Photo © Denise Henderson
On Henderson Street in Big Oak Flat hides a little-known spot of historical interest - The Citizen's/Chinese Cemetery.
Big Oak Flat was a gold mining camp that boomed into being an incorporated city after the completion of the Golden Rock Ditch that delivered year-round water to the mines. Fortune seekers from all over the world converged on the area, including hundreds of Chinese immigrants.
During its heyday the City of Big Oak Flat had four hotels, a brick theatre that seated 800 people, many saloons, a Wells Fargo Daily Stage, a school, blacksmith shop, Odd Fellows Hall, Post Office, drug store, bakery, many mercantile stores, a gun-smithy, carpenter shop, livery stable - just about anything a person could need. And there was also a large Chinatown located about a block north of Main Street.
The Citizen's Cemetery and the Chinese Cemetery were situated adjacent to each other on the hill about two blocks north of Main Street. Then, in 1863 a devastating wildfire wiped out most of the City. After the fire the Divide Cemetery located between Big Oak Flat and Groveland came into use and the old one was forsaken.
In 1864 the City of Big Oak Flat dis-incorporated. To this day Tuolumne County has only one city, Sonora.
In the late 1940's to early 1950's Chinamen came to Big Oak Flat and disinterred their countrymen and transported their remains back to China as was their custom. Today the only remnant of the city's original cemetery sites is a small fenced area on Henderson Street and only one marked family grave. No obvious evidence of the Chinese Cemetery is left.
Many vestiges of Big Oak Flat's rich gold mining history survive today including the historic Odd Fellows Yosemite Lodge #97 (Chapter established in 1860) on Highway 120, the Wells Fargo-Gamble Building (Built about 1852 and currently owned by the Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society and under restoration) on Highway 120, the recently burned remains of the once significant Longfellow Stamp Mill and Gold Mine on Anderson Street on BLM property, the Hetch-Hetchy Railroad grade which runs east/west on the north end of town, parts of the Golden Rock Ditch can still be found running basically east/west along the south side of town, the historic Our Lady of Mt Carmel Catholic Church and Cemetery near the eastern border of Big Oak Flat, and the historic Divide Cemetery on Memorial Drive between Big Oak Flat and Groveland.
Time Period Represented: Late 1840's-mid 1860's
Hours Open: Always open
Visitor Fees: None
Seasons Open: Year round