The San Francisco Bay Area hills are spotted with numerous parks where one can hike or picnic, often with great views of the rolling countryside or even the ocean. Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve east of San Francisco has another secret worth a traveler’s exploration: the Rose Hill Cemetery dating back to the Gold Rush.
We love to explore old cemeteries. There is something that gets the imagination going when you see ornate markers for entire young families and small tidy headstones for babies and children. You wonder about how tough life was in the 1850s, ‘60s ad ‘70s during and after the era when those seeking riches pouring from the hills dared to journey across our country. They were often quite disappointed, died young or otherwise fell ill.
Black Mines park offers camping, picnicking – and Gold Rush history
Just over 6,000 acres, Black Mines Regional Preserve is not a huge park, but it offers the escape many in the more urban San Francisco area demand. Yelp reviews indicate Black Diamond Mines parks is quite a beloved place.
Gold was not what was mined there but “black diamonds,” which was a reference to coal. The mine there was the largest coal mining area in California up until the turn of the 20th century. Later came sand and gravel. The East Bay Regional Parks District, which has a chain of delightful parks up and down the hills east of San Francisco, began acquiring land for the park in the 1970s.
Rose Hill Cemetery’s decades of decay in Black Diamond park
What that means, however, is that Rose Hill Cemetery in the hills of Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve suffered through decades of abuse and looting. Until the area was acquired by the parks district, the road directly to the cemetery remained opened, according to the East Bay Regional Parks District’s extensive brochure on Rose Hill. Vandalism was therefore easy.
HI Travel Tales friend Marianne Dresser (who took all the photos you see here) heads there for weekend or after-work hikes and dog walks. She said, “It is rather moving when you take the time to wander in the cemetery and read the headstones. So many are for young children or young people. You get the sense of how hard life was in the mining towns (little more than camps, really)….
“We East Bay dwellers may take for granted our access to so much open space, beautiful parks and trails that we lose sight of the fact that many of these lands were the homes and worksites of poor and working class people (usually or often immigrants) in the early part of the 20th century. The mining life was a difficult one, attested to by the fact that the more vulnerable members of the mining communities are over-represented in the cemetery.”
Burials at Rose Hill number at least 235
According to the East Bay Regional Parks district, no official or original records of interment exist – or at least have been found. Officials and volunteers who keep a watchful eye over the history at Rose Hill Cemetery believe there were at least 235 burials there during its prime years of about 1860 to 1900. That is when the five towns in the area were at their peak and likely had the largest number of disease outbreaks. Today, unfortunately, only about 80 headstones remain, but the search continues for ones that may have been carried off to somebody’s backyard decades ago.
“Black Diamond Mines is one of the more remote parks in the East Bay Regional Parks District system,” added Marianne Dresser. “It is notable among all the many East Bay Regional Parks for its historical roots and the district has done a great job reconstructing and maintaining the mine sites and cemetery.”
Most old cemeteries bring about a little contemplation in visitors. We certainly find that. There is something haunting about beautiful markers, engraved with loving epitaphs, ornate headstones, sometimes broken or crooked. Here the parks district is making a huge effort to preserve and reconstruct history.
The feeling of being there, says HI Travel Tales friend Marianne Dresser, was of “reverence and respect for the hardy people who lived and died there.”
(Photos by Marianne Dresser)