A lesson in Three Rivers history is as near as the local cemetery. In telling children and grandchildren the story of those who have come before them, a stop at the Three Rivers Cemetery is an important chapter.
A visit to a cemetery, any cemetery, especially one in which family members are interred, can inspire strong emotions: awe at the perseverance of those who lived in a different era, a sense of connection with this past, sadness for the loss of life, a newfound awareness of one’s own mortality, and a commitment and sense of purpose to preserve the memories of those who have lived here previously.
In March 1909, Charles Bahwell sold an acre of land for $10 to the newly-organized Three Rivers Cemetery Association. Subsequent donations and purchases of land came from Noel and Nellie Britten and Byron Allen. Jason Barton and Ira Blossom donated land for the road into the property. All received a cemetery plot in recognition of their donation.
Ironically, in September 1910, Jason’s brother Milton Montgomery “Mont” Barton was the first resident of Three Rivers to be buried in the new cemetery upon his accidental death. Several others who had died previously and been buried elsewhere were exhumed and re-interred in the Three Rivers Cemetery.
The handwritten bylaws of the new cemetery were signed March 12, 1909, by George Welch, Henry Alles, and J.W. Griffes. The original journal is on file in the cemetery district office today and also includes collections and disbursements from 1909, which documents the purchase of the first burial sites by J.O. Carter, John Alles, James Barton, George Cahoon, Marion Griffes, Isham “Doc” Mullenix, George Welch, Judd Blick, and J.W. Griffes.
In 1940, the cemetery became a special district under the direction of the County of Tulare. The newly-created Three Rivers Public Cemetery District maintained its elected governing board, but began receiving property-tax income to continue its essential public service.
By 1949, the annual elections of five trustees were replaced by the appointment of three directors — a chairman, vice chairman, and secretary — by the county Board of Supervisors.
The first gravesites sold for $5. By the 1940s, the cost of a plot was $20. In the 1960s, they were going for $40 each. Today, the cost is $400 for Three Rivers residents and $800 for non-residents. There are about 650 interments.
According to Gary Whitney – a Cemetery District board member who is the fourth generation of his family to reside in Three Rivers – several of the headstones were made from a quarry that is visible from the Cemetery.
“They mined what I believe is called ‘rose quartz,” he said. “One particular stone is that of Civil War veteran Francis Senteney. There are several others but his is probably the most notable.”
In recent years, Gary has spearheaded an effort to ensure every grave in the Three Rivers Cemetery is identified by a marker, which consists of a bronze plaque set in concrete. He also organizes regular Cemetery cleanup days.