The historic Downieville Cemetery has been serving this historic Gold Rush community since the 1860s. Like most Gold Rush cemeteries, this pioneer burial ground is a place of repose for those who tell the story of this historic town. In addition to being a hallowed place for those who rest here, this hillside cemetery is a peaceful place with beautiful views of the surrounding hillsides, wonderful wildflowers, and fine examples of both exquisite headstones and ironwork.
About this Site
The Downieville Cemetery, also known as the Masonic Cemetery, is the town’s fourth and contains many graves relocated from the original cemetery located on the site of the present school. That cemetery, dating back to the late 1840s, was relocated and that site mined. Two other cemeteries in the town’s history have also disappeared, one on the ridge above Jersey Flat today containing a single marked grave, and a Chinese cemetery near the confluence of the Downie River and Pauley Creek. It is debatable how many graves remain at the latter site as it was common practice to ship remains home to Asia following a temporary interment.
Today, the Downieville Cemetery is the final resting place for over six hundred souls and represents a who’s who of Downieville and Sierra County history. A thumbnail demographic of early pioneers show they arrived early, they arrived young, and that Downieville had the pick of the world with the northeast region of the United States and western Europe well represented
While the cemetery has a wide range of stonemason’s art, the tallest headstone with an angel perched on top is the most visible. It marks the grave of Lewis Byington, a native of Vermont. Arriving in Sierra County in 1853, he owned a number of markets in the surrounding mining camps including Downieville. Elected twice to the Sierra County Board of Supervisors, in 1877 he was elected to the state assembly from Downieville and died in San Francisco in 1886 while still in office.
Other notables in the cemetery include Dr. Cyrus Aiken, who served as Sierra County coroner in 1852. In 1851, he was one of few who spoke up in an attempt to save the life of Juanita, the only woman lynched in California; JMB Meroux, a Downieville grocer whose heirs donated the stone building that today houses the Downieville Museum; Belle Alexander, who served 32 years as Sierra County’s superintendent of schools; and Tony Lavezzola, Downieville born in 1881 and who owned the venerable St. Charles Hotel for 40 years.
Hours OpenAll daylight hours.
Time Period RepresentedGold Rush era to present day.
Seasons OpenYear round
ADA Accessibility Notes
Cemetery viewable by all from the adjacent county road. Access is limited due to steep and uneven ground, and the stairway provides the only access. While not common, do watch for rattlesnakes!
Pet Friendly Notes
Pet friendly, but please respect this hallowed ground and pick up after your dog.