History of Santa Maria: The Santa Maria Cemetery District


Kelsie Barba, Writer

The Santa Maria Cemetery District- the oldest existing cemetery in the city. The cemetery, located on 1501 S College Dr, is home to several past residents of Santa Maria and consists of two plots of land. In the cemetery, you can find services such as niche/urn vault burials, a mausoleum, ground burials, and inurnment of cremated remains. The cemetery is about 35.5 acres, with an additional 44.5 acres located across Battles Rd, with only 5 acres currently being used out of the 44.5 acres. The cemetery is supported by the funds of taxpayers and residents, and has greatly expanded since it was first built.

The Santa Maria Cemetery District was built on July 19, 1883, making the cemetery 136 years old. Some noted people who have been buried in the cemetery include the pioneers of Santa Maria (people who have streets and buildings named after them), Edmund Criswell (the first and last man ever hung in Santa Maria), Harry Blochman (the first murder victim in Santa Maria), Gertie Buel Hopper (first person ever buried in the cemetery), and Henry Elbert Stubbs (U.S. Congressman). Surprisingly, this cemetery was NOT the first to be built in Santa Maria. The first ever cemetery built here was the Thornburg-Jones Cemetery, built in 1872. Originally, the plot of land for the SMCD was located far from the downtown area of Santa Maria, far enough that no one had any decided plans for the plot of land. As the Thornburg-Jones Cemetery started exceeding its limit, the Santa Maria Cemetery District was introduced. Many bodies from the Thornsburg-Jones Cemetery were then transferred to the SMCD. After all bodies were transferred, the Thornsburg-Jones Cemetery joined the SMCD as one.

On August 6, 1917, the cemetery became a special district in the Santa Barbara County, due to a petition which reached enough required signatures by qualified electors from the district. The cemetery was created as a joint effort between the local Masonic Lodges and the Odd Fellows. When Mark Holgate Whitney was elected superintendent of the cemetery,  the cemetery saw massive improvements. Mark transformed the cemetery from dirt mounds with uncoordinated markers to what it’s current image looks like today, a beautiful resting place for our loved ones. The Santa Maria Cemetery District is the final resting place for many residents and people who have greatly influenced Santa Maria’s history.