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Double Butte Cemetery History

by Judy Wulbrecht

Double Butte Cemetery is one of the oldest and most historically significant parts of Tempe, Arizona. In the beginning, the Tempe Cemetery Company was simply several Tempe families, as "shareholders" owning burial plots. Water-logged ground was a major problem even in the desert, the "shareholders selected high, dry ground just below the Double Buttes". A fire caused the loss of the earliest Double Butte Cemetery records and the names of these early "shareholders". A 1940s scrapbook of the Tempe Old Settlers Association named 91 early city pioneers. Eighty-two of those named are buried at Double Butte, including founder of Tempe, Charles Trumbull Hayden, and the families of Miller, Gregg, Moeur, Laird, Gilliland, Fogal, and O'Conner.

The Tempe Cemetery Company was formally organized and chartered on or about the 13 September 1897. Plot sales for the gravesites appear to date back to 1892. The original land was donated by Tempe pioneer farmer Niels Petersen, additional land was acquired by purchase and the newest section was donated by Maricopa County. The Association had sometime before 1924 lost all its funds in a bank failure making it difficult to maintain the grounds. Notes in the minutes indicate that in April 1925, $1,450 was raised to purchase five acres of ground directly west of the old cemetery and Mrs. Niels Petersen gave nearly an acre of additional ground. Four hundred pepper trees and a row of cypress trees were planted along the front. Some of these trees give shade and help create a peaceful setting in 1995.

The original charter expired and under the new charter of January 1926, the Organization renamed itself the Tempe Cemetery Association and organized for charitable and benevolent purpose without capital stock and not for pecuniary profit. The charter allowed for succession of ownership, control, use and management of the cemetery property known as Double Butte Cemetery and was tax exempt. Board of Directors were: Jos T. Burchett, President; Ruby T. Woolf, Vice President; Hugh E. Laird, Treasurer; and G. Moeur, Secretary. A letter from the Board of Directors, 30 March 1929 indicates that a new part of the cemetery had been mapped out and with care no possible error would be made in the disposal of lots and complete records would be kept of every grave and every person buried. Unfortunately, mistakes were made and many records were lost. The Board gave Martin Painia, the caretaker, an increase of salary from $2.00 to $2.50 a day. A letter from Gold Medal Explosives, Utah in 1945, confirms that a magazine of powder house occupied the east side of one butte.

Sections within the cemetery are very different. For many years families had the responsibility and care for their plots. They chose not to irrigate as gophers liking damp earth, would attack the coffins. Most families chose to leave the desert setting and decorate with desert flora, rocks, and gravel. Some plots and monuments are quite ornate with cement divisions in "the old section". The "single grave" section originally was on a rise above the irrigation ditch, and therefore it didn't even have trees or shrubs around the perimeter. In the "new section" plaques are placed level with the surface and there is grass.

At the expiration of the existing Charter of lncorporation for Tempe Cemetery Association, President E.P. Carr, Jr., and Hugh E. Laird, Secretary -Treasurer conveyed by Warranty Deed, April 1958, the real property known as Double Butte Cemetery to the City of Tempe, a municipal corporation. Only property was given, no perpetual care fund existed, therefore, the citizens of Tempe support the care of the cemetery through their taxes. The City of Tempe traded undeveloped cemetery property for land south of the cemetery in the 1970s. This site eventually became Diablo Stadium. The city developed and landscaped an area on the east side of the cemetery called Memorial Gardens. This section has a low wall winding through a grass garden. Markers can be placed on the wall near the gravesites for cremated remains. The City of Tempe made available 750 gravesites for purchase in 1985. All spaces were sold as of August 1994. The American Legion, William Bolys·Post #2, installed the large flagpole south of Memorial Gardens. This area is used for ceremonies on Memorial Day and Veterans Day and is dedicated to the personnel of the US Armed Forces of all Wars. Many who reside in Tempe are disappointed that there are no longer plots available for burial within the city. However,  at the end of 1995 when this cemetery was read for this index, Salavadore Leyvas, Jr., the current sexton, and the City of Tempe maintained the grounds.  The shrubs and trees, and the roadways are in excellent condition. Tempe citizens can be proud of their historically important cemetery.

Postscript by Susi Fathauer:  On October 13, 2006, the city of Tempe took the first steps to make Double Butte Cemetery renovation plan a reality.  The $1.74 million project is expected to add nearly 1,400 single and double burial plots that will accommodate up to 2,000 burials. Construction is expected to last six to eight months.  Crews will redevelop 13 acres in the northern and southern areas of the cemetery for burials.  There are also plans to expand the parking area and add a new irrigation system.  This is to be the first phase of a 20-year plan to completely renovate the cemetery.

For a list of burials which include more recent burials added since they re-opened the cemetery for interment in 2006, see:
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