St. Joseph Cemetery (Abt. 1850-1952)
Eastside of State street, between Elm & Smith, Bay City.
1920 Jul.: Overrun. (Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Apr. 2008)
Bay City Times Tribune - Monday, July 12, 1920 (Page 3)
St. Joseph's Cemetery Overrun
With Shurbbery: Stones Fallen
At midnight beneath the yellow light of a full moon, St. Joseph’s cemetery, State street with its tilting tombstones and markers, fallen trees and wild foliage, presents a ghostlike scene more perfect than even Shakespeare pictured in his “Hamlet”. The graves instead of being decorated with conventional geranium plants and wreaths as is the general custom, are covered with natures own handiwork in the form of wild rose bushes, ivy, tiger lilies and ferns in abundance. Many of the monuments are moss and weeds run rampant.
The little crosses and markers of wood have not stood the tests of the elements and fallen and rotten, they are a mocking spectacle, the lines of lettering being now almost entirely eradicated from them. Many of the inscriptions date back as far as 1850, but most were buried there between 1870 and 1890.
Over the graves of a few soldiers little flags still stand, but they now have not the slightest vestige of blue or red. Fallen trees have played havoc with a number of the graves where the headstones have been crushed and the earth scattered . Birds of all kinds and descriptions have built their homes in the many trees of the cemetery and the sight of a bird of unusual plumage perched upon one of the antique iron grave decorations is most interesting and unique. Some of the epitaphs are in French language.
St. Joseph’s cemetery is the property of the Catholic cemetery board and the board of trustees consists of the priest and laymen from each Catholic parish. The land was a gift from Michael Daily. At present no burials take place here except in rare instances where some old family desires to make use of the family lot.
1951 Jul.: Forgotten. (Transcribed August 2004.)
The Bay City Times - July 29, 1951
FORGOTTEN CITY OF THE DEAD.
Disposing of Abandoned St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery Poses Problem.
A weatherbeaten headstone lies toppled to the ground, half-covered by thick underbrush.
Field mice scurry over the broken pieces of another tombstone nearby. Small snakes rustle away through matted brushes at the sound of a footstep.
A fallen tree almost hides another headstone, making it difficult to read the one word "Mother," inscribed on its side. And everywhere hordes of mosquitoes rise from the rank undergrown to challenge the infrequent visitor.
* * *
THIS IS INDEED a forgotten city of the dead, abandoned over the years by those preoccupied with the problems of the living.
You will find this desolate tract on State Street, stretching two blocks between Elm and Smith streets. A low crumbling wall of cement blocks has spilled down in places. Its eastern edge is an almost impenetrable jungle of bushes whose interlacing branches push almost 15 feet from the ground.
Here is all that remains of the old St. Joseph cemetery. Here lie the bones of some of the city's first pioneers, who came here long before sawmills sprouted on the river's edge.
* * *
LITTLE IS RECORDED of the origins and growth of the cemetery, and even now little is known of how it was allowed to be gradually abandoned and fall into its present condition.
It is mentioned briefly in a city directory of 1905, which cites it was under control of a Cathlolic cemetery board. The directory lists Frank X. Thibault as the sexton.
But diocesan records show nothing of the cemetery plots and who was buried underneath the soil now overgrown with brush. No parish in Bay City lays claim to it.
The headstones tell their own story. Here are the names of Trombley, Rose, Tovatt,Curry, LaRoche, Robidioux, Compau, Bertelot, Truedell, Reno, Bellor, Guindon, Charlebois, Londau, Frazor, and others.
* * *
THEY DIED between the years 1850 and 1925. Some where infants when death struck, others only young women. But the headstone of Sophia Frazor, for instance, carries the legend 1829-1923.
The Trombley family plot remains the most impressive, as befit the descendants of the old Indian trader pioneer who gave of his large land holdings to provide the cemetery. The remains of Joseph Trombley, who founded Banks in 1851, are among those buried here.
The Trombley plot includes a well-preserved monument towering some 15 feet high, surmounted by a cross, and bearing on its four side the names of a long line of Trombleys buried underneath. Names like Richard, Sophie, Joseph, Louis, Katie, Cassie, Theodore, Ellen.
* * *
BUT, LIKE THE OTHER plots, thick weeds and heavy brush are enmeshing it. They sprout even from between the cracks where the main shaft meets the basestone.
Some bodies have already been removed. Low depressions in the ground show where a coffin has been taken and the ground thrown back. But throughout the two-block tract the visitor will stumble over other broken overturned headstones, and come across small markers where the pioneers still lie underneath.
One of the most enigmatic is a small stone, almost hidden by leaves, which states only: "Jacob Geniack, Co. I., I Mich. Inf."
Perhaps the most poignant is the landmark tombstone of the LaRoche family, a nine-foot-high stone facsimile of a tree trunk. Around its base are the broken fragments of family markers, and a few stones where inscriptions can still be made out.
* * *
IT HAS BEEN almost 25 years since anyone was buried here, and Catholic diocesan authorities claim they have no intention of continuing it as a burial plot. Some say the ground was never consecrated, as became the custom of later days.
One high-ranking diocesan official at Saginaw last week indicated the city should investigate the possibility of taking over the property as a park or recreational area. He hinted the diocese would be interested in transferring title, if remaining bodies were removed to other cemeteries.
In the meantime, however, the abandoned city of the dead slumbers on in the shadows of the tower of the Visitation church, passed each day by hundreds of unnoticing motorists, and surrounded by neighbors accustomed to its quiet desolation.
Its silence is broken only by the sound of traffic, or by the children who play around the graves and who have worn narrow foot-paths through its undergrowth.
The dead sleep on here, untroubled by the fact they are ignored and forgotten.
1951 Aug.: Pioneer gave land. (Contributed by Maureen McDermott. June 2006)
The Bay City Times - August 5, 1951
Pioneers Gave Land for Old Cemetery.
by AL PELOQUIN.
THE MYSTERY of the origin of the abandoned St. Joseph cemetery at Elm and State streets cleared last week.
Both the Dailys and the Trombleys can rightfully claim their ancestors gave the burial ground to the Catholic church.
According to register of deeds records, the gifts were made to the church authorities outright with no strings or provisionary clauses attached.
The information had a welcome ring for city officials who were discussing the possibility of converting the area into a playground as suggested by Saginaw diocese officials.
LETTERS and figures scribbled on plat books in City Assessor Horace D. Hodge’s office lead to the solution of the mystery.
The symbols referred to pages and books recording the early deed showing transfer of properties in the mid-1850s. The deeds themselves told the rest of the story.
The first deed found in register Alva Felmlee’s archives was dated October 1, 1855, and – for the sum of $1 – transferred title to a 280 by 554 ½ foot piece of land in the Banks area from “Michael Daily” to “Peter Paul Lefevre of Detroit.”
DAILY WAS ONE of Bay City’s first settlers and reportedly the third white child to set foot in this area, around 1836. A successful fisherman and fur trader, he was known as a prodigious walker. He died here in 1900 at the age of 74.
The deed disclosed that Daily had given the section of land to the Most Rev. Peter Paul Lefevre, second bishop of the then newly established Catholic Diocese of Michigan. Bishop Levfevre ruled over his spiritual congregation from 1841 until his death in 1869.
But the Daily land gift forms only part of the present St. Joseph cemetery, stretching 554 ½ feet north from Elm street, but not reaching to Smith street.
ACCORDING TO records, a second irregular part of St. Joseph cemetery, extending 374 feet along Smith street and 95 feet wide at the eastern end, was given to Casper H. Borgess of Detroit by Joseph Trombley and wife on August 17, 1878.
The Most Rev. Casper H. Borgess was the third bishop of the diocese of Michigan. Consecrated in 1870, he resigned his post in 1887 after supervising – in 1882 – the erection of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, which included Bay City before the fairly recent creation of the Saginaw diocese.
Joseph Trombley was another of the heralded early settlers. He earlier profits as an Indian trader. The Trombley family cemetery plot is located in this section of the abandoned cemetery.
ALL THREE DEEDS hand over title to the Catholic bishops in exchange for the payment of $1 as was the custom in the earlier days for land bequests. None of the deeds mentions any restrictions on the use of the property, nor requires return of title under any circumstances.
The data is expected to help smooth the way for negotiations now underway between city officials and diocesan representatives over possible improvements to the area or its use as a city playground.
The Most Rev. Stephen S. Woznicki, bishop of Saginaw diocese, is reported anxious to arrive at a settlement. Diocesan offices have been busied this week tracing deeds in their own archives.
THERE ARE NO records now available indicating a transfer from the pioneer bishops to their successors. All three deeds assigned the properties to them and their heirs and assigns, however, Diocesan officials expect routine transfer papers passing title to the bishops successors will be found either at Detroit or Grand Rapids chanceries.
Burial records of the cemetery itself are also lost, leaving it still a mystery as to the number and names of persons buried there before the cemetery was abandoned. No one has been found to date who can help explain where these records, reportedly kept by a special Catholic cemetery board, may have disappeared.
1952 Feb: Hearing set. - Added June, 2011.
The Bay City Times – February 28, 1952
Hearing Set On Cemetery Plea
Board to Decide St. Joseph Action
A special diocesan board at Visitation school tomorrow will convene to hear objections to plans for vacating the abandoned 100-year-old St. Joseph Catholic cemetery at Elm and State Streets.
The four-member board will meet at 7 o'clock, and remain in session until 9 o'clock. The meeting is open to cemetery lot holders and “anyone interested in the proposed vacating.”
The board includes the Rt. Rev. Msgr. John J. Sonefeld diocesan vicar-general, the Rev. Fr. Eugene A. Forbes, chancellor; the Rev. Fr. James A. Hickey, secretary to the bishop; and the Rev. Fr. Neil O'Connor, editor, The Catholic Weekly.
The Friday night session is a preliminary step toward plans to vacate the cemetery, and turn the property over to the Visitation parish as a parking area and playground.
Plans call for bodies now buried in the two-block-long cemetery to be exhumed and reburied at Calvary cemetery at Kawkawlin.
One one objection has been raised to the project to date. C. B. Trombley, 68, Saginaw garage owner and grandson of one of the original donors, is protesting the moving of the Trombley family plot.
1952 March: Abandoning ok'd. - Added June, 2011.
The Bay City Times – March 6, 1952
Abanding of Cemetery OK'd
St. Joseph Graves to Be Removed
The Saginaw diocesan chancery announced its final decision to proceed with plans for vacating the abandoned 100-year-old St. Joseph Catholic cemetery.
Diocesan officials said the general removal of graves to Calvary cemetery, Kawkawlin, would begin “shortly after April 15.”
Full and unrestricted use of the West Side burial ground property at Elm and State streets has been granted to Visitation parish, the announcement continued. The parish is expected to use the area for a playground and parking lot.
A special board of review held at Visitation school last week failed to turn up valid objections to the vacating project, diocesan officials indicated. “The diocese feels confident that it has clear title to the cemetery property,” the announcement stated.
The Rt. Rev. Msgr. John J. Sonefeld, diocesan director of ceremonies, said the mass reinterment of bodies was to be conducted in a “reverent” manner. Individual tombstones in good repair will be reestablished at Calvary cemetery, he indicated.
Special arrangements will be made for those persons who have asked that their relatives buried at St. Joseph be reinterred in Catholic cemeteries other than Calvary.
Msgr. Sonefeld said such special removals “must be done at the expense and responsibility of the individual and prior to such disinterment, all parties must confer with the Rt. Rev. Msgr. George O. Dequoy (Visitation pastor) to determine the exact location of the grave.” A permit, if necessary, should also be obtained from municipal authorities, the diocesan director stated.
Msgr. Sonefeld emphasized that the diocese has placed “full authority” over the vacation project in Msgr. Dequoy, and warned that special removals must be completed before the April 15 date set for starting of general excavation.
Completion of the transfer of bodies will mark and end to years of debate over the century-old cemetery. All records were lost sometime ago.
With few exceptions, graves in the two-block area are overrun with brush and weeds and in a general state of neglect. Few burials have been made in the cemetery since 1925.
1879 - Directory: Wenonah, Mich.
- "St. Joseph's Cemetery (Roman Catholic) - Saginaw and Au Sable State Road. Under control of St. Joseph's Church, Bay City."
1886-7 Bay City Directory:
- Louis J. Causley as sexton residing at cemetery.
1883 - History of Bay County, Mich.
- "St. Joseph's Cemetery belongs to the Catholic society, and is situated near Oak Ridge. It was purchased by Mr. B. B. Hart, and has received that careful attention for which Catholic societies are note."