County, Estate Files of Boulder County, obituaries, Boulder Daily Camera newspaper files, and family histories. Every source has been listed with each entry and all sources are included in Glossary and Abbreviations .
A 1971 Survey of Columbia Cemetery by Robert L. DiMarco was the initial document consulted for available information. DiMarco’s publication was prepared for the City of Boulder to update and fill in gaps in the burial records, and to centralize all of the available information. Historic Boulder, Inc.’s 1993/1994 publication entitled “Columbia Cemetery Gravestone Inventory” was also consulted. Mary and Barrie McRoberts completed a visual survey of Columbia Cemetery in 1997, with Mary McRoberts completing an additional survey in 2001.
In most cases, the 1971 DiMarco survey and the Historic Boulder, Inc. inventory agree, but there are some differences. Occasionally, neither agrees with the written record of an individual’s burial location. Usually, the written record prevails, except for a few cases in Section E of the Cemetery.
Grave Marker Photographs
Grave marker photographs were taken during 1998-1999 as part of a grant that was partially funded by the Colorado Historical Society's State Historical Fund.
Several hundred grave markers have undergone conservation work and repair since that time, so the photos may not be an accurate representation of the stones as they appear today. Updated photographs of the markers are being added as they are available. In addition, some of the broken, loose or otherwise "endangered" grave markers have been removed by the Boulder Parks and Recreation Department from the cemetery to an offsite storage location. It is hoped that they may be returned to their proper location in Columbia Cemetery if and when repair is possible.
Each lot map lists the known purchasers, and includes the decedent’s name, date(s) of birth and/or death, and on-site grave markers, if any. The grave markers drawn on the map are those that existed in 1971 or subsequently. Maps are not drawn exactly to scale and the grave markers drawn on these maps are a suggestion as to placement and size. Boulder Genealogical Society used the 1971 DiMarco Survey maps and its placement of markers, as well as a visual survey. The cemetery should be checked for exact measurement and placement of markers.
- Section A – Approximately 25’ x 18’ (usually)
- Section B – Approximately 25’ x 18’ (usually)
- Section C – Approximately 25’ x 18’ (usually)
- Section D – Approximately 25’ x 18’ (usually)
- Section E – 25’ x 20’
- Section F – Most are 25’ x 28’8”; however, Lots 3a, 7a and 15a are 11’ x 28’8” and Lot 19 is 25’ x 25’
- Avenue Reserve – 4 lots each 20’ x 25’
- Boulder Avenue Reserve – 8 lots each 20’ x 25’
- Central Avenue Reserve – 33 lots each 15’ x 18’
- Columbia Avenue Reserve – 16 lots each 20’ x 25’
- East Avenue Reserve – 26 lots each 15’ x 18’
- North Avenue Reserve – 16 lots each 25’ x 25’
- South Avenue Reserve – 8 lots each 25’ x 25’
- West Avenue Reserve – 130 single graves at 3’ x 10’ each
The lots in Sections A, B, C, D, E, and several in F were originally divided into 12 grave rooms, with 6 on the East side and 6 on the West side. The Reserves (except West Avenue Reserve) each have 16 grave rooms, with 8 on the East side and 8 on the West side. Some are divided into 18 grave rooms—an East, Center, and West row, with each row having 6 grave rooms. The grave rooms are numbered from East to West, North to South. When the grave room is known, persons have been placed in that order. The grave rooms may be numbered 1 through 12, or 1 through 6 on the East half, and 1 through 6 on the West half.
Often, the records simply list the Section and Lot number, or that an individual is buried in the S ½ or N ½. Sometimes the records state that a burial is in the Southeast, Northeast, Southwest or Northwest quarter, but do not list the grave room. Or the records may simply state, “buried Columbia Cemetery.” Prior to the existence of the Park Cemetery Books, which began in November, 1913, very few grave room numbers were given. Undertaker Trezise’s books commenced in 1902, and list a few grave room numbers.
When the grave room number is not known, the symbol an asterisk (*) precedes the name. If there is available room on the map, the ¼ or ½ of the lot in which the burial is located has been listed.
Criteria for Location of Burials on Lot Maps
- People were determined to be located in specific grave rooms on the lot maps based on the following information:
- Placement of marker(s) on lot according to DiMarco’s 1971 Survey and McRoberts’ 1997 visual survey
- Park Cemetery Books information on grave room assignments
- Mortuary records information on grave room assignments
- Maps drawn by early cemetery sexton Ben Grass and others
- Maps in “Block Books” of Columbia Cemetery
- BEST GUESS based on existing information
Mary McRoberts has done her best to determine the location of persons buried in Columbia Cemetery (Section, Lot and Grave Room.) The diagrams of each lot are the best possible guess based on present existing information. Many sources were consulted, as well as the burial pattern of morticians and familial relationships. Morticians often placed single burials (not those in family lots) by order of death date, filling the graves in the east half first.