Underground Echoes: The Great Horse Trough Mystery Update


When last we wrote, we discussed the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery’s horse trough and the lack of information regarding its origins, disuse, and eventual decay. However, we recently found in the County’s library digitized newspaper collection, a series of articles regarding the meetings of the Alhambra Cemetery Association (ACA) that illuminated the subject. As always when we discover new information on any of our published subjects we will update you, our readers, accordingly.

From the Contra Costa Gazette article, Water at the Cemetery published May 20, 1876, “The want of water, which has heretofore been the great drawback to the embellishment of the beautifully situated Alhambra Cemetery grounds with ornamental shrubbery, is now to be measurably supplied. The Trustees of the Association have built a massive brick reservoir, of about one hundred barrels capacity, at the highest point of the grounds, which is to be supplied with water through 1,400 feet of iron pipe extended from Mr. Buckley’s inexhaustible well. The water is raised and driven through the long pipe by a Thurston windmill, the reservoir being at an elevation of seventy or eighty feet. The reservoir has a three feet thick Portland cement concreted foundation, laid on the rock base ledge, and a massive cement laid brick and covered curb wall that looks heavy enough to stand the cannon-shot of a Columbiad.”

Now we know the structure was a water reservoir for watering plants (not a horse trough as popularly believed). Although it obviously could be used to water horses or put out fires if needed. Additionally, there was a windmill that pumped water from a nearby well. It is interesting to note, it’s built a year after St Catherine Cemetery’s early 1875 land purchase.

Unfortunately, with the County’s Registrar’s Office currently closed due to Covid, we are prevented from determining the exact location and size of Mr. Buckley’s ranch. However, we suspect that Telfer’s former corp. yard bordering the cemetery was most likely the well’s location (Buckley St. is nearby). While the reservoir, we still believe, sits on Francisco Galindo’s abandoned lot.

We also suspected the explosion of Glanders nationwide from 1908 – 1914 might have led to its ruination and abandonment but we haven’t yet found any documentation to support or disprove our theory. However, we did find other articles referencing the ACA’s deliberations regarding the grounds, reservoir, and its overall upkeep dated prior to the outbreak.

From the Contra Costa Gazette August 19, 1905, Directors Finally get Together and Hold Meeting, “…It was the consensus of the board that immediate action should be taken to provide ample water facilities for the grounds. A campaign for cleaning the grounds and repairing the fences will also be inaugurated.” So almost 30 years after the reservoir’s completion, the cemetery still needs water and is in a state of neglect and disrepair.

A few months later much has changed. From the Gazette’s November 2, 1905 issue – Must Bury their Dead Elsewhere, “…since a new board of directors took charge of affairs. The windmill formally used to pump water to the tanks in the cemetery has been replaced by a pump capable of raising 900 gallons of water an hour and which is operated by an electric motor. A neat frame house encloses the pump and motor. The fence around the grounds has been repaired and other steps taken to improve the looks of the cemetery.”

Three years later, the Daily Gazette on April 1, 1908, reports details of more remarkable changes in its article Cemetery Association Meets, “…A great many needed improvements have been made since my last report. An electric motor and pump was installed at a cost of over $300. New fencing was placed around part of the cemetery and all of the fence put in perfect repair. The water pipe running from well to tanks has all been taken up to see if any repairs were needed. All of this entailed a great expense. The cost of pumping and water and electric power amounts to $3.00 a month for pumping and water and $2.50 for the motor.

If people going in and out of the big gate leading into the cemetery, would be more particular to close it when coming out there would be not be so many complaints about stock being in the cemetery.” It seems that Mr. Buckley most likely owned a cattle ranch, whose occupants we imagined created a lot of havoc and damage to the grounds and markers.

It continues, “…The matter of employing a permanent gardener for the cemetery was discussed at length. If the gardener would also dig the graves, the amount he would receive for such service, together with voluntary contributions from the members of the Association, should be sufficient for his salary. The matter was thoroughly gone over, but no definitive action was taken.”

However, a year later Cemetery Superintendent John Pitt Woods is hired according to the Daily Gazette on September 21, 1909, Our Silent City, “Many favorable comments have been passed on the improved appearance of the Alhambra cemetery. For some months past the directors have had J. P. Woods employed there looking after the premises, cleaning driveways, avenues and in many instances, lots owned by individuals from whom there was no chance of allocating any money in payment for services rendered. Many people owning lots in the cemetery have been so favorably impressed with the improvements that they entered into an agreement with the superintendent of the cemetery to pay a stipulated amount per month for the care of their lots.

In an interview with a member of the board of directors the following facts were learned: It is the aim of the directors, if possible, to keep a man constantly employed at the cemetery. It will be his duty to make preparations for all interments, locate lots, to see that fences, walkways and drives are kept in proper repair and to see that the water supply which was installed by the directors at a considerable cost, is always sufficient.

In order to realize sufficient money to meet the expenses incurred the directors have arrived at the conclusion to make a request of all persons owning lots in the cemetery to make arrangements with Mr. Woods, who is always to he found there, to have their lots cared for by him, assuring them that the money so earned will be paid into the treasurer of the cemetery association for the purpose of meeting current expenses.

It is the aim of the directors, if funds are available, to plant ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers during the coming wet season so that by next spring all persons visiting the Cemetery will notice a complete transformation. Where formerly weeds, grass and unsightly bushes greeted the eye, we will then be able to see handsome trees, well-kept drives, flower beds, walks free from all rubbish and the cemetery as a whole will be a credit to the community and a place to which you may refer with pride as a fit resting place for the departed dead. It is to be hoped that all parties interested will join with the board of directors so that the plans contemplated may be carried to a successful conclusion.”

Today the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery is maintained by the City of Martinez. When you next visit the grounds, give a node to Mr. Woods, who is peacefully interred there and thank him for his service while imagining the cemetery’s past beauty due to his efforts.

Our Column is sponsored and supported by the Martinez Historical Society (MHS) and the Martinez Cemetery Preservation Alliance (MCPA). For more information, please visit the MCPA website MartinezCemetery.org or the MHS website MartinezHistory.org. Do you have a cemetery story or images to share? Please email us at martinezcemetery@gmail.com or call us at (925) 316-6069.

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