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DIGGING OUR ROOTS: Notes on Glen Ellen history

DIGGING OUR ROOTS: Notes on Glen Ellen history

The Eldridge Cemetery, 1891–1964

By Teresa Murphy

Nestled on the side of a hill that faces Mill Creek, the Eldridge Cemetery has been the site of eternal rest for many who lived and worked at Sonoma Developmental Center since 1891. This grassy slope no longer displays headstones, but there remain tiny markers that indicate the final resting place for many who died there.

1,422 individuals are buried there, and 502 cremains are kept in a vault at the consecrated cemetery dotted with oak trees. Two employees are interred there. The cemetery was closed to burials in 1964, but there is a plot plan that has the names of everyone resting there.

To some, the cemetery looks in disrepair since it is not maintained in the classic image of mainstream manicured cemeteries. But for those who walk the Orchard Road past it on a daily basis, it is a pastoral grassland perfect for a moment of meditation. The angel and bench placed there clandestinely many years ago by Tim and Teresa Murphy invite passersby to remember that this is a place of natural peace for visitors as well as for the grazing deer and wild birds that grace the woodlands.

Plans have been in the works since 2018 for this historic cemetery to be included as part of the Eldridge Historic Area and/or Landmark, as well as to formalize the environment with a small monument. A cooperative partnership between the Parent Association of Sonoma, led by Kathleen Miller, and the Department of Developmental Services of the state of California, wishes to place a monument and accessible parking when vehicle traffic is allowed to pass. This monument is in the planning stages.

Every Sept. 16, on the Day of Remembrance, flowers are placed at the majestic iron gates to honor those resting at the Eldridge Cemetery. But often one can see a random bouquet resting at the angel’s feet as an occasional family visits the site, where a small sign reads: “In Honor and Memory of those who lived and died at Sonoma Developmental Center 1892–1964. We Remember You.” Sponsored by the California Memorial Project 2018, the key words “We Remember You” shall remain the mantra by which planning for this historic cemetery will be guided.