Historic San Diego Cemetery is under perpetual care of the city

Tombstone for N. G. Collins, who had the San Diego Cemetery surveyed in 1891.

In 2002, the city of San Diego secured a Historic Texas Cemetery Medallion for the San Diego Cemetery, which was first surveyed by N. (Norman) G. Collins in April 1891.

But of course, a cemetery must have existed of some sort prior to 1891, since people had been dying in San Diego for at least half a century. Whether it was the current cemetery or another burial site, San Diego residents had been burying their loved ones for many years.

The first death in the records of the Catholic Church in San Diego dates to March 3, 1867 when Father Claude Jaillet oversaw the funeral services for a man named Guajardo.

According the the Corpus Christi Caller, Father Pedro Bard presided over the funeral of Kletus Hoffman in San Diego in June 1888. The following month, he presided over the funeral services of Dona Rafaela Yzaguirre, an “old and much respected matron of San Diego. A large concourse of citizens on foot, on horseback and on vehicles” escorted her to her gravesite. She was survived by two sons, Encarnacion and Manuel Yzaguirre.

These newspaper accounts make it clear that a cemetery existed in San Diego prior to April 1891. In fact, the Caller reported in January 1891 that the “city cemetery has a new hedge around it and a house in a corner for a sexton ordered done by N. G. Collins.”

It is likely, that the survey ordered by Collins in April 1891 was to formalize a cemetery that already existed on lands of the original San Diego de Abajo land grant of Ventura Flores.

Collins, himself, is buried at the cemetery. The San Diego Sun reported his death on November 20, 1899 in its November 24, 1899 edition. Collins, was one of the best known and most powerful citizens in Duval County. He served as a state representative and state senator. The San Diego primary school is named for him and his wife Anna, who also donated funds for construction of St. Francis de Paula church.

The Sun reported that R. H. Corbett, Anastacio Perez, W. W. Meek, Eduardo Garcia, Wm. Adams and J. G. Perez served as pall bearers. Father Bard conducted the funeral service. The funeral cortege from the church to the cemetery was four blocks long and included 60 vehicles 1,600 pedestrians, not counting small children. “It was a sight never before witnessed in San Diego.”

Sometime after Collins’ death, the San Diego Cemetery Association was organized to oversee the cemetery. In April 1948, the association purchased additional land from Annie M. Bagnall. Sometime subsequent to 1948, the San Diego Cemetery Association became extinct and care of the cemetery was taken over by the San Diego Independent School District and subsequently by other local governmental agencies.

In the 1990s, the city of San Diego purchased additional land to meet the need for burial sites and approved an ordinance making the cemetery a perpetual care cemetery under the city’s ownership.