The City Cemetery, sometime known as the lower or old cemetery, came into existence in 1876. It is located on Cemetery Hill to the north of Lake City and just east of CO HWY 149 as it enters town.
The first death to occur in Lake City came in January 1876, when William F. Ryan died, he was also Lake City’s first elected coroner; the location of his burial is unknown. In February 1876, the Silver World newspaper, observed, “The City Fathers have determined to prepare for every emergency and have appointed a committee to select a site for a cemetery. We hope there will be no undue rivalry as to who shall be the first occupant, but if a certain party does not refrain from standing and reading copy the case, this office will enjoy the honor of furnishing the first denizen of the “City of Dead.’”
The City Cemetery was started on several acres on hilly, pine-covered ground north of Lake City, which had originally been patented for a ranch. The land was never publicly owned and passed through several private ownership’s, most recently the Carl White estate, before Hinsdale County acquired it in 1985.
There was apparently never any formal organization or records for the City Cemetery and burials took place on a haphazard basis. This lack of written record is a great loss to modern historians since the majority of the graves in the cemetery are unmarked. It is unlikely at this date whether any further burial information for the City Cemetery will come to light; and as a result, exact burial locations will probably never be known.
The City Cemetery, as a common burial ground, reflects the widest spectrum of life in the late 19th century. All classes and professions of the people ended up on this quiet hillside; the butcher, the baker, the bluff Street prostitutes, laundrymen and teachers, attorneys, leaders of the church and society, actors, gamblers, and musicians, and of course, the ever present miners and prospectors. Immigrant burials make up a large portion of the city cemetery, and there are identifiable sections for Catholics, Italians and paupers. “Paupers Row”, a stark row of side-by-side unmarked graves, runs the length of the entrance gate. There is also an area in Section A, surrounding the grave of George Betts and James Browning, which was apparently reserved for gamblers and prostitutes. The marker of Benjamin House, a Bluff Street faro dealer, who died in October 1876, is the oldest tombstone in the City Cemetery.
Silver Star Lodge No.27, International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) decided to create their own private burial ground on the northern outskirts of Lake City in 1877. The first burial to take place in the new cemetery, which is located on Cemetery Hill approximately a quarter mile west of CO HWY 149, was Andrew T. Hopkins, who died in April 1877.
John F. Dobbs completed the first formal survey of the IOOF Cemetery on November 21, 1877. The original cemetery consisted of 3.82 acres on the Peter A. Simmons ranch; there were 40 blocks measuring 38 by 56 feet. The survey called for each block to be dived into four lots of 17 by 24 feet; each lot could then be divided into an undetermined number of burial plots. North and South Avenues, side streets, bound Central Avenue, 25 feet wide, on either side; named First through Eleventh Streets, intersect the main avenues.
Burial in the IOOF was intended to be very restrictive. In the early years of its existence only members of the Odd Fellows Lodge or their immediate families were permitted to purchase burial plots. Restrictions had loosened somewhat by 1900, however, and members of other fraternities and sororities were allowed to be buried in the cemetery. The cemetery was later opened to the general public and finally taken over by Hinsdale County after the Odd Fellows Lodge dissolved. The IOOF Cemetery remains the principle burial location for the area this time.
In the early 1960’ it was discovered the IOOF Lodge had never patented the cemetery ground and the U.S. government in fact still owned the property. Congress had recently passed a bill allowing cities and counties to purchase land for cemetery purposes at the nominal rate of $2.50 an acre; Hinsdale County was the first entity in the United States to make use of the new law when it purchased the IOOF Cemetery property. The county commissioners appointed a cemetery board in 1968 to oversee maintenance and improvements in the cemetery. The cemetery board later acquired additional acreage to the north and west of the old cemetery, which will be used for future expansion.
There are subtle differences between the City and IOOF Cemeteries. Due to its burial restrictions, the IOOF Cemetery contains fewer burials, and it reflects a greater percentage of Lake City’s business and professional people. The memorials and fences of the IOOF Cemetery are in general more elaborate and costly than those in the City Cemetery. Where unmarked graves and wooden markers predominate in the City burial ground, the IOOF Cemetery features more stylish and permanent markers. Immigrant burials and a majority of the miners and prospectors are noticeably absent form the IOOF cemetery.
In the summer, the Hinsdale County Museum offers guided cemetery tours.