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Survey Number: HPS-253
Year Built: 1888
Architectural Style: N/A

DESCRIPTION OF PHYSICAL FEATURES

Location – This property exists in its originally developed location at the western base of the Double Buttes. The first burial plots were set in an undeveloped, Sonoran desert environment and the cemetery has been maintained in a manner that has preserved this original desert appearance. Niels Petersen, a prominent Tempe entrepreneur and landowner, donated this site in the late 1890s for use as a cemetery. The original burials remain within the confines of Tempe Double Butte Cemetery, which has expanded outward many times over the years to accommodate community needs. This outward growth, however, has served only to enhance the integrity of setting and has had no detrimental impacts.

Setting - Double Butte Cemetery retains its full integrity of setting with regard to the historic period of significance (1888-1958). Visiting the site, one immediately gains a sense of the original layout and it is easy to envision the cemetery as it existed in its earliest days. Visitors can readily deduce the manner in which the cemetery strategically expanded at various intervals over a period of many decades, radiating outward in different directions to accommodate the continuing need for additional burial space. The two mountainous outcroppings—Bell Butte and Double Buttes—rise prominently to the east and southeast, providing a sense of visual orientation that has remained constant since the first interments occurred some 120 years ago.

Feeling - The sheer size and dominance of the buttes underscores the natural setting and deepens the sense of spiritual connection that visitors experience when traversing the cemetery grounds. Despite being situated in a sprawling urban and suburban area with more than 4 million residents, one feels as though they have stepped backwards in time and cannot help but become oblivious to the city around them. The Sonoran Desert atmosphere adds tremendously to this sense of feeling, as no alterations have been made to the historic portions of the cemetery; the indigenous vegetation that sporadically surrounds the individual graves and trails harkens back to the earliest years of the site’s use as a burial ground and exudes a high level of environmental feeling and integrity.

Association - As Tempe’s earliest cemetery, Double Butte portrays the unique diversity of the community across time. Members of various ethnic groups can be found buried alongside one another, a lasting vestige to the remarkable range of cultural associations that defined people’s daily lives in Tempe through the ages. No other place in Tempe so vividly portrays this cultural diversity and developmental associations in such a powerful and original setting. The cemetery also bears close associations with broader historical themes, including economic development and politics (at the local, state, and national levels), which will be discussed in greater detail in a subsequent section of this nomination.

Materials - Tempe Double Butte Cemetery is unique in that it is the only cemetery in the Salt River Valley that includes both a Victorian-era pioneer graveyard alongside a Post WWII-era cemetery. The property contains graves and markers of pioneer families evidencing the early diversity of the community and providing a good representation of the historic Tempe community’s continuously developing self-image. The juxtaposition of both aforementioned sections demonstrates the evolution of a simple town graveyard into a modern community cemetery. From the natural desert in the Pioneer Section to the tree-lined irrigated lawn areas, both sections coexist with good integrity and together they help us interpret Tempe’s growth and development from a rural 19th century farming community to a modern 21st century urban center. This transcendence of design and development provides a significant array of gravemarkers and monuments that collectively represent the artistic values of several historical periods while simultaneously offering insights into the evolution of landscape architecture.

The gravemarkers in the Pioneer Section consist primarily of stone tablets and obelisks, with the more elaborate obelisks predating the 1920s and being representative of the Victorian-style preferences more common to that earlier time period. Among the newer burials, many of the markers lay flat on the surface of the ground and are composed of copper or brass, whereas older burials contain predominantly free-standing tablets of granite or marble.

A number of larger family plots dot the cemetery grounds, many of which date back to the early 1900s and some of which are still in use in those instances where living family descendants continue to reside in Tempe. These family plots are almost invariably distinguished by historic fencing of various sorts, in many cases wrought-iron (see photos 5-6). Furthermore, many family burial plots (particularly those that are not fenced) have small, approximately six-inch wide and four-inch tall concrete curbing denoting the rectangular boundaries (see photos 7-8). These concrete curbs are an important character-defining feature of the cemetery and no such infrastructure has been installed in the modern era; all concrete curbing shows certain unmistakable signs of old age, such as significant cracking; lightening in coloration; wear to the surface finish; shifting in position (making them unlevel); and minor damage of various sorts including chipping and weathering. Damaged portions of these concrete curbs have not been replaced with new materials and thus the historic integrity remains fully intact.

Condition - For many years, primary caretaking responsibilities at the cemetery fell to the individual families whose relatives were buried there. Oftentimes families would erect fencing around their burial plots and would, to the best of their abilities, care for the grounds in the immediate vicinity to prevent overgrowth and other unsightly features. As a result, in its earliest years Double Butte Cemetery appeared only sporadically cared-for because some families had access to caretaking resources while others did not. In early years the Tempe Cemetery Company did its utmost to ensure upkeep, but ultimately the more minute details were the responsibility of the families who owned burial plots. Of course, this early method of landscaping and grounds upkeep is no longer the case at Double Butte. The cemetery is now administered and maintained by the City of Tempe Parks and Recreation Department. This city department first acquired ownership of the property in 1958 from the Tempe Cemetery Association, which dissolved its interest in the property at that time. After a brief period of private operation from 1998 to early 2000, the City of Tempe resumed its former role and continues to operate the cemetery through a cooperative arrangement between the Community Services and Public Works Departments, with administrative oversight provided by the Double Butte Cemetery Advisory Commission.

Although gravestones and burial plots at Tempe Double Butte Cemetery generally remain in good condition, many of the older burial-markers show signs of age and some are in critical need of conservation. Additionally, some of the oldest markers have suffered either from vandalism or natural deterioration and are now cracked, chipped, or in a few egregious instances, lying prostrate upon the ground (see photos 9-10). There are also a number of graves at the cemetery that have never had identifying markers (130 according to burial database records). All burial plots are maintained with care, however, and the cemetery continues to portray its wide diversity of interments through careful, diligent caretaking by the City of Tempe Parks and Recreation Department. 

Narrative Statement of Significance

Double Butte Cemetery is the town’s first cemetery; it is significant for being contemporaneous with the founding of Tempe, for evidencing the diversity of community pioneers, and as an exemplary representation of the self-image of the community during its first century in existence. The creation and continuity of Tempe’s first cemetery reflects a broad spectrum of the community’s history and culture. As a district eligible under Criteria A, Double Butte not only meets, but exceeds, the requirements for the continued presence of integrity of location, setting, feeling, and association. Significantly, the site goes far beyond mere individual and family associations; it reflects the establishment, development, and growth of Tempe through the presence of many early pioneers’ gravesites.

Increasingly, scholarship and public perception have come to demonstrate a growing appreciation for the important historical themes that graves, cemeteries, and burial places represent. Owing to a growing emphasis on the history of ordinary individuals, grass roots movements, and various cultural groups, the importance of burial places to the interpretation of community history is taking on new significance. Unfortunately, the maintenance and preservation of burial places is threatened by neglect and vandalism, even as the qualities that render these places important representatives of our history make them worthy of preservation. Historic designation and listing is an important step in preserving Double Butte, because such recognition can help to initiate and sustain community interest in the overall importance of this site in conveying the story of its past. Designation also lends increased credibility to localized efforts seeking to preserve this resource for its continuing contribution to the community's identity.

The advent of the western base of the Double Buttes as a burial place can be traced to the continued expansion of Tempe in the late nineteenth century and the increasing need for a pre-determined cemetery far-removed from the town’s residential and commercial core. Prior to the establishment of Double Butte Cemetery, many persons were buried in a haphazard manner at locations near the settlement. Double Butte therefore became the first successful attempt to mitigate this shortcoming and, within ten years of its founding, had become the primary place of burial for deceased Tempe residents. Although the first verifiable burials date to the 1880s, Double Butte Cemetery was not officially established until September 13, 1897 during a meeting of the Tempe Cemetery Company, whose officers formed the first corporate entity to administer the property. The many interments that already existed at that location prompted the Tempe Cemetery Company to assume responsibility for the property. The earliest gravestones recorded in the burial database date to 1888; there are six known graves from that year, making that the earliest verifiable date for the cemetery’s founding.

The daily lives of the thousands of persons buried in the cemetery exude a strong sense of community and cultural evolution and reveal a remarkable level of involvement at both the local and statewide levels of Arizona development. Few other historic cemeteries in the state possess such a wide diversity of prominent Arizonans interred within their boundaries. The approximately 7,000 persons buried in Double Butte Cemetery during the historic period of significance (1888-1958) are, each in their own respective manner, representative of Tempe’s many contributions to Arizona over the previous 130 years.

Tempe is, and always has been, a place of tremendous diversity. Located as it is, directly between the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation (SRP-MIC) and the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC), Tempe is a place that has long been defined by its relationship with Native American communities. In that same regard, Arizona’s proximity to the border with Mexico has also played a critical role in cultural development. Since its earliest days Tempe has attracted a wide range of Hispanic- and Mexican-American residents who served in a variety of capacities at the local level. So too did Japanese-American migrant farmers contribute to this dynamic of diversity, occupying portions of the eastern Salt River Valley beginning in the early 1900s and adding another layer of cultural complexity. The arrival of Anglo-American businessmen and entrepreneurs beginning in the 1870s and continuing for many decades thereafter provided yet another important cultural and ethnic linkage, one that at times bonded, and occasionally abraded, these groups during the course of everyday.

As Tempe’s earliest cemetery, dating to 1888, Double Butte prominently portrays this remarkable diversity through its broad range of burials. Walking down the rows of gravestones, it is not unusual to find members of various ethnic groups buried side by side, a lasting tribute to those whose daily lives found them working and living near one another. No other place in Tempe so vividly portrays this cultural diversity in such a powerful and original setting.

A 1940s scrapbook of the Tempe Old Settlers Association named 91 early city pioneers; 82 of those named are buried at Double Butte. Indeed, the cemetery is the gravesite of Tempe founder Charles T. Hayden, his son U.S. Senator Carl Hayden, and numerous other Tempe pioneers and persons of transcendent importance in the history of the community, including the families of Fogal, Gilliland, Goodwin, Gregg, Laird, Miller, Moeur, and O'Conner. While Hayden, Laird and Moeur are memorialized in our built environment by buildings and structures directly associated with their productive lives, Fogal, Gregg, Miller, and many other pioneer families are commemorated only at Double Butte and their graves are the only physical remnant of their lives in Tempe. (See photos 24-28).

Development of Double Butte Cemetery, 1888 to 1958

Tempe Double Butte Cemetery traces its roots back as far as 1888, the date of the first recorded graves in the cemetery register (six total interments are known to date from that year). For the next decade, Double Butte grew to become Tempe’s primary burial place. Accordingly, on September 13, 1897, the Tempe Cemetery Company was formed, becoming the first entity to administer the property. Officers included: Thomas Morrow (president); Jonathan L. Richard (vice president); Gabriel Cosner (secretary); and M.S. Johnston (treasurer). The articles of incorporation granted operating rights for twenty-five years, until September 1922. Upon executive board approval, the company made available one thousand shares of stock in Double Butte Cemetery, valued at ten dollars per share.

Among the first sections to be professionally developed by the Tempe Cemetery Company, what has come to be known as the “Pioneer Section” offered family plats and was located adjacent to earlier, pre-1897 burials. Of the five original company executives named above, four of them are buried in the Pioneer Section. It is also in this, the oldest organized portion of the cemetery, that the graves of Tempe pioneers Charles Trumbull Hayden, Carl T. Hayden, and Benjamin B. Moeur are found. Alongside them are buried members of their immediate families, including Carl Hayden’s wife Nan, who sewed the first Arizona state flag in 1912. Governor Moeur’s wife, Honor Andersen Moeur, who served for many years as secretary of the Tempe Cemetery Association, is also buried next to her husband.

As noted, the incorporation charter for the Tempe Cemetery Company expired in September 1922. Two years later a stockholder meeting convened to elect a new board of directors and to determine the future directional aspirations of the company. New directors were elected at a January 31, 1924 meeting, including: Joseph T. Birchett (president); D.G. Buck (vice president); Mrs. B.B. Moeur (secretary); Hugh Laird (treasurer); and Price Wickliff (sexton).

Events in the 1920s had left the company in dire financial straits, and the cemetery itself suffered immensely as a result, with “many of the graves . . . badly sunken and the trees beginning to die from lack of water and care.” Recent banking failures at the local level had devastated the Tempe Cemetery Company’s pecuniary assets and the new board of directors was faced with the primary task of raising additional funds. By the end of 1926, after only a few months of effort, a fundraising committee had secured nearly $1,500 to be expended towards cemetery upkeep as well as the purchase of five additional acres of land from original donor Niels Petersen.

By the time Joseph Birchett retired as president in 1929, the Tempe Cemetery Association had fully recovered from its earlier financial woes and had begun to envision greater expansion (ironically, the cemetery achieved fiscal prosperity just as the Great Depression struck and catapulted the nation into financial catastrophe). Some concern was expressed with the frequent practice of non-Tempe residents being buried in the cemetery, especially because of limited space. However, this important element is characteristic of the twentieth century population expansion of the Salt River Valley, with thousands of persons migrating from other portions of the U.S. and contributing in their own unique ways to the ever-evolving cultural milieu of the region.

Prior to his departure, Birchett recommended that the cemetery expand to include both of the buttes and all land adjoining them, noting that he was “convinced that at some future time they will be valuable assets.” An imaginative Birchett foresaw the placement of permanent reservoirs and ponds “on some of the higher ground” as being conducive to the future construction of mausoleums and proclaimed that Double Butte Cemetery, if properly expanded and administered, “could unquestionably be made into one of the most beautiful and unique cemeteries in the whole country.”

Birchett’s vision of lavish ponds and fountains on the slopes of the Double Buttes never came to fruition (perhaps due more to issues of geographic impracticality rather than financial concerns), but the cemetery did nevertheless continue to expand in other, more practical, directions. In 1938 Tempe Cemetery Association President Garfield A. Goodwin asked the board of directors to approve a motion for the purchase of twenty-five acres of land abutting the western fringe of the existing grounds for the price of $3,200. In upcoming years burial plots would continue to fill these newly acquired lands: Sections F and G were filled between 1927 and 1936; Sections 1-7 reached capacity between 1926 and 1939; and Sections 8-12 had been bought out by 1958.

By the 1950s, the cemetery had grown to a size and scale that severely taxed the administrative abilities of a volunteer organization like the Tempe Cemetery Association. At a board of directors meeting on April 17, 1958, the three remaining members (E.P. Carr, Jr., Hugh E. Laird, and Clyde Gilliland) announced that a deal had been struck to “convey to the City of Tempe all of its right, title and interest in and to the property . . . on the condition that the City of Tempe assume its obligations to operate the same as a cemetery.” Thus, after sixty years of private, volunteer-organization management, Tempe Double Butte Cemetery reverted to administration by the City of Tempe. It remains under city ownership to this day.

SOURCES

Tempe Double Butte Cemetery National Register Nomination (2012)

Find A Grave - Tempe Double Butte Cemetery http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=640403

Graveside Arizona - Tempe Double Butte Cemetery http://www.doney.net/aroundaz/graves.htm

History of Tempe's Double Butte Cemetery by Cheryl L. Fox

How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation, National Park Service
http://www.nps.gov/nr/publications/bulletins/nrb15/nrb15_2.htm

Tempe Double-Butte Cemetery Master Plan, Logan-Simpson Design (Ryden) 2002

Tempe Historic Preservation Office Archive File No. 2006.0000.0012

Tempe History Museum Historic Property Survey HPS-253 Double Butte Cemetery

RESOURCES
Letter of Nomination : : Mayor Hallman to Tempe HPC

Preliminary Report to Cemetery Advisory Committee : : Meeting November 16, 2011

Research Report to Historic Preservation Commission : : Neighborhood Meeting at HPC 

Staff Summary Report to Historic Preservation Commission : : Public Hearing at HPC 

Staff Report to Development Review Commission : : Public Hearing at DRC

Staff Report to City Council : : Public Hearing at CC

Staff Report to City Council : : Public Hearing at CC

ORDINANCE NO. 2012.10

Last updated: 7/25/2013 10:47:54 AM