Early burials in Yerba Buena

The first burials in Yerba Buena, before the small town was renamed San Francisco, and besides those laid to rest in the consecrated ground at Mission Delores, generally took place on the hills surrounding the village. At the brow of Telegraph Hill, where it overlooked the old landing site of Yerba Buena Cove, a number of bodies were exposed when Broadway and Sansome Streets cut into that part of the hill. As late as 1849, on the opposite height to the west, a few graves that bore black crosses and Russian inscriptions were still visible and, as some have said, this was the reason the location was named Russian Hill.

Yerba Buena Cemetery

Later, as the small village became a town, a graveyard was opened on the road to North Beach in the area now bounded by Powell, Chestnut, Stockton and Lombard. In 1852 Yerba Buena Cemetery was opened on a large sand hill covered in oaks and chaparral at what is today bounded by Market, McAllister and Larkin Streets. In 1854 the North Beach Cemetery was closed and bodies from the site were required to be moved here. After the Lone Mountain Cemetery opened bodies from Yerba Buena were moved there and in 1870, as grading was about to begin for the new city hall, all the bodies were again required to be moved. Here, atop this graveyard, City Hall stood until the earthquake and fire of 1906.

The location of Yerba Buena Cemetery

So it was that all the old burial sites were moved by degrees towards the west as the growth of the city, inevitable and unstoppable, overran them. Laurel Hill Cemetery and Lone Mountain were not exempt and what came to be characterized as a desert wilderness of unsightly gravestones was unearthed and moved to the neighboring town of Colma, and the land soon covered over with the sprawl of a growing city.


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