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FOUNDERS MEMORIAL CEMETERY

Ron Bass
Founders Memorial Cemetery Entrance.
Founders Memorial Cemetery in Houston opened in 1836 and includes the graves of many individuals involved in the Texas Revolution and the founding of the Bayou City. Courtesy Ron Bass.

FOUNDERS MEMORIAL CEMETERY. Founders Memorial Cemetery, also known as Founders Memorial Park, in Houston’s Fourth Ward is a two-acre site located just west of downtown at 1217 West Dallas Street, with the entrance at the southwest corner of the intersection of West Dallas and Valentine Street, and is the Bayou City’s oldest cemetery. Originally known as the City Cemetery, it opened in 1836 and at that time was located approximately one mile from the outskirts of the city. A majority of the interments occurred in the 1800s and included many victims of recurring yellow fever, cholera, and smallpox epidemics. According to Houston: A History and Guide (1942), high mortality rates overburdened funeral establishments, and “…deaths occurred so swiftly and in such great numbers that bodies were dumped into long trenches and covered without ceremony.” Houston city directories in the 1860s referred to the graveyard as the “old Methodist Cemetery,” possibly because the Methodist Church was responsible for the burial ground’s maintenance and may have used it for burials of church members, but by the late 1870s listings indicate that the city of Houston was responsible for the graveyard’s management. A few burials date to the 1900s; the most recent burial occurred in 1949. One extensive listing—based on research from an undated document in the Houston public library, from a 1936 Houston Chronicle article, and from a tombstone listing compiled between 1933 and 1938 by Rice University professor Andrew Forest Muir—identified 109 of the interred from gravestones. Some of the graves are listed as unmarked. As of 2020 more than 130 individual graves had been identified in Founders Memorial Cemetery.

By 1840 the cemetery was nearly full. To provide additional capacity, a second “city cemetery” was created at the present-day location of the Old Jefferson Davis Hospital, and the original cemetery became known as "Old City Cemetery." Trustees of Congregation Beth Israel received the deed to the cemetery in 1928 but deeded the property back to the city of Houston in 1930 because of the historical significance of the graveyard to Houston and its founding. In April 1936 it was officially renamed Founders Memorial Park and was restored by the San Jacinto Centennial Association, with twenty-eight burials marked by Texas Centennial monuments summarizing the biographies of veterans of the battles for Texas independence and officers of the Republic of Texas. The precise plots of many of the graves of those honored were unknown, therefore the monuments were placed in random locations throughout the park.

John Kirby Allen Monument.
A Texas Centennial Monument was erected for John Kirby Allen, one of the founders of Houston, in Founders Memorial Cemetery in 1936. Courtesy Ron Bass.

The graveyard became run down and almost forgotten, but in 1947 the Houston Parks and Recreation Department began to maintain the cemetery. Notable individuals from the early history of Texas buried in Founders Memorial Cemetery include Houston co-founder John Kirby Allen and his brother George Allen as well as Rebecca Lamar (mother of Mirabeau B. Lamar).  A number of veterans of the Texas revolution, including signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence and veterans of the battle of San Jacinto, were laid to rest in Founders Memorial Cemetery, including Robert Barr, James Collinsworth, John W. Moore, Isaac N. Moreland, and Henry Livingston Thompson. The cemetery was designated a Historic Texas Cemetery by the Texas Historical Commission in 2005.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Founders Memorial Cemetery, Houston Parks and Recreation Department, City of Houston (http://www.houstontx.gov/parks/founderscemetery.html), accessed April 23, 2020. Founders Memorial Park Cemetery (Old City Cemetery), Daughters of the American Revolution (https://www.dar.org/national-society/historic-sites-and-properties/founders-memorial-park-cemetery-old-city-cemetery), accessed April 23, 2020. Founders Memorial Park Memorials, Find A Grave (https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1196272/memorial-search?page=1#sr-9764631), accessed April 22, 2020. Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Protected Landmark Designation Report, Archeological & Historical Commission, Planning and Development Department, City of Houston, 2005–06. San Jacinto Centennial Association Records, MC001, San Jacinto Museum of History, Houston, Texas. WPA Writers Program, Houston: A History and Guide (Houston: Anson Jones, 1942).

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Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Ron Bass, "FOUNDERS MEMORIAL CEMETERY," accessed June 03, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lef01.

Uploaded on April 29, 2020. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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