Placer County Hospital Cemetery

Auburn, Placer, California, United States

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PLACER PIONEERS ONCE AGAIN FACE A MOVE BY THE ROAD Published on August 13, 1985 ** AUBURN - The forgotten pioneers of Placer County history are buried in a pauper's cemetery near Elm Street, where only two of an estimated 1,500 graves are marked by wooden headstones. Transients sleep in the sloping, litter-strewn field, apparently unaware it is a graveyard filled with another generation of the poor and the homeless. No one has been buried in the old graveyard since the late 1930s. But once again, the road that pioneers followed to a new future more than a century ago will move some of the county's early settlers. Stretches of Interstate 80, the modern successor to the wagon trail that crossed Donner Summit, will be widened during the next 18 months. The freeway will cut a swatch from the old cemetery where the county once buried its paupers. No one knows how many people are buried in the cemetery. Incomplete records list at least 1,200 burials from the 1860s to 1915, but historians say the county continued burying its poor there for at least another 20 years. Other information, including a survey of depressions in the earth, put the number of graves closer to 1,500. A small number of remains were moved from the old cemetery in 1946, when Interstate 80 was first built. Officials estimate they must relocate the remains of 300 persons to the New Auburn District Cemetery, two miles away. The work, to begin next month, will be the largest relocation of graves in the history of the state Department of Transportation. "We're trying to play this low-key, ' said Don MacIvor, Caltrans right-of-way agent, who added that the agency avoids the relocation of gravesites. 'We don't want to disturb anybody." He said he has received only one call from a person who had a relative buried in the cemetery, and that caller was in favor of the move. Most of the information about people buried in the old cemetery comes from the old county hospital, which was located next to the cemetery until the hospital closed in 1975. Before the hospital was built, a private doctor's office, a clinic, and the county poor farm operated on the same site. "It used to be a poor farm, where people used to live (because they) had no place else to go," said Dutch Thompson, Placer County health director and former hospital administrator. "They were just misplaced transients. You would call them 'homeless' now." The records show most of the people in the graveyard were men, most of them immigrants. Many died of consumption; others were hanged, shot or even run over by trains. "The people who died in the hospital, if they had no funds or no family, were buried there," said Thompson. "If you looked at the list of the causes of death, you might see, 'laid down on the railroad track' or 'shot in a bar.' " A sweep of the grounds with a metal detector revealed large masses of metal, probably four or five crypts, said MacIvor. The rest of the remains were probably buried in simple wooden caskets or cloth shrouds, he said. John Marin, Placer County facility manager, said he understood many wooden grave markers had been destroyed by grass fires. State law requires Caltrans to place markers at the new gravesites, identifying the remains whenever possible. Hospital records identify the plot where each person was buried, but no plot map of the cemetery has surfaced. MacIvor said counties sometimes placed metal identification tags in paupers' graves, and he hopes that practice was followed by Placer County. "If there is identification, we'll put a marker on each one," he said. "Otherwise, we may just have to put up one marker that says, 'These are the remains of 300 Placer County pioneers.' . . . We have no idea what we're going to find." Copies of cemetery records have been turned over to the Placer County Genealogical Society, which is compiling a directory listing where people are buried in all the county's cemeteries, said Linda Nelson, the society's treasurer. MacIvor said four companies that have expertise in moving human remains have approached Caltrans about doing the work. The state probably will award the contract later this month. Relocation should take two months and cost about $300,000, he said. Work on widening Interstate 80 to three lanes and building two new$ interchanges is expected to begin in early 1986. The project is expected to take 18 months and cost $50 million. Sacramento Bee, 8-13-1985
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Placer County Hospital Cemetery, Created by PapaMoose, Auburn, Placer, California, United States