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Did You Know: Pioneer And Military Memorial Park A Territory-Era Cemetery
Ever thought of digging up some history at a cemetery? No, not that kind of digging! It’s more like locating important people who once impacted a village, a city and even a state. There’s such a place right here in the Valley
On the corner of Jefferson Street and 15th Avenue in downtown Phoenix, in between modern day government buildings, sits Pioneer and Military Memorial Park. Did You Know… this cemetery is the final resting place of thousands of Arizona pioneers?
“These are people that had influence all over the state of Arizona and their final resting place ended up here in Phoenix,” said Frank Barrios of the Pioneers' Cemetery Association, the group that oversees and protects the history and the remains of early Arizona cemeteries.
“Unbelievably important, historical cemetery that most people don’t even realize is here,” he said.
The cemetery was originally located around Madison Street and what today is 7th Avenue. Barrios says residents back then didn’t want the town’s burial ground so close to the outskirts of its growing community. So, around 1884 this became the burial area for the townspeople.
The city purchased one cemetery, another was privately owned which included a military section for veterans. Several organizations also acquired land for their members. Ultimately there were seven cemeteries. It was referred to as Block 32 at the time.
By 1914 the cemetery was abandoned and closed. The city of Phoenix took it over in the 1950s, then the name changed. And in the late 1980s city voters approved a bond to protect and restore the cemetery.
“With the bond issue, they came in, fixed some of the headstones, built the beautiful fence that you see around here,” Barrios said.
It also helped begin a restoration and preservation effort. Among those notable Arizona pioneers: John Alsap, the first mayor of Phoenix. Darell Duppa, who is credited with naming Phoenix and Tempe, and Jacob Waltz, the man who legend says discovered a gold mine in the Superstition Mountains and kept the location a secret. Many others are buried here.
“It’s around 3,600 burials that we know of. And there’s only like 600 and something headstones. Many of the people that are buried we know they’re buried here but in some cases we don’t even know the exact location of their burial," Barrios said.
In 2012 the partial remains of 14 people were unearthed during construction near the original cemetery site — on 6th Avenue and Madison Street. Those remains were reinterred in Pioneer and Military Memorial Park nearly 100 years after the last burials.
Updated 8/21/2014 at 4:15 p.m.