Fort Field Cemetery
In 1849, John S. Higbee was sent to Provo by Brigham Young to find a suitable place to settle a colony along the Provo River. Two weeks after his report, thirty-one families consisting of about fifty people made the three day trip to the south side of the Provo River. On April 3rd of that same year, these settlers began a stockade known as Fort Utah, though the name was soon changed to Fort Field. Eight people died that first year. Cemetery records disclose that George and Matilda Haws, Harriet Turner, and William Dayton were four of the eight. They were buried in the first Fort Field graveyard which was located on the Williams farm located just across the highway at Lake View (now known as Geneva Road). There is a Daughters of Utah Pioneers Marker near these burial grounds.
Pioneer life in Provo resulted in several fatal accidents. For instance, William Dayton was killed while he and George W. Bean were giving a demonstration of the fort's cannon. One shot had been fired, and a spark ignited the powder during reloading. Dayton was killed and Mr. Bean lost his left arm. "Hout" Conover was sent for Dr. Blake and in a feat of riding history, rode 120 miles in twenty hours to Centerville.
Also recorded is the death of Joseph Higbee on February 9, 1850. During a battle with Native Americans, he was "behind a log with his companion, it being so very quiet he raised his head to look about and was shot through the neck" (from Diary of Epsy Jane Williams Pace). He was the only living son of Isaac Higbee, a Bishop in Nauvoo and Salt Lake. During this same battle several other people were wounded.
Temple Hill Cemetery
In 1850, a better location was found and a second fort was built. The houses and stockade were moved and rebuilt at this second spot. Later that year, another addition was added to the fort. A second Fort Field Cemetery was established. In The History of the Provo 4th Ward, John E. Booth states, "Fort Field Cemetery's name is changed to Temple Hill." By 1880, this site was discarded as a burial ground as the soil was too sandy, causing graves to cave in before burials could take place. This site is where the Maeser Building now stands on the Brigham Young University campus.
Grandview Hill Cemetery
A third cemetery was located on Grandview Hill. In about 1860, the corner of three land grants belonging to James Smith, Joseph Thompson, and a man named Rasmussen, became the burial ground for one of Thompson's children. As time went on, other burials were added until eventually there were graves on the land belonging to all three landowners. By 1879, this location had become a fair-sized cemetery (around sixty burials). The landowners objected and refused to allow other burials to take place. They also requested that the bodies of those buried there be removed at the expense of their families. Most of the bodies were removed to Temple Hill Cemetery. However, some next of kin had moved from the community, others could not afford the expense involved, while still others preferred to leave their loved ones unmolested, even though it meant they would rest in an unmarked grave. Two Rasmussen children are still buried there and their graves are marked by two lilac bushes north and west of the Baptist Church on Columbia Lane.
The first Fort Field Cemetery was too wet, the Temple Hill Cemetery (second Fort Field) was too sandy, and the Grandview Hill Cemetery, where three farms converged, had been closed at the request of the landowners. A new burial location was needed, so on June 11, 1853, a special meeting was called at the Public Square (Pioneer Park). A committee was appointed to find a better place for a cemetery. On June 25, 1853, their report was presented and the current site of the Provo City Cemetery on Springville Road (State Street) was chosen.
The Provo City Cemetery was dedicated in 1853. The process of moving the remains from surrounding burial grounds to the Provo City Cemetery took many years to complete. The records show that George Haws, Matilda Haws, Harriette Turner, and Wm. Dayton were moved from Fort Field to the Provo City Cemetery. Mary Blake Peay, Abisha Ware, and others were moved to the Provo City Cemetery from Temple Hill Cemetery. The Daughters of Utah Pioneers memorial drinking fountain lists the names of the known pioneers who were moved from other burial sites. The first burial listed in the Provo City Cemetery records, not moved from a previous site is Joseph Whipple in December 1856.
Inside the cemetery, a large area was designated for the remains of those people who were relocated from the Temple Hill Cemetery. It is in Block 5, Lot 62, which is located at 5th West and 1st South. Some headstones are present, but most are unmarked graves.
Pioneer Memorial Drinking Fountain
In 1964, a drinking fountain was erected by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers which lists some of the known pioneers that were moved from other cemeteries. Their names and known locations are listed as follows:
Matilda & George Haws (Block 4, Lot 18, 17)
Harriet M. Turner (Block 4, Lot 4)
Jacob Cloward (Block 3, Lot 4)
Jacob H. Barney
Sarah & William McLane
Abisha Ware (Block 4, Lot 80)
Mary B. Peay (Marker in Block 5, Lot 62)
Elizabeth Baum (Block 1, Lot 53)
Mrs. Jerome Benson
Heber C. Davis
William K. Follett
Elizabeth Sarah Goodman
John Moroni Goodman
John Haws, Sr. (Block 1, Lot 40)
O. Foster McCarroll
Ann S. B. Robbins
John Rogers Tobbins
Emma B. Thatcher
Cemetery records show burial property purchased in 1878 by: W. D. Startup, George Baum, and James J. Talmage. Other owners are listed, but no deeds were recorded so the dates are unknown. At that time a lot capable of 32 adult burials was selling for $5.00, which did NOT include perpetual maintenance. In 1997 those same 32 burial rights, including perpetual maintenance, would have cost $19,200.
Other Early Cemeteries Near Provo
On the old township maps, a Christmas City graveyard is located on the south side of the entrance to Provo Canyon. It was an old mining area and is now a gravel pit.
American Fork Canyon also had extensive mining at one time. In the area of Mary Ellen Flat there is a cemetery where many miners are buried.
"Undocumented" Burial Sites
There were burials sites just about everywhere, as many people desired to be laid to rest by favorite trees, hills, mountains, etc. A particularly beautiful site might have several burials.
1894-1899 - Thaddeus H. Cluff
Many obstacles had to be overcome in order to move bodies from their original graves in other cemeteries to their new location in the Provo City Cemetery. There are many tales of the horrors of this work.
"One story remains quite clear in our minds for it was a most unusual one, a really trying experience for our father and his associates. When they were ready to remove the casket of a recent burial containing the remains of a lovely young woman, her parents insisted upon opening the casket to view her condition, but father tried to talk them out of such an emotional strain and not feeling quite sure of what they might see. He finally gave in and when the lid was removed, everyone gasped in horror to see the girl's body was turned over face down and signs of her having come alive for a brief time to struggle and finally die. It was known to be a fact that people were sometimes buried alive, a tragic thing that could not happen in our modern world of embalming."
Mrs. Vera C. Sirrine (1967)
Daughter of T. H. Cluff
1899- ? - Clark Snow
? -1906 - Joseph Taylor
1906-1917 - Evan Wride
Wages were $50.00 per month as Sexton. His crew earned $1.00 per day.
The western part of the cemetery was planted in hay which was harvested and probably sold for revenue (Elwyn Wride 1974).
1917-1924 - Niels Johnson
The 1918 flu epidemic was the cause of over 200 deaths in Utah County, and at least 22 million deaths worldwide. Whole families were nearly wiped out. Within one week, Wm. Thurgood, his wife, Lena, and his father died. Lena's father, two sisters, and a brother also perished within a week. Two more Thurgoods, Emma and Arthur, also died. Mourners crept into the Provo City Cemetery at night to bury their dead, and mandatory laws were passed requiring that masks be worn in public. Travel through Utah County was allowed, but anyone who stopped was quarantined for four days and had to be declared flu-free by a physician before being released. The LDS Church canceled all meetings.
1922: Salary set a $100.00 per month.
1924-1929 - Unknown
1929-1934 - Joseph F. Giles
1934-1937 - Don W. Conover
1937-1947 - Spencer Clark
1947-1950 - John F. Thurgood
1950-1960 - Daniel W. Webster
Started card file system
1960-1986 - Burl S. Peterson
Developed new section (Blocks 13-21).
1969 - Implemented veteran cross display in Block 20.
1972 - Burial record made available to Provo City Library, chronological listing and alphabetical card file (the Provo City Library still has the chronological listing, but no longer has the alphabetical card file).
Last sexton to live on the grounds, moved in 1978.
Installed sprinkler system.
1986-1988 - Burl Kent Peterson
1988-1993 - Max S. Mitchell
Initiated current Veterans Memorial
Updated cemetery regulations
Computer database for burials implemented.
1993-2010 - Milton A. DeLeeuw
2010-present - James Cornaby
Developed Block 22 during Summer of 1993.
Current Veterans Memorial completed, May 1994.
1994 micro-burst wind storm toppled 154 trees on May 31st right after Memorial Day. Closed for three weeks for clean-up.
Lighting system installed, Spring, 1996.
Burial rights information and mapping system computerized, 1997-1998.
The Provo City Cemetery Veterans Monument has undergone three phases:
Veteran crosses: Crosses with nameplates and flags were begun as a Memorial Day tribute by the Veterans Council. At first they were placed at the grave site of each known veteran buried in the cemetery. In 1969, the Veterans Council began to display all the crosses in Block 20, placed row upon row in alphabetical order. It was an awe-inspiring site to see. This tradition was discontinued in 1989 as the effort exceeded the resources of the Veterans Council.
Crosses with nameplates and flags are currently available at the cemetery office for families to purchase and display on their veteran's grave. Proceeds go towards the upkeep of the memorial.
A time capsule was discovered in the second Veterans Monument when it was disassembled to be enhanced and added to the third Veterans Monument. A 3'x2'x2' copper box was discovered and the search to find out its history was started. Wayne Beesley remembered helping to construct the capsule in 1971. In 1972 the box was put in the memorial by members of the Provo Veteran's Council led by F. Orville Singleton. Former Provo Mayor Verl Dixon stated, "it has a lot of historical facts relating to the wars," and is one of the few who remembers when it was put together and placed in the granite Veterans Memorial. Items from the capsule were put on display in several locations within the city before being resealed with additional items in the new memorial. This capsule is to be opened on the 100th anniversary of the World War I Armistice in the year 2018.
One special area in the cemetery is Babyland, located directly west of the Veterans Monument. This section of the cemetery was designed for families who need only an infant space, and has several unique customs. Every Easter, Babyland is visited by the "Easter Phantom" who decorates every infant grave. The graves are again decorated anonymously on Memorial Day. These kind acts warm the hearts of families who have lost their little ones.
One memorial is a bench dedicated to "Baby Jane," an infant girl found abandoned and drowned in the Provo River. The baby was buried in March of 1992, and the bench was placed by the Provo Police Mutual Aid Association. The inscription reads, "Abandoned By Mother But Not By Us."
By 2008 the 640 plots in Babyland had been filled and a new area for infant burials was designated as Angel Garden. Angel Garden provides 540 additional plots for infants. A statue was placed in the area named "The Messenger" which depicts an angel with outstretched arms watching over those infants laid to rest in the Angel Garden.
Bulk of this article was taken verbatim from "Brief History of Provo City Cemetery," compiled and edited by Cathy Jackson and Annalise Eccles, with Patricia Giles (Provo, Utah: Cathy Jackson?], 1997.
Stryker, Ace, "Provo City Cemetery Dedicates Area for Infants," Daily Herald, 12 May 2008.