History

Every community has its share of historical figures and characters – both famous and infamous.  And, since death is 100 percent, more likely than not they end up buried in the local cemetery. (Those not buried in the local cemetery end up being shipped out to a family cemetery somewhere else.) 

 We Take a Great Amount of Pride in What We Do

This is just a few of the famous and persons of notoriety who are buried at Union Cemetery.  Some are – or were – famous nationally, while others are either locally famous or colorful characters.

Land Acquisitions:

1878 – The Cemetery location was moved to its current home.  The original spot, located at the corner of what is now Marsh Creek Road and Byron Highway (State Route 4) was deemed unsuitable for use as a cemetery for two reasons.  (1) First it was under water much of the rainy season, making winter funerals difficult, if not impossible; and, (2) second it was too close to a school.  The grammar-school-age students were able to see the cemetery from their second-story windows, possibly being exposed to week-day burials.  Once moved to its new grounds it was run by a not-for-profit Cemetery Association.  These initial four acres of the existing cemetery had been purchased from the Colburn Preston Family at the then princely sum of $400.00 or $100.00 per acre.

1928 – Fifty years later, the residents and taxpayers of the area voted to create a government agency (Special District) to run the cemetery under the Public Cemetery Act of 1909.  This was to insure a financial basis for year-round operation, as there were, on average, only 12 funerals per year.  The District is governed by a Board of Trustees under the State Health & Safety code section 900 and following.  Traditionally there has been one Trustee from each of the three primary communities, though legally the Trustees are considered “at large”. 

1931-1932 – The grounds were more than doubled in size, when the District purchased an additional 5½ acres, on two of the three sides of the original cemetery.

1961-1962 – The District again doubled the size of the grounds with the purchase of an additional eight acres of land, directly behind the original two parcels.

2007-2009 – Today, the District is considering the purchase of 10 additional acres of land to the west of the existing area.  

In 1878, the Byron-Brentwood-Knightsen Union Cemetery Association was formed.  It was governed by a seven-man Board of Directors, who was appointed at large from throughout the district. (In those days, women did not participate in government at this level and had yet been given the right to vote.)

Other Significant Events, Highlights & Information:

In 1878, the Byron-Brentwood-Knightsen Union Cemetery Association was formed.  It was governed by a seven-man Board of Directors, who was appointed at large from throughout the district. (In those days, women did not participate in government at this level and had yet been given the right to vote.)

In 1909, the State of California passes the first Public Cemetery Act, which was highly modified over the next 95 years. The reasoning for enacting these laws was that so many pioneer cemeteries were being abandoned and going to ruin.   These laws provide each local area the ability to levy property taxes and “fill in the financial gaps” between funerals.  Until this time, each community’s was to rely upon either fees from burials or volunteer workers to maintain its cemetery grounds.  (Today, in addition to Special District Cemeteries, there are a handful that belongs to Cities and Counties, which are governed under a different Section of the State Health & Safety Code.  Publicly-owned cemeteries of all kinds, account for at least 67% of all cemeteries in California.)

In 1928, the Byron-Brentwood-Knightsen Union Cemetery District was formed through a vote of the people.  The community of Oakley (now a city, since 1999) voted not to participate in the District.  At that time Oakley was comprised of ethnic groups that were primarily Roman Catholic and hence those citizens opted to use Holy Cross Cemetery as that community’s official cemetery.

In 1932, three years after its formation, the District acquired the additional five 1/2 acres as stated previously.  Much of the work in developing the new land was done by volunteers using their own resources.  Those persons that were sitting on the Board at that time were William Bunn (Sr.), of Byron; Leonard Dainty of Brentwood; and George Geddes, Sr. of Knightsen.  (Mr. Bunn’s son, also named Bill, would sit on the Board during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.)

In 1960, the Board of Trustees, comprised of Fabin Richart, representing Byron; Wilmer H. White, representing Brentwood; and Harry Hobbs, representing Knightsen voted to temporally raise the property taxes in the District to fund the acquisition of the new land.  The taxes were returned to their pre-purchase level once the land was paid for.

In 1961, the District signed a contract granting a right-of-way to the farmer that had sold the land.  This was so that grower could access his remaining property, which was now landlocked, from the State Highway Route 4 (now Brentwood Blvd.)

In 1979, votes of the State approved California State Proposition 13 changing the State Constitution and thus reducing the amount of property tax revenues paid to Counties, Cities and Special Districts.  This caused a temporary hardship on the District.

In 1983, the first woman was appointed to the Board.  Mary Reese, the Business Manager and Comtroller of Brentwood Unified School District joined Trustees Wilmer H. White and William Bunn.  The following year, Mr. Bunn was replaced by Jack Byer.

In 1994, Mary Reese and Wilmer H. White both died within six weeks of each other.  It was the first time throughout the history of the District that two governing seats became available at the same time due to the death of both Trustees.

In 1995, all Board meetings were moved to the break room of the District Office.  In years prior, the meetings were held on a rotating basis in the homes of the individual Board Members, since there was no adequate facility anywhere else in the District boundaries.  The meetings and their locations were announced in the local newspapers and posted in the window of the District Office, as per the California Open Meeting Laws, thus taxpayers knew the meeting locations at all times.

In 2002, the first all-woman Board is seated.  It was consisted of Barbara Guise, Brentwood, Chair; Mary Piepho, Byron/Discovery Bay; and, Delma Webb, Knightsen/Bethel Island.

In 2003, The Public Cemetery Laws were condensed, modernized and are now found in California State Health & Safety Code 9000 and following.  All of the previous, disjointed laws were carefully reviewed for content and meaning then revised by a panel of at least 20 persons representing several segments of the “death care” industry and of members of the public.  Sitting on the panel were representatives from the California Association of Public Cemeteries (CAPC), the Public Cemetery Alliance (PCA), the California Cemetery Association (representing privately owned and corporate cemeteries), the California Funeral Directors Association, the California Monument Association, and various groups representing other aspects of the funeral and cemetery business.  The group met under the auspices of the State Senate Local Government Committee, which was chaired at the time by Sen. Tom Torlakson (D, Contra Costa County) who had once represented Union Cemetery District as its District 5 Supervisor for the County of Contra Costa.  Due to that committee’s careful work, local cemetery laws are much easier to understand and apply.

In 2004, on January 1 of that year, the new State Health & Safety Code §9000 and following became law and went into effect.

Some Information About Public Cemeteries

What Public Cemeteries Cannot Do (by law) –

  • Perform above ground interments, such as in Mausoleums;
  • Own and Operate a Crematorium;
  • Sell Flowers;
  • Sell grave markers and monuments.


Some of the things Public Cemeteries CAN do (by law) –

  • Perform Full Body Burials in the Ground;
  • Bury Cremations in the ground
  • Own and Maintain Columbaria (Niche Walls) for above ground cremation interments;
  • Set headstones;
  • Sue and be sued;
  • Create a seal;
  • Create rules and regulations governing visitors;
  • Create standards of employment.


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