After an absence of nearly forty years, Walter E. Clare has finally come home!
Walter, or I should say Walter's gravestone, has been missing since the 1960s from historic Rose Hill Cemetery. The cemetery is now part of Black Diamond Mines, an approximately 5,000-acre Regional Preserve and one of 59 parks within the East Bay Regional Park District in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
Historically, the area was called the Mt. Diablo Coalfield. Five communities (Nortonville, Somersville, Stewartville, West Hartley and Judsonville) existed in the area from the 1850s to the early 1900s. Located between the towns of Nortonville and Somersville, Rose Hill served as a Protestant cemetery with burials dating from 1865 to circa 1900.
In early May, the Contra Costa County Historical Society History Center received a call from Alice and Dick Hannah of Walnut Creek, stating that a gravestone was uncovered in their yard while in the process of replacing a sewer line. Evenflow Plumbing Company of San Leandro was replacing the 1945 vintage sewer line. Gary Dimodana, president of the company, was using a backhoe to uncover the old pipeline when he discovered an approximately two-foot square piece of marble. Although initially puzzled by what he found, he soon realized that he had unearthed a gravestone. Mr. Dimodana notified Contra Costa County officials, while the Hannahs contacted the Contra Costa County Historical Society History Center.
The County Historical Society passed the message along to me, Traci Parent, Supervising Naturalist of Black Diamond Mines. I also serve on the Board of Directors for the County Historical Society. I excitingly contacted the Hannahs and asked Mrs. Hannah what the name was on the gravestone. Mrs. Hannah said, A Walter E., and hesitated for a moment to look up the last name which she had written down. Upon hearing the first name and middle initial, I knew immediately that it had to be the stone for our Walter E. Clare. I have been documenting the burials and researching individuals interred in Rose Hill Cemetery for the last twenty five years. This is the first time in all those years that a gravestone for Rose Hill has been recovered.
When the area became a Regional Preserve in the mid 1970s, nearly half of the gravestones were already missing from the cemetery. Vandals had taken the stones over the years. Most of the stones that remained were knocked off their bases and broken. Although vandalism has been documented in the cemetery as early as the 1920s, most of the destruction occurred between the 1950s and the early 1970s.
Unfortunately, no original records exist for the cemetery. Because of this I am researching and compiling a burial record for the cemetery based on various sources including: cemetery lists assembled between the years 1922 and 1954, former resident and descendant accounts, historic newspaper articles, and historic photographs.
For many years, rangers at Black Diamond Mines have been repairing the vandalized gravestones in Rose Hill Cemetery. Gravestones are individually evaluated to determine the best and safest method of repair before work begins. When returned to the cemetery, the stones are placed back upright and secured to their bases as they originally stood in the 1800s.
While removing Elias Havard's gravestone from the cemetery for repairs in August 2001, the rangers found something very unusual. A broken foot stone (small stone placed at the foot of a grave to mark burial location) with the initials W.E.C. was found under Elias's gravestone. Walter E. Clare is the only individual interred in the cemetery with these initials.
During this same time, the Community Presbyterian Church in Pittsburg, the descendant congregation from the Nortonville church, located church records dating to 1882. The church graciously shared these records with me. While examining the records, I was excited to find a reference to Walter E. Clare. The reference dated May 6, 1883 stated:
Today a dark, stormy and dreary day we assembled to pay our last respects to the memory of little Walter Clare, who died May 4th from injuries received April 28th. The little fellow was kicked in the head by a horse and lay in an unconscious state until he died. God grant the terrible blow may be given in kindness, and that good results will follow this awful warning. Mr. Fitch conducted the funeral exercises which were quite impressive.Walter E. Clare was born February 7, 1875 and died May 4, 1883 at 8 years of age. Walter's parents, R.M. (Robert) and C. Clare were residents of Nortonville, the largest of the coal mining communities. According to the book History of Contra Costa County written by Slocum & Co. in 1882 Robert Clare was a charter member of the Black Diamond Lodge #29, Knights of Phythias.
Notwithstanding the terrible state of the weather a large number followed the remains to its final resting place.
C. P. Lyndall, Clerk
In 1962, Madison Devlin, a visitor to Rose Hill Cemetery, took a photograph of Walter's grave. This picture, showing his already broken gravestone, serves as the only pictorial record of Walter's gravesite. It was sometime after this photograph was taken and before the Hannas moved into their home in 1969, that the gravestone had been discarded on the property.
Originally there were at least five pieces to Walter's gravestone: a bottom sandstone base that held two middle marble bases each containing two lines of the epitaph. The epitaph read:
Open wide are the pearly gates
That lead to the shining shore
Our Walter suffered in passing through
But his sufferings now are o'er.
Walter's marble gravestone sat on top of the bases. A footstone inscribed with his initials sat at the foot of his grave. Today, the top half of his gravestone and one of the marble bases bearing the last two lines of the epitaph are missing. The sandstone base that once held the middle bases and gravestone is missing as well. This base however may simply be buried as a result of erosion that occurred in the area prior to the mid 1970s.
Because I am not certain where Walter is buried, the gravestone will be stored until the location of his grave can be determined. This summer, the Black Diamond staff hopes to complete a survey using ground-penetrating radar which may show the location of Walter's grave as well as many other unmarked sites.
At Black Diamond Mines we operate an orphan gravestone program, serving as the depository for gravestones found by local police agencies and private property owners, as well as gravestones turned in to the Contra Costa County Historical Society. So far, nearly a dozen stones have been returned to their original homes.
For those who take on the painstaking work of documenting a cemetery, the return of one gravestone makes that task even more worthwhile. If you have or know where other orphan gravestones can be found, please contact me at Black Diamond Mines. No questions will be asked. It does not matter who took the gravestone or for what purpose. Returning the gravestone to its proper place is most important.
The staff of Black Diamond Mines extends their gratitude to Alice and Dick Hannah and Gary Dimodana of Evenflow Plumbing Company in San Leandro for sending Walter E. Clare home.
Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve
5175 Somersville Road
Antioch, CA 94509