E Street Public Graveyard & Mount Tamalpais Cemetery
by Carol Acquaviva
Prior to the establishment of Mount Tamalpais Cemetery in 1879, San Rafael employed a public cemetery located on the west side of E Street, between Third and Fourth Streets. In 1850, a Mr. Poindexter purchased the lot for $16, and gave it to the town for use as a graveyard; he was the first person to be buried there.
By June 1873, the city graveyard had become unkempt. The Marin Journal remarked that people did not think twice about letting their cows into the cemetery to graze. In 1874, citizens continued to press for a modern cemetery. An ordinance passed by the Board of Town Trustees went into effect in early 1875, stating that no cemetery should be within the town limits, referring to “sanitary reasons brought to bear against crowding the living and the dead so closely together.” But with no public cemetery except the one on E Street, the rule forbidding interring within the town limits was rescinded.
As talk grew of a more serene, remote location, Town Trustees were called to action. After several locations were considered, the area behind Red Hill, in Forbes Valley, was chosen. Dr. Henry DuBois, the well-respected physician, donated the approximately 112 acres of land in return for one-half the proceeds of cemetery plots sold. Dr. Alfred Taliaferro, also a physician, laid out the cemetery, and a landscape gardener was hired. Dr. DuBois was laid to rest at Mount Tamalpais Cemetery in 1897, and Dr. Taliaferro in 1885.
Mount Tamalpais Cemetery was described by the Marin Journal upon its opening in 1879 as “secluded in location, just far enough away, commanding charming views of the town, mountain and bay,” presumably for those visiting and not already residing at the cemetery. Miles of finished streets were constructed, in and leading to the cemetery. People were thankful for a well-established cemetery far enough away from “downtown.” Both the location and the grounds themselves were deemed a tasteful improvement, with sweeping hills, ponds, tens of thousands of trees, large lots and a receiving vault with room for 25 caskets. The cost for the new cemetery totaled about $50,000 and the site was replete with gas, water and sewer pipes. The dedication occurred on August 10, 1879, with Rev. Bishop Kip of San Francisco leading the service.
Abandonment of the “Old” Cemetery
The old public cemetery remained, vulnerable to trespassers, some of whom boldly stole headstones. A broken fence surround the lot, and dead trees and long grass became a fire hazard. The cemetery was an eyesore, and its dilapidation made even more stark when contrasted with the new, suburban, park-like cemetery up the road. Removal of the bodies from the E Street Cemetery was ordered in 1898. Bodies were exhumed under the supervision of the health officer, and under contract with Undertaker Stephen Eden, at a cost of $1000. The bodies which were not claimed by relatives were likely reinterred at the County Poor Farm’s cemetery in Lucas Valley.
As the town owned the lot, it was decided to continue to devote the space for the public good, and on this space was built a high school, which opened in 1899 and was probably not haunted.
Originally published at https://annetkent.kontribune.com.