Bell County Cemeteries
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(aka Temple Cemetery Company)
(photo courtesy of Joe D. Deaver)
|STILL IN USE?||Yes|
|LIST OF BURIALS AVAILABLE ONLINE?||Yes (section sort and burial sort)|
|US Geological Survey Coordinates||Available|
|US GEOLOGICAL SURVEY TOPOGRAPHICAL MAP||Available|
|TEXAS HISTORICAL MARKERS||Yes, several #1|
(click link above to view photos from this cemetery!)
RESEARCHERS OF THIS CEMETERY
Patty Benoit, Manager
PO Box 2333, Temple, TX 76503
Hillcrest Cemetery Fundraising Campaign
Hillcrest Cemetery Resource Center (2003)
May 2003 Resource Center Groundbreaking
HANDOUT FLYER (PDF format, 174 kb LARGE)
May 1, 2003 Press Release on major improvements (large)
PHOTO 1 (Cemetery Board)
PHOTO 2 (larger group)
Hillcrest Cemetery is likely the largest cemetery in Bell County, with approximately 84 acres and about 16,000 burials. It is located on the North side of Temple. The main entrance is located at the end of North Main Street, North of W Nugent Ave.
Until late 2002, there was no electronic inventory for Hillcrest, a cemetery for which we receive numerous queries. The great news is that the effort to inventory this large cemetery has just been completed, thanks in no small part to project coordinator Mary Lou Duke. Mary Lou has become quite the professional at cemetery work and we sincerely appreciate all her effort which benefits a multitude of Bell County researchers! Many thanks to the following volunteers who have put effort into the Hillcrest Cemetery project during 2002-2003: Jane Anderson, Pat Benoit, Weldon G. Cannon, Angie Chandler, Marie Corbett, Gary Coutu and his daughter Dylan, Joe D. Deaver, Mary Duke, Fran Flood, Mary Kirksey, Carol Macaulley, Anne Penney Newton, Chris F. Puetsch, Susan Stephenson, Priscilla Velasquez, Clyde White. And, of course, thanks to Mary Lou's mother for helping out!
CURRENT PLOT MAP (ADOBE FORMAT)
(courtesy of Pat Benoit of the Temple Cemetery Company)
To view plot map, you will need Adobe Reader:
NOTES FROM CEMETERY MANAGER PAT BENOIT:
(This material is intended for research and background only for historical and genealogical researchers. It may not be reproduced in books or other media. The author retains all rights to publication.)
Temple Cemetery Company (Hillcrest Cemetery)
The official, legal name of the cemetery is Temple Cemetery Company, a not-for-profit cemetery association, governed by a volunteer board. Since 1921, it has been known as “Hillcrest Cemetery,” although that name was never legally adopted. All business and papers of incorporation simply list “Temple Cemetery Company.”
This site, approximately 85 acres, includes several sections that have been added in the past 125 years. Included in it are at least three areas for paupers burials, a Confederate cemetery, a veterans’ cemetery, two areas for infant burials and a “memorial garden,” which was established in the 1950s.
The area has grown over the century like a huge patchwork quilt; several landowners have either sold or donated land to the original acreage to create what is now called Hillcrest Cemetery. As a result the numbering system and sections are sometimes irregular.
What is now called “Old Cemetery” of the Temple Cemetery Company was originally owned in the 1870s to J.H. Williams and his wife, long before the Santa Fe Railway bought farmland that became the city of Temple. On to their land and located in the center what is now the cemetery was the Williamson Branch School, a one-room log house begun in the early 1870s.
According to stories passed down through generations, a family on a passing wagon train stopped at the Williamses' farm, asking permission to bury their young child in the cotton field near the school. The Williamses agreed. After a brief service, the family moved on west, and the Williams family tended to the unmarked plot as a kindness to wayfaring strangers.
As time and circumstance passed, nearby farm families asked to bury their loved ones in the Williamses’ plot. Few, if any, of these early graves were marked – except by a rock or sapling. The earliest tombstone belongs to Mary, the Williamses’ 17-year-old daughter who died on July 31, 1876, and who probably attended the school. Williamson Branch students were let out of school to attend her funeral. Tombstones dated before 1881 bear the surnames of Thornton, Stevenson, Little and Wilder. The earliest-born persons are Matthew Wilder, born Oct. 5, 1804; Sam Stephens, born Dec. 26, 1808, and his wife, Sacelia J., born Jan. 7, 1810.
The fledgling city of Temple, established in June 1881 as a railroad town, needed a cemetery. On Aug. 5, 1884, the Williams family deeded one and one-sixth acres to the newly formed “Williamson Branch Grave Yard,” overseen by three trustees. This was the official beginning of Hillcrest Cemetery. A charter is filed with the Secretary of State’s office Sept. 5, 1884, for the purpose of maintaining a public cemetery. Local citizens in the 19th and early 20th centuries called it “The City Cemetery.” Sometime in the 1890s, the name Williamson Branch Grave Yard was lost, and townspeople called it “the city cemetery.”
In 1900, the nearby Williamson Branch log schoolhouse was abandoned and a second Williamson Branch school, a 20-by-30 foot wood frame structure, was constructed about a mile east of the cemetery. The school closed in 1912.
Meanwhile, back at the cemetery, more Temple citizens buried their loved ones, and the cemetery grew, thanks to donations from nearby landowners. The bleached stones scattered over the gentle slopes look like “a flock of sheep at a distance,” noted respected Texas historian Alexander Dienst Jr. in 1903 in The Temple Times. “Here is one place, where in reading [the tombstones], we discover that the classes can live in harmony – the rich, the poor, the cultured, the uncultured, the Jew, the Gentile, the pagan – all nationalities dwell side by side,” he added.
Local citizens in the 19th and early 20th centuries called it “The City Cemetery” because it was then located just outside the city limits as opposed to being “out in the country.” As the town grew, so did burials. At times, weeds and brambles choked the gravestones; so, volunteers gathered periodically to mow and clean up the acreage.
A section of about 24 spaces was established by the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons, the charitable interdenominational group that began Temple’s King’s Daughters Hospital in 1893. This area, intended for paupers, began sometime between 1893 and 1898. Additionally, on December 9, 1918, one and a half were conveyed to the City of Temple for pauper burials because of the influenza epidemic.
In 1921, a cemetery association was formed to provide upkeep and to maintain records. In March 1921, the Temple Daily Telegram announced, “The place henceforth is to be known as Hillcrest instead of the city cemetery.” Citizens pledged to work to keep it a “peaceful city of the dead” and to give “that hallowed spot the honor and respect their sacred memory deserves,” the Telegram stated. In some decades, the cemetery was well cared for; other decades, it was unkempt – depending on wars and economic conditions.
By the 1950s, the Cemetery fell into a bad state again. Professional surveyors drew exact boundaries of cemetery. Williamson also compiles complete inventory of all burials through records, tombstones and other records. Cemetery Association reorganized, blue-covered brochure printed stipulating rules and regulations of cemetery.
The surveyor compiled original receipt books, tombstone inscriptions and other records to compile a comprehensive list of all burials in the cemetery, which now encompassed 80 to 90 acres. Burials from Temple League Cemetery were included in the 1952 records as “colored section”; however, none of the extant grave markers from the MKT burials are listed in the Hillcrest registries. Also located in the northeast section of Hillcrest is an area formerly called “Little Mexico” because of the preponderance of Hispanic-surnamed persons who were buried there during segregation. This name is no longer used. It is now referred to as “Northeast Addition” or “Taylor addition” after an original landowner. Since the 1960s, the cemetery has been available to persons of all races, creeds and backgrounds.
By 1980, an audit showed the cemetery was operating in the red. Less than $1,000 left for emergencies. That November, the cemetery board raised prices to $350 for the memorial garden and $250 for other gravesites. The financial crisis was eased, however, 20 years later, by May and June 2001, the cemetery again was operating at a loss. City officials discussed the possibility of taking over management of cemetery, but the talks failed.
Hillcrest Cemetery continues to operate as a not-for-profit association, dependant on lot sales and donations for the majority of its income. Although the cemetery has ledgers and receipt books for almost the past 100 years, they are unavailable at this time because the cemetery does not have adequate space to accommodate researchers. The association board is considering building a new office/history resource building which will make these records more accessible.
Copyright 2002 by Patricia K. Benoit
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