Catholic Cemetery 1868-1908
in the Sixth Ward
A Sad Tale of Neglect
Park was once the site of the old Catholic cemetery
served three Helena Catholic parishes from 1868 until about 1908,
when Resurrection Cemetery was opened on N. Montana Avenue. Not
all the remains were removed to the new cemetery, and there are
still many graves beneath the grass of Robinson Park.
Abandoned Old Catholic Cemetery, 1918
OF CHARLEEN SPALDING CLICK ON IMAGE FOR
A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW
of the cemetery are rare. This 1918 view looks south from Oakes
St. The large homes in the background are in the Lenox Addition,
about a mile south of the cemetery; perspective compression caused
by the camera lens makes them appear closer. The cemetery had
already been abandoned for a decade when this photo was taken...
Abandoned in 1908
Cemetery opened in 1908, some remains from the old cemetery were
disinterred and reburied there, but some 1,600 individuals remained
behind. Neglect of the old burial ground took a toll over the
decades, and the cemetery fell into sad disrepair.
A 1944 Independent Record story tells of a neglected mausoleum
being broken open...
no effort was made by the Helena Diocese to remove all the remaining
bodies from the cemetery, although it is believed that whatever
mausoleums remained were pulled down sometime in the late 1940s
or early 1950s, perhaps to prevent a repeat of this sad incident.
Aerial View of the Cemetery
it is rather grainy, this enlarged detail of a 1960 aerial view
of the Sixth Ward shows the state of the cemetery, with many
of the tombstones apparently missing. Bryant School, on Boulder
Ave., is at the upper left.
In the 1970s,
it was decided to convert the cemetery into a "passive
park". Headstones and other monuments were pulled up and
dumped -- some in the far southeast corner of the Resurrection
Cemetery property (see photos below), and some at the old Helena
Sand and Gravel pit (now Spring Meadow Lake) west of Helena.
Three were discovered at Benton Avenue Cemetery, where they
were evidently placed by a well-meaning person. Those stones
were taken to Resurrection Cemetery by Tom Pearson and son.
in this recent satellite image of Resurrection Cemetery is the
location where many stone markers from the old Catholic cemetery
were dumped. Scott Nelson of Helena writes:
The Diocese had been allowing stone carvers and other monument
companies for the last 30 years to come and collect the marble
and granite from the relocation project and recycle them --
as long as they shaved the old names off.
man who lived on Hauser Blvd. in the late 80s got a truck load
of stones from Resurrection and built a garden wall with them.
He got complaints from his neighbors, so stucco was applied
over it. Now, no one remembers or complains, but someones
memories are buried In a garden wall on the west end of town."
Monuments Hidden from View
Two 2006 photos
of the headstones on the Resurrection Cemetery property...
OF SCOTT NELSON
COURTESY OF SCOTT NELSON
OF CHARLEEN SPALDING
of 2007, the jumble of discarded stones had been covered with
tons of rock and dirt, hiding them from the view of new commercial
Placed in Robinson Park
the efforts of Helena historian Charleen Spalding and others,
a plaque was was created and placed in Robinson Park by the
Montana Historical Society. It gives a brief history of the
site, as follows:
Helena's early Catholic residents laid hundreds of loved ones
rest on these grounds from 1868 into the 1900s. Located well
out of town, thisburial ground proved more enduring than the
fledgling gold camp's first"common cemetery" near
the grounds of present-day Central School.
Research reveals that the Church of the Sacred Hearts, Helena's
first Catholic cathedral, kept excellent records detailing the
calamities thatbefell early community residents. Mining mishaps,
drowning, childbirth, blood poisoning, consumption, horse-related
accidents and even hangings are documented causes of death.
Diphtheria epidemics, cholera, typhoid, heart ailments and stillbirth
claimed many children. Forty-one percent of those buried here
were under the age of 15, and one family lost six infants in
the space of a decade.
Among the well-known people interred in the Catholic Cemetery
madam Josephine "Chicago Joe" Hensley (1844-1899),
Margaret Cruse, wife of mining magnate Thomas Cruse, (1861-1886)
and their daughter "Mamie" (1886-1913). Many graves
were later relocated, including those of the Cruse family, to
the newer Resurrection Cemetery on Montana Avenue. Additional
information on Helena's early cemeteries is housed at the Montana
Historical Society Library.
The City of Helena acquired this portion of the former Catholic
Cemetery and set it aside in the early 1970s as a passive park
enjoyment of neighborhood residents. Please respect the yesterday's
use of these grounds through considerate conduct today.
of 2004, a utility crew digging a trench on Townsend Avenue
accidentally unearthed several graves. Residents
of the area told the Independent Record that it was not
the first time burials had been disturbed by construction. Read
the story here.
The following photos, taken by Curt Milledge, are somewhat graphic.
Salt Lake City, Utah Daily Tribune Found in Grave
In one shattered
coffin was found a copy of the November 7, 1894 Salt Lake City,
Utah Daily Tribune. It is thought that it was placed
in the coffin as a means of dating and identifying the burial.
It was in remarkable condition after spending 110 years below
ground. Efforts were made by local historian Charleen Spalding
to obtain the paper from the individual who found it, in hopes
of conserving it, but she was unsuccessful.
has recently come to light that the skull of a man was taken
from the site by a worker during the exhumations, but was later
- under official pressure - reburied at Resurrection Cemetery.
remain buried under Robinson Park. If
anyone has photographs of the cemetery as it once was, please
TO CHARLEEN SPALDING and SISTER DOLORES BRINKEL, SCL, ARCHIVIST
OF THE DIOCESE
OF HELENA , FOR THEIR GREAT ASSISTANCE IN COMPILING THIS
of Robinson Park, 2007
OF DEREK EVERS
OF DEREK EVERS
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