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Graveyard Rabbit of South Alameda County by Cheryl Palmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Story of Oak Knoll Cemetery in Livermore - Part 1

My husband introduced me to the fact that there once was a cemetery on the corner by where my children went to high school. I have lived in this city for over twenty years and was unaware of this fact. All I knew was that this area is currently known as “Boot Hill.” Very interesting indeed! With the assistance of my husband, some researching and reading, I have learned more about this cemetery that has disappeared. Let me tell you the story…

On the outskirts of Livermore there once was a cemetery named Oak Knoll. It was located on a small hill (knoll) of about 40 feet surrounded by otherwise flat land. The area was filled with oak trees, which makes it very clear how it received its name.

Many of the early pioneers to this valley were buried here. Reportedly, in the book “Centennial Year Book of Alameda County” by William Haley, the father of the founder of the city of Livermore was the first person buried here, William Mendenhall, Senior, on January 12, 1873. This book was published in 1876. (The statement can be found on page 349)

The wife of a descendant of William Mendenhall’s claims “This was evidently the first Mendenhall cemetery, for Mendenhall’s were buried there from November 1855, when Sophia, daughter of Martin Mendenhall (William’s brother) was buried there.” This was so stated by Mrs. James Swent. This statement is listed in a report in the Livermore Heritage Guild Newsletter on January 1988.

It has been said that William’s obituary notice refers to William as the first person to be buried in the “new cemetery at Oak Knoll.”

According to a copy of an 1874 map, the land surrounding the cemetery was owned by three Mendenhall brothers. They were William (Phil), Martin, and Absolom. I am not sure which of the brother’s donated some of their land for the cemetery. From what I have read it sounds like two of the brother's possibly donated the land, William "Phil" and Martin. The old map supposedly shows they would have been the ones who owned the property were the cemetery was located. This has not been verified with county records.

Accordingly then, Sophia was buried on the land when the brother’s owned it, “The Mendenhall Cemetery.” After they donated some of their land and it became “Oak Knoll Cemetery," William was the first person to be buried there.

Along with Mendenhall (we have a middle school named after this family) there were other important pioneers buried at Oak Knoll. Henry Clay Smith was considered the “Father of Alameda County.” He died in 1876. Henry C. Smith, the father of Emma C. Smith (there is an elementary school named after Emma) also had a final resting place at Oak Knoll. A physician in the area for 46 years by the name of Dr. William Stewart Taylor was also buried there in 1931. He was the last person to be buried at Oak Knoll.

Apparently there were at least 87 people buried in this cemetery, but there were many unmarked, broken and undecipherable markers. The last sexton of the cemetery left inadequate information. Because of these things, there has never been an accurate account of records, so it may never be known how many people were actually buried there, nor who they all were.


Sheri said...

Great story Cheryl and even better is the research you did for it. Well done!

Cheryl Palmer said...

Thank you so much Sheri! Appreciate the complimentary compliment!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article, my great grandfather's brother is buried here next to his wife Narcissa. His name was Hillory John Arnett, he served in the civil war and passed away in 1921. I recently obtained his death certificate.

Thanks for the sleuthing! I'm still looking for his mother Elizabeth Arnett who died in the 1870's.
joanne in ak

Cheryl Palmer said...

Hi Joanne, This cemetery is not longer in existence. Those who were buried here have been moved. Are you sure they are buried in Livermore? I will see if I run across the name in my searches. If interested, please send me an e-mail @

Anonymous said...

True, the graves that were opened in the landslides did get relocated, but I expect many are still there, and even more on the Chinese side. (As far as I know, the Chinese burials never had any records at all.) Though the remaining headstones were all removed, we still treat it as a cemetery park.

Cheryl Palmer said...

I suspect many are still buried there too. I am not aware of anything with the Chinese part, maybe I will have to research about that!