The Del Rio Cemeteries Historic District is comprised of 4 contiguous burial grounds occupying approximately 36 acres on the west side of Del Rio, Texas. The cemeteries, established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries share characteristic landscaping features and regular plans. All cemeteries are well-maintained. Though impressive monuments, mausoleums and statuary are found throughout the complex, the vast majority of monuments are of simple design executed in granite, marble or limestone. All four cemeteries are active, but it is estimated that at least a third of burials in each of the four cemeteries pre-date 1953. New internments have no effect on the district's most notable design feature, namely the landscaping which features regular rows of Italian cypress and Arizona cypress trees, neither of which are native to the region. The district as a whole retains sufficient integrity to qualify the area for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Del Rio Cemetery District lies at the end of what once was Cemetery Road (now West Second Street). Cemetery Road was the first road north of the railroad tracks to be graveled (or paved). The District includes four cemeteries: the Masonic Cemetery, Westlawn Cemetery, Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery, and Saint Joseph's Cemetery. While St. Joseph's is a separate cemetery; access to it is made through Sacred Heart.
The Del Rio Cemetery District's most distinctive feature is the landscaping, particularly the many Italian Cypress trees that dot the District. Aerial photographs of the area show a landscape that is desolate, covered in brush, mesquite and cenizo. In the middle of this stands a forest of tall, slender, green cypress: Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) with some Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica). Neither tree is native to Del Rio or its environs. A tree study in 1998 reported that "Each cemetery has numerous Italian cypress that have attained significantly greater height and spread than is commonly reported in the literature.... Many may well qualify as unique, unusual, specimen or rare."
A few of the plots are surrounded by iron fencing. The company name plates generally do not note a year, but the gravestones give an indication of general timeframe of installation. Other prominent, distinctive features include the ceramic tile inlaid on gravestones of many of Del Rio's Mexican population. The images are groupings of six tiles presenting a religious or inspirational picture. The most common motif is that of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. Other images show Christ in various postures and scenes. While most of the gravestones are machine-produced, home-made, hand-made grave markers are also common in Westlawn and St. Joseph's. Family stones are most common in Sacred Heart but also the norm in Westlawn and the Masonic Cemeteries, but not the St. Joseph's Cemetery.
The most distinctive manmade feature of the District is the grouping of entrances to the cemeteries (Photo 1). The Masonic, Sacred Heart and Westlawn Cemeteries each are entered from the same point on Del Rio's Second Street. The three gates stand side by side; literally the old Cemetery Road led directly to the District; no other roads approached the area. The three gates suggest three cemeteries; however, at least four other cemeteries have been incorporated into the tracts behind the gates.
To qualify under Criterion C, the cemeteries must retain integrity of design as it relates to the period of significance and as it defines the cemeteries as the resting places of individuals who shaped Del Rio's development. These elements include:
internal circulation systems (driveways, walkways, and pathways)
internal boundaries (curbings, fences, and plantings)
external boundaries (entry columns and archways, fencing, and plantings)
objects (monuments and sculpture)
structures (mausoleums and crypts)
Good examples of common elements that recur throughout the district have been selected as representative contributing examples. Other contributing elements have been selected for their unique design. For the purposes of this nomination, elements are generally considered non-contributing due to age. This includes fences, objects, and mausoleums that do not meet the 50-year age requirement, most notably, chain link fencing.
The right-hand gate leads to the Del Rio Masonic Cemetery. The vehicle paths lie in parallel north-south lines creating long rows of burial plots in the center area with shorter rows in the east and west corners. The easternmost portion of the cemetery is undeveloped. A caretaker lives in a small house in the southeastern portion of the cemetery. The house is said to be one of the old railroad workers' houses built by the Southern Pacific. Some of those were built in 1885 and still stand downtown. This house, however, has been greatly altered from its original location and form and now counts as a non-contributing element.
The southern boundary, marked with a wire fence, is the right-of-way for West Second Street. Across the eastern fenceline is an empty tract of ground that has been proposed for a city park. A woven wire goat fence marks the boundary northward to the street. The northern and western boundaries follow Johnson Street (but with no access), and across the road sits Del Rio International Airport. The fence here is a modern chain-link. Much of the western boundary is currently unmarked with no fencing dividing this cemetery from Westlawn. Vehicular and foot traffic is easy and common.
The gate (at the southern corner) is composed of cement stucco probably covering cinder block. A gray granite stone set into each column. The stones read Masonic Cemetery and offer two Masonic symbols. A metal arch is mounted into the columns and arches over the entryway. A Masonic symbol has been welded onto the arch.
The internal road system starts at the gate with all roads directed in a north-south direction and along the boundaries of the cemetery. Between each parallel road and the next lie two rows of curbed family plots; all plots are immediately accessible from the road system. Nearly all graves face east, personal gravestones as well as family plot marker stones. Each double row of plots is given a number which is posted on PVC posts. The two longest rows, called blocks, (starting nearest the gate) are labeled 10 and 11; Blocks 9, 8, and 7 lie to the west; Block 6 lies to the east. Block 5 at some point in the future will be carved out of undeveloped land in the east corner. (Block 1 (according to Map Book 1, page 46) was part of Block 11; Block 2 part of Block 10; Block 3 part of Block 9; and Blocks 4 and 12 are now called Block 6; while the old Block 6 was a small corner that is now part of Block 8. The plat shows a single east-west road splitting each row into two portions and a center, circular court; neither the road or court were ever established in the cemetery itself.)
Contributing elements in the Del Rio Masonic Cemetery:
1. The Foster Crypt is the largest and most distinctive object in the Cemetery. The crypt is constructed of rough limestone exterior walls with a gray marble and interior. An iron gate allows access to the interior. The oldest burial in the crypt, John J. Foster, dates to 1913.
2. T.H. McFadin (1851-1914) was a member of the once prominent civic group Woodmen of the World. The marker stone is shaped as a pile of cut timber and is unique to the Cemetery. The few other Woodmen grave markers are carved more simply with plain stones with the Woodmen symbol on the front and the person's name.
3. The grave of James Birdwell (1904-1910) is an above ground cement crypt. The marker, which was placed at a later time, faces west nearest the road, but one can assume that it is at the occupant's head which means he is facing east.
4. The cement curbing is important in this cemetery; families are generally buried together within a family plot. Beyond the family though, the plots and the Cemetery itself remind modern observers that lodges, clubs and associations once provided service to families in life and death.
5. The cypress trees are laid out in rows and are interspersed with a variety of other trees including a few palms.
Notable but non-contributing element in the Del Rio Masonic Cemetery:
1. Better than ninety-nine percent of Del Rio's burials occur below ground. Esther Whistler Brown (1899-1983) objected to such treatment. Her grave is above ground in a concrete vault which was then encased in brick and mortar.
The middle gate leads into the old Public Cemetery, now known as Westlawn Cemetery. Westlawn is the largest of the three named cemeteries. The gate is composed of stone and mortar; stone (or cement) spheres top the gate posts. Some ornamental ironwork has been set into the stone on either side of the tallest portion of the gate. The part of the cemetery that seems oldest lies to the right (north and west) of the entrance. The oldest graves—including several that had to be re-interred to Westlawn—sit in this area.
This cemetery actually incorporates four distinct burial areas: the main area available for the public generally, the old International of Odd Fellows along a strip of land near the cemetery's center, an old but unused Potter's Field in the back (west) portion of the tract, and an old Black Cemetery. Del Rio never had a large black population, but historically, they were segregated in death as they were in life. Westlawn also has three areas commonly called Babyland for infant and toddler burials. An area platted as Stranger's Rest was never used distinctly for the assigned purpose; the area exists on paper only.
The western boundary is backed by Johnson Street, the airport, and the city's Industrial Park. Much of the western and southern boundaries are covered in brush and dense overgrowth. Its eastern fence line is shared with Sacred Heart Cemetery. A pipe fence marks much of the boundary preventing vehicular traffic between the two, but foot traffic need only duck under the pipe. The southern portion of this east boundary is shared with St. Joseph's. The Del Rio Cemetery Association, which owns and manages Westlawn, also owns a house at 1200 Second Street in which tools are stored. The house, currently occupied by a cemetery caretaker, stands a few dozen yards outside the gates and is not included in the District boundaries.
The more established (and wealthy) families have plots curbed in polished granites rather than the more common concrete. Some of the cement curbing has sunk below ground level. Family plot stones are common. Benches are few; some may be historic (or contributing), but most are of recent, cement construction. Most of the gravestones face east; one of the few divergent examples is found in the Mey Family plot where gravestones on the west side of the plot face east and those on the east side face west with the family stone in the middle. (Regardless of the gravestone placement, all the graves face east.)
Mexican graves often do not use words to note birth and death dates but rather a star for birth and a leaning Cross for death. Statuary is not very common, but not unusual; some statues are painted, but most are not. Ceramic tile is used on some gravestones, particularly on those with Mexican names. The images depicted on six or nine tiles include pictures of Christ on a throne, Christ praying, or Christ with the Sacred Heart icon, and one with the Mother of God and the Christchild-both with elaborate crowns. The Mother of God, Mary, is a more common image: the Virgin in blue, the Virgin in an elaborate cape and crown, but most commonly the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The Cemetery includes a number of standard military markers: a few white marble headstones of the style used at Arlington National Cemetery, more flat footstones (though some are used in place of headstones), and a smaller number of bronze plaques mounted on bare stone. (These appear to becoming more common.) Three tall stumps signifying the graves of Woodmen of the World lodge members; one stone carved as stacked logs notes a fourth grave. More fenced plots occur in Westlawn than in the other cemeteries combined, but the number is small: eight individual graves (or possibly double graves) and three family plots. In addition to the iron fences, two modern chain-link fences have been erected.
Contributing elements in the Del Rio Westlawn Cemetery:
1. The grave of John Perry (1826-1904) occupies a position near the center of Westlawn Cemetery. The large gray granite stone is topped with a carved 'P' with ivy. The grave of his wife Anna (1833-1899) stands to the north. The white marble stone includes a Cross and Bible on top of a draped obelisk with a lily. The stone is set on a base of gray granite similar to her husband's stone. Her grave seems to have been relocated from a previous site.
2. Most of the visible elements in the Black Cemetery in the back (west) of the cemetery are not greater than fifty years old. Weathered alloy plaque posts with data cards missing and recent alloy plaques (funeral home temporary markers) marked "Unknown" bonded to cinder blocks set into the ground make up nearly half the grave markers. However, these are the only indications that graves exist in those areas. The plaques on cinder blocks are part of an effort to create some reminder of those unidentified graves. Weathered rocks and pieces of wood in the area may once have been grave markers. A few small stone markers and a few more normal-sized stones are complimented with a greater proportion of standard military footstones (used as headstones) than in any other part of the Cemetery District.
3. The northeast portion of Westlawn includes several graves--Stanley Poole d. 1901, Charles Davis d. 1902, Jose Gonzales d. 1903, and Don McCoy 1879-1903--which represent the remains of the old public cemetery in town at Cemetery and Spring Streets in town.
4. Babyland is a common name for three plots that have been set aside for infant burials. The grave markers of these infants are generally more elaborate, if smaller, than the average gravestone.
5. Near the gate is the Markward Family plot with a large red granite family stone and three personal gravestones. The curbing and the two steps up to the plot are also carved of the same material. The family name is on the first step, and the curbing has been polished.
6. The Swift Crypt is unique in the District. Dating to 1939 (F.B.S. 1866-1939 and L.E.S. 1863-1950), the finer grain, black and white granite burial site resembles a low-roofed house. The curbing is constructed of the same material and the Swift name is carved into the vertical face of the top step up to the plot.
7. The original cypress trees in Westlawn were planted in rows, but others have been added to specific plots. Other varieties of trees--juniper, crepe myrtle, oleander, mesquite, the unintended hackberry and a rare palm--in sum do not equal the number of cypress which dominate the sky over the cemetery grounds.
Notable but non-contributing elements in the Del Rio Westlawn Cemetery:
1. The family plot for Miers/Paul includes a double crypt composed of cement. The better-known of the pair is George Paul (1947-1970) who is well-known on the rodeo circuit--"World Champion Bull Rider 1968." His mother, Georgina Paul (1923-1981) occupies the other part of the crypt which gives the appearance of a large platform with two cylinder halves laid out side by side.
2. Westlawn has a number of painted statuary associated with graves that do not themselves meet the requirements of contributing factors. These graves are too recent. However, these examples of folk art add to the distinct flavor of the Del Rio Cemetery District.
The left-hand gate leads to the Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery. Old maps of Del Rio designate three separate areas: Catholic, Italian and Mexican. Considering Del Rio's Italians and Mexicans were nearly if not all Catholic, this designation might suggest ethnic pride but possibly also the prejudices of the day.
The entrance at the northeast corner is framed by cement gateposts which date to the 1990s. A cement fence follows the property line southward along St. Peter's Street. Individuals on foot can easily climb over, but vehicular traffic cannot cross. Inside the gate to the right begins a boundary fence made of steel drilling pipe along the boundary with Westlawn. The pipe continues along the west side of the cemetery from the northwest corner to the point where St. Joseph's begins. The southern boundary is shared with St. Joseph's, but no fence marks the boundary.
Only one family plot has any kind of fencing. All of the plots are curbed in cement. Cypress grow in rows across the cemetery, generally planted in the corners of the large square family plots.
Contributing elements in the Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery:
1. The statue of Christ on Calvary with three women mourning stands at the center of the cemetery. Made of concrete and painted white, the statue stands about ten feet tall on top of a four-foot base. This cemetery has few statues: some angels, two of the Mother of Christ and several of Christ with arms extended. Six other statues of Christ include the Sacred Heart symbol. The majority of the statues are in the Mexican portion of the Cemetery with very few in the Italian or original sections of the grounds.
2. The grid of access roads contributes to the theological nature of the cemetery. Each quadrant of the cemetery (bisected by a north and south line and again with an east-west line) has been named for the author of one of the four Gospels in the New Testament of the Bible.
3. The gravestone of Raul Leon, Jr. (1912-1927) is a unique statuary piece shaped as a tree stump with lilies, roses and a dove and a sash draped around the whole piece.
4. The Owen double stone includes a statue of Christ with the image of the Sacred Heart on his chest.
5. The Cox Family plot marker is reminiscent of a Celtic Cross and is unique to the Cemetery District.
6. The Pierce Family plot marker is also unique. The base is a large rectangular block supporting two short pillars in turn supporting a Cross. Two of the individual stones have the name spelled Peirce.
7. The Sagace double headstone is actually a bronze relief plaque set on granite. Bronze is not common in the District; the few other examples are approved U.S. military markers.
8. Though common, the predominance of family plots with family stone markers is a characteristic of note. While the individual graves face east (without exception), the family stones generally face north or south towards the access road. Some are plain with nothing more than the family name inscribed; others are more ornate with symbolic carvings. The Pierce Family marker (#6) is one of most ornate.
9. The cement curbing surrounding the plots is a contributing factor noting families' burial privileges. The entire Sacred Heart Cemetery (except for the edge bordering St. Joseph's) has been partitioned in such a manner. A common secondary curbing cuts the corners from the main plot; cypress trees were often planted and remain in the corners.
Notable but non-contributing element in the Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery:
1. The grave of Paul Kallinger does not qualify as contributing, his death having occurred in 2001. However, Kallinger was a nationally-known, award-winning radio broadcaster during the 1940s-1960s on Radio XERF in Ciudad Acuna. The XERF border blaster, broadcasting a million watts from across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, was heard across the country and even around the world.
St. Joseph's Cemetery sits on the south end of the Sacred Heart with no independent access to the street; all access is through Sacred Heart (or on foot through the very southern portion of Westlawn). This cemetery has no vehicular roads, no footpaths, and no apparent organization. The cypress trees so common in the District do not stand in this cemetery; they probably never were planted.
St. Joseph's eastern boundary is St. Peter's Street; its southern boundary consists of a semi-regular fence line shared with private property. The north boundary is shared with Sacred Heart, and the western boundary is shared with Westlawn.
Most of the gravesites are unremarkable in comparison to others in other cemeteries. Many of the grave markers are handmade or homemade; some of them remain in place even as new, professionally carved markers have been installed. Ceramic tile images are more common here than in Sacred Heart, but they tend to be found on the gravemarkers in the family plots rather than on individual markers. Another style found here is an iron-reinforced, cement Cross; about a dozen are in various states of disrepair. Only one gravesite is fenced.
Contributing elements in the St. Joseph's Cemetery:
1. The marble 1903 gravestone of Maria de Jesus Espinoza has been embedded in cement; this may have saved the stone from serious damage as the cement has been chipped and broken while the marble remains intact. This appears to be the only instance of this sort.
2. St. Joseph's grave markers include four classic iconographic tablet markers with rounded tops and made of thin slabs of cement. The stones are even tilted as the ground under them as settled. Much of the information about the occupants has disappeared due to weathering. This style of marker may be common in some other parts of the country, but these are unique in the Del Rio Cemetery District.
3. The gravestone for Miguel Reyna is a large uncarved rock, a piece of the limestone that underlies the whole northern part of Del Rio. The rock shows the man's name and a Cross symbol.
Statement of Significance
The De Rio Cemetery District is defined by its location, layout, and interments as an early 20th century burial ground that reflects the evolving physical and social structure this city on the US/Mexico border. Consistent with the rural cemetery movement begun in the United States in the 1830s, the new cemetery site was situated in a remote location. Today, the cemeteries are not only the final resting places of notable individuals, but in most cases are the most tangible surviving reminders of Del Rio's ethnic, religious, and fraternal enclaves.
The cemeteries are notable for their layout diversity of design (from simple to formal), their funerary monuments (from works of accomplished sculptors to folk design), and for the array of community leaders interred there. Sanborn maps reveal separate groupings of Mexican, Italian burials; a separate African-American cemetery is a component of the Westlawn Cemetery. The character of the Cemetery District is visually defined by its remaining fences, mausoleums, plot curbings, grave markers, decorative accessories such as urns and crosses, and plantings, most notably the regular rows of mature Italian and Arizona cypress trees, neither of which are native to the region. The district as a whole and each cemetery individually retain adequate integrity to qualify them for the National Register.
The Del Rio Cemetery Historic District is nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A, in the area of Community Planning and Development, at the local level of significance, because it reflects critical planning decisions in the period during which Del Rio developed at the turn of the century. In addition, the four distinct cemeteries within the district also reflect the ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity of Del Rio. It is also nominated at the local level under Criterion C, in the area of Landscape Architecture. In addition, the District is eligible under Criteria Consideration A for the historical and artistic value of its religious cemeteries, and Criteria Consideration D as a collection of cemeteries of sufficient age and distinct design to represent a critical period in the early history of the developing city. Those buried in the Cemetery District include persons of individual and collective importance that shaped the city's development.
Overview of Del Rio, Texas.
Del Rio, the county seat of Val Verde County, is on U.S. Highway 90 and the Southern Pacific Railroad near the confluence of the Rio Grande and San Felipe Creek, 154 miles west of San Antonio. Despite the presence of a small Spanish complex across the Rio Grande, Del Rio developed only after the Civil War. San Felipe Springs provided millions of gallons in an otherwise arid climate. The San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Irrigation Company organized in 1868 and by 1871 constructed a network of irrigation canals. The Community was known as San Felipe del Rio, shortened to Del Rio at the request of the US Post Office in 1883.
Val Verde County was organized in 1885 with Del Rio as the county seat. Early development was dependent on the railroad, the military, ranching and agriculture, government-related employment, and retail business. Other major economic activities were focused on tourism and ties with Mexico. From the mid-nineteenth century to the present the military, ranching and agriculture have been an integral to the local economy. In the 1880s, the Southern Pacific connected to Del Rio on a east-west line. The town was incorporated on November 15, 1911.
Del Rio Cemetery Historic District
The Del Rio Cemetery Historic District is an interesting combination of public, religious and fraternal burial grounds representing an evolution of Del Rio society from the late nineteenth through the middle twentieth centuries. Old Del Rio was platted along the banks of San Felipe Creek and when the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1882, the tracks skirted the north edge of town. Beyond the tracks lay the dry rocky rangeland that would not be settled for another fifty years. The early Del Rioans buried their dead within their residential properties. Town lots were sold in five and ten acre tracts creating a town of interspaced homes, stores and (irrigated) agricultural plots. Before 1900 regular burial grounds occurred in at least two downtown locations. The better known site was the Spring Street Cemetery north of the courthouse and contiguous with Cemetery Street, the easternmost of the three principle north-south streets in town: Griner, Main, and Cemetery which is now called Pecan Street. Though the area has been developed and paved over, part of the cemetery land continues to serve religious purposes. The First United Methodist Church bought a portion of the land in 1929 and completed building their sanctuary in 1930. Some graves were disinterred, but others remained in the ground under the site when families could not be located (Reordan 25-26).
A lesser-known site (and undocumented in the written record) was a site at and around the 800 block of South Main Street. Graves were found in both locations as later property developed the sites. Bodies from both sites are supposed to have been reinterred elsewhere, some of them in the Public Cemetery, now known as Westlawn Cemetery.
A third site south of town, the "Cemetario de la Loma de la Cruz," was in use in the late 1800s on land donated to the public, particularly by San Felipe neighborhood Hispanics. (Its distance of several miles from the three-gate cemetery complex currently excludes it from the proposed National Register District even though it has a state historical marker.) When that cemetery closed, it was replaced by another, the San Felipe Cemetery, also on the southeast side of town.
John Perry, whose store/home is the nucleus of Del Rio's Whitehead Memorial Museum, deeded twelve acres in 1889 to Del Rio Lodge #325 of the International Order of Odd Fellows at a cost of twenty-five dollars for a cemetery. Ten years later (1899) he donated adjacent land to the Del Rio Cemetery Association (DRCA) for a public cemetery (VVC, Vol.3, pages 97-98; Vol. 8, pages 245-6). Technically, the transaction was a one-dollar sale, a donation really, and the Cemetery Association planned to thank Perry with a small park in front of his gravesite (according to the 1930 plat map). If the park was ever dedicated, it now has gravesites at that location. The Perry deed to the DRCA for the public cemetery included language that the land should be used for the "white people of Del Rio, Texas and not in any event for the burial of Negroes, Mexicans or tramps."
Map Book Volume 1, page 2 dated May 6, 1905 shows a triangular tract marked "Cemetery" cut from a John Perry tract on the end opposite and above the Cienegas Ditch irrigation canal. The same map marks "Cemetery" on an extended downtown block bounded by Cemetery Street on the west, Garfield on the north corner, what was once Tardy Street on the east, and Losoya Street on the south. (The same map shows the Cemetario de la Loma de la Cruz southeast of town.) Map Book 1, page 48 shows a city map dated March 10, 1915. It shows the "Old Cemetery" between Cactus and Spring Streets and between Pecan and Tardy Streets. The Methodist Church now occupies much of this lot. The Cemetery District is shown clearly delineated at some distance northwest of town: Masonic, Public (including the IOOF) and the Sacred Heart Cemetery (which is labeled separately as Catholic, Italian and Mexican Cemeteries). Map Book 1, page 108 shows the I.O.O.F. Cemetery with an arbor house in the center of its long narrow tract. That map was filed December 13, 1929.
In 1900 W.E. Pafford and John K. Pierce, for whom streets have been named in the downtown area, deeded irregularly shaped additional acreage to the Association. E.K. Fawcett, local rancher and supporter of the Boy Scouts, deeded two additional acres to the Cemetery Association in 1927. Two other tracts of land, in 1929 and 1930 for .903 and .72 acres, were donated by John J. Foster, Joseph Rosenfield and Cordelia Warner (VVC, Vol. 8, pages 156-157; Vol. 63, page 543; Vol. 77, page 166; Vol. 79, pages 75-76). The oldest grave in the Public Cemetery is dated 1872, but the grave and other early graves are presumed to have been moved to the location at a later year.
The name of "Westlawn" does not appear on the early maps of the public cemetery up to 1930. The name did come into legal usage by 1938. Map Book 1, pages 109 and 125 show "Westlawn Cemetery" and "Sub-division of Blocks A, B, and C, Tri-angle Addition, Westlawn Cemetery" filed May 10, 1938. A second map on the same page shows the "Subdivision of Blocks A1 and A2, Westlawn Cemetery." (The maps have no orientation and do not match block labels of the page 109 map.) Page 126 shows "Strangers Rest, Sub-divided Out of Lots 7, 8, 15 and 16, Block 36, Westlawn Cemetery." It was filed on the same May 10, 1938. A Strangers Rest appeared on the page 109 map. The Rest in this map has been moved to the far southwestern corner of the Cemetery.
The International Order of the Odd Fellows, an organization that no longer exists in Del Rio, deeded their Cemetery to the Del Rio Cemetery Association in 1994. The IOOF has been part of Westlawn since that time (VVC, Vol. 594, pages 1-2). Exactly how, when and why the name changed from "Public Cemetery" to "Westlawn Cemetery" is unknown. Part of the answer must lie with the existence of the Loma de la Cruz Cemetery south of town and the newer San Felipe Cemetery southeast of town; a modern, privately-owned cemetery located on the east side of town. The direction contained within the name describes this public cemetery's geographic relationship with the City of Del Rio, and the latter part of the name represents a common American name for burial places.
Del Rio's community once was home to several fraternal lodges and orders common around the nation. Civic organizations provided many functions (unemployment compensation, survivor's benefits, charity) during the time in American history when the government provided much less in the way of social services. Besides the Odd Fellows, the only group to organize their own burial space was the Masons. The local Masonic and Order of the Eastern Star lodges began their cemetery efforts in 1905. Ten acres were bought adjacent to the Public Cemetery (now Westlawn). The oldest grave in the Masonic Cemetery actually dates to 1904, an infant, who is thought to have been reinterred from a previous unknown site. Lodge records indicate that wire fences were built around and gravel roads graded on the grounds during 1907. The first recorded burial on site occurred during 1908. The Del Rio Masonic Cemetery Association was organized in 1915 to provide for the maintenance of the grounds, collect money from the sale of lots, and to beautify the grounds. That same year saw a push for a water line to be extended from the city water system to the cemetery. Some one-hundred dollars was allocated for this purpose, a significant sum at that time. Map Book 1, page 46 has the plat of Masonic Cemetery dated May 30, 1914.
The first Catholic parish, Sacred Heart, was established circa 1895. The origin of Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery rests with Pafford and Peirce, the same men who sold land to the Del Rio Cemetery Association. On January 17, 1900, just four days after the two sold land for the public cemetery (January 13, 1900), they sold land to Right Rev. J.A. Forest, Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of San Antonio, ie. the Catholic Church (VVC, Vol. 8, pages 165-166).
Del Rio is home to what was once called "the Italian Colony." Italians, principally from the area around Milan, immigrated to Del Rio during the 1880s; among them were John Taini and Antonio Bolner. In 1912 the elders of the Colony bought land for a cemetery from Pacificio Serafini. The land was adjacent to the Catholic Cemetery and was part of the tract of land now known as the Serafini Addition, the neighborhood bordering the Cemetery District. In 1927 the two survivors conveyed that land to the Archbishop of San Antonio, presumably the highest Catholic Church official in Texas at the time (VVC, Vol. 25, pages 408-409; Vol. 67, pages 155-156). The land has been incorporated into the Sacred Heart Cemetery and is indistinguishable from the original portion. Italians have been buried in other areas, and non-Italians have been buried there.
Old maps of the district area note a "Mexican" Cemetery, a separate cemetery that is now part of Sacred Heart. A 1915 City map (Map Book 1, page 49) shows the Italian and Mexican cemeteries with the Catholic. However, no deed records for the Mexican cemetery have been found. The "Mexican" portion of the cemetery had to have been added between 1912 and 1915, but no deed records seem to exist in the local courthouse or at the Archdiocese. The graves are more closely spaced and often laid in individual plots rather than the more common family plots in the rest of the Cemetery. However, Mexicans are buried in other areas, so ethnicity is not the key distinction. Rather, this area appears to have been used by poor or working class families while the wealthier Mexicans are buried in large, family plots in the original "Catholic" and "Italian" areas.
The design and layout of the Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery represents a traditional Catholic view of the world. The cemetery grounds are laid in four quarters, each named for one of the four Gospels of the New Testament. St. Matthew is the name for the northeast quadrant, St. Mark is the southeast, St. Luke is to the northwest, and St. John is to the southwest. At the center of the cemetery (where the Four Gospels meet) stands Christ on the Cross, a statue that is one of the principle contributing factors to the District's historicity.
While much of the ground has been partitioned into family plots with large family stones (generally in the back of the plot or the part furthest from the road), the individual gravestones face east as do the burials. This follows the Christian tradition that Jesus Christ will reappear on Earth coming from the East.
St. Joseph's Cemetery is the most difficult to document. It is sometimes confused with the Mexican portion of Sacred Heart, but it is a distinct and separate cemetery. Parish leaders do not have records of the cemetery; tax offices do not have records either. The land has been exempted from taxation and burials occur, but little (if any) care and maintenance of the grounds is done. No trees, cypress or any other, grow on the site. The fences along the front and back of Sacred Heart Cemetery do not extend around St. Joseph's; although, no fence or barrier stands between the two (Amy Thurston, personal interview; Wayne Hyde, personal interview).
The earliest marked gravestone dates to 1903; however, St. Joseph's Parish was not created until 1927. The new parish was formed out of the western portion of Del Rio and the predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods there. As late as 1938, official City Maps show the property owned by a private individual with no suggestion that the tract was being used for burials or claimed as tax-exempt (City of Del Rio, Tax Office). This inconsistency of dates is just one more of the mysteries concerning this cemetery.
The Del Rio Cemetery District qualifies for listing in the National Register recognition under Criteria A in the area of Community Planning and Development. The cemeteries represent significant portions of Del Rio's community history and social trends. Other sites in the Del Rio area had been used for burials at an earlier time, and burials are known to have taken place on privately owned property in the town lots of the oldest portion of town. The District represents a concerted effort to create a place for this sort of social event, events important to community cohesion, but held infrequently. The site is close enough for easy access, but away from land more valuable for its agricultural and commercial usage. The curbing, the landscaping, and the planting of exotic trees make the district as otherworldly as could be in that day and place. As a result, the district is also nominated under criterion C, in the area of Landscape Architecture.
Val Verde County/City of Del Rio notables buried in the District
|Frank Qualia||founded Val Verde Winery, oldest continuously operating winery in Texas|
|Paul Kallinger||nationally known radio broadcaster|
|Joseph Jones||first notary public and state district judge|
|J.G. Griner||county attorney, second County Judge|
|Manuel Arranaga, Sr.||owner of Arranaga & Sons Grocery|
|Genevieve Wallen||owner of Central Hotel; operator of first telephone switchboard|
|John Taini||Del Rio's leading stonemason/builder|
|Joseph Tagliabue||partner with Taini building Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 1894|
|Francesco Franki||started viniculture in area|
|Louis Marini||started viniculture in area|
|Joseph Bolner||service in First World War; namesake of Bolner Ave.|
|Ben E. Bendele||founder of Juno, Texas, 1899|
|Esther Crosby||owner of Mrs. Crosby's, landmark Cd. Acuna restaurant|
|G.B. Cassinelli||builder of Gin House listed in the National Register|
|James McLymont||Del Rio's first mayor, president of early early Del Rio bank, co-owner of |
Roach-McLymont's, one of town's largest stores
|John Perry||owner of Del Rio's first store, for many years, the largest between |
San Antonio and El Paso
|Lt. Jack Laughlin||service in Second World War; KIA; namesake of Laughlin A.F.B. |
(this is a cenotaph because his body was not found)
|Charlie Payne||Indian scout for U.S. Army|
|Hugh M. Hutchinson||built bridge over Rio Grande connecting Del Rio with Ciudad Acuna|
|William K. Jones||first Val Verde County Judge|
|William H. Jones||first Val Verde County Sheriff|
|Joe Studer||first tax assessor|
|Charles Bochat||Confederate army veteran, farmer, City Secretary and Tax Assessor|
|Dr. H.B. Ross||County and City Health Inspector during times of smallpox|
|Ike Billings||charter member of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association|
|Patrick H. Rose||rancher; owned livery stable|
|E.K. Fawcett||rancher; Camp Fawcett namesake, for Boy Scouts|
|R.L. Bob Miers||pioneer rancher, leader in bank and wool house companies|
|H.J. Ware||early store owner; Ware Building now the Paul Poag Theater|
|Samuel J. Connor||owned early city drug store|
|William H. Dodd||Langtry pioneer rancher; store owner; Justice of the Peace; |
|T.L. Drisdale||Juno pioneer rancher|
|Amos Madison||owned first Ford dealership|
|Herman M. Block||first postmaster|
|George W. Brown||District Clerk/County Clerk for 21 years; namesake of Brown Plaza|
|Charles Miller||Justice of the Peace|
|Benjamin Borroum||rancher; City Marshall, and County Commissioner (P. 1)|
|Travis Brown, Sr.||1890s telegraph operator, Painted Cave Station on Southern Pacific RR|
All of the cemeteries in the District remain in use and have space to continue for some years. The age of gravesites ranges from before the establishment of the cemeteries to the present-day. The Masonic Cemetery has 303 graves predating 1952 (the fifty year age point) out of 931 for a total of 33% graves more than half a century old. The Sacred Heart Cemetery has 280 of 867, or 32%, more than 50 years old. The much larger Westlawn Cemetery has 1,352 of 3,575, or 38%, graves more than fifty years old. The graves at St. Joseph's Cemetery are often undated, hence any numbers would be speculative.
"A Century of Faith: Sacred Heart Parish, Del Rio, Texas, 1895-1995," privately published, 1995.
Coleman, Billie Ruth, "Notebook," (newspaper clippings, data, personal observations), no date.
"Del Rio." New Handbook of Texas Online.
Hyde, Wayne, (Val Verde County Tax Collector), personal interview, October 19, 2001.
Jordan, Terry G., Texas Graveyards: A Cultural Legacy, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.
Pulley, Jerry L., "Tree Appraisal Report: Westlawn and Masonic Cemeteries, Del Rio, Texas," 1998.
Reordan, Jewel Dean, The History of First United Methodist Church, Del Rio, Texas, 1882-1982, privately published, 1982.
Thurston, Amy, (Sacred Heart Parish Office Secretary), personal interview, October 22, 2001.
Val Verde County, County Clerk's Office, "Map Books."
Val Verde County, County Clerk's Office, "Deed Records."
Whitehead Memorial Museum, La Hacienda, privately published, 1976.
Zertuche, Diana, Spirit of Val Verde, privately published, 1985.
 Pulley, Jerry L., "Tree Appraisal Report: Westlawn and Masonic Cemeteries, Del Rio, Texas," 1998, p.3.
 Adapted from "DEL RIO, TX." The Handbook of Texas Online.