The Historic Masonic and Odd Fellows Cemetery

by Paula Bosse

cemeteries_dmn_052028e-photoTombstone of W. C. C. Akard, 1826-1870… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

The other day I posted a photo of the Dallas skyline and pointed out that the land occupied by Memorial Auditorium/Dallas Convention Center was once the site of a cemetery (or, rather, several cemeteries). While I was digging around for more information on those historic cemeteries — the old city cemetery, the Masonic and Odd Fellows cemetery, and the Jewish Cemetery — I came across the lengthy and very informative Dallas Morning News article “Dallas Has Its Own Trinity Churchyard” by Vivian Richardson (DMN, May 20, 1928) — read it in a PDF here. (Most of the photos in this post are from that article.)

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This passage of Richardson’s article is worth highlighting, if only for its flowery language and evocative imagery:

A grassy, hidden hillside, nibbled at by progress, bullied by railroad tracks and Marilla Street warehouses […]. Just over the west fence comes the pungent odor of bananas being unloaded from a refrigerator car; switch engines clang: on the south a tractor puffs and chortles in front of a street plow, turning over the baked earth of Masonic street and tramping it down again. On the north is the whamming of hammers, busy getting up a new filling station, and, almost close enough to stretch long finger-like shadows across the narrow expanse of Marilla street, the Santa Fe and Magnolia Buildings rear arrogant heads. The voice of the city hums – yet it is distant, ineffectual above the murmur of cemetery trees. Here lie the men who made that voice! (Vivian Richardson, DMN, May 20, 1928)

Richardson notes that when the article was written in 1928, there were about 500 graves (the oldest of which dated back to 1854, the most recent of which dated to 1926). The grounds were overgrown, markers were in various states of disrepair, and there were “gaping graves where bodies had been removed.”

Many of those buried there were important Dallasites, from mayors and politicians, to pioneer businessmen, to doctors and judges, to others whose names are now part of everyday life (Harwood, Ervay, Akard, Crowdus, Browder, Marsalis, etc.). Over the years, cemetery land had been encroached upon — by the Santa Fe railroad, for one — and graves had been unceremoniously destroyed. As the city grew and this land (which was once beyond the city limits) became more and more valuable for developers, many of the graves were moved — but many remained. For decades the city of Dallas was petitioned by civic leaders to officially protect, beautify, and maintain this land. It wasn’t really until the construction of the convention center in the mid-1950s that these plans began to really take shape. The Jewish Cemetery was relocated, and several of the graves from the Masonic and Odd Fellows cemeteries were moved. Those that remained are now part of the Pioneer Park Cemetery at Pioneer Plaza.

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Below are photographs of what the Masonic and Odd Fellows cemetery looked like in 1928. The Masonic cemetery occupied the northern section, and the Odd Fellows cemetery occupied the southern section. The cemetery can be seen in the 1921 Sanborn map here. The nearby Jewish Cemetery — south of Masonic, west of Akard — can be seen on a 1921 Sanborn map (with a different north-south orientation) here. This 1921 Sanborn “key” map detail below might be helpful in establishing the locations: the Masonic Cemetery is circled in white, the Jewish Cemetery (which was not part of Richardson’s article) is in red.

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The photo at the top of this post shows the grave of W. C. C. Akard (1826-1870). (Incidentally, according to a 1939 DMN article, he apparently pronounced his name “Ay-kard” rather than “ACK-erd” as we do today.) Caption: “Sycamore street was renamed Akard street in honor of W. C. C. Akard, one of Dallas’ pioneer merchants.”

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Vivian Richardson’s caption to this photo, which shows the Magnolia Building in the background: “From the awry monuments in the historic Masonic and Odd Fellows’ Cemetery may be read a story far more glorious than sad. Here lie the builders!”

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Caption: “The last resting place of Judge John J. Good, who came to Texas as a young lawyer in 1851 and later served both as Judge of the District Court, with twelve counties under his jurisdiction, and Mayor of Dallas.”

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I love this photo, with train cars on the Marilla Street tracks and the Butler Brothers building/Merchandise Mart in the distance, just east of where City Hall now stands. Richardson’s caption: “Suggestive of those rugged qualities of citizenship for which he was noted is the tall monument marking the grave of Dr. J. W. Crowdus, twice Mayor of Dallas. The tall monument to the far right commemorates Thomas J. Flynn, a picturesque Irishman, native of County Kerry, Ireland. At the extreme right may be seen a brick vault from which a coffin has been removed.”

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Another interesting image, looking to the northwest, with the Santa Fe freight depot (still standing on Young Street near Griffin) at the top right. Richardson’s caption: “On the west the cemetery is fully fifteen feet higher than the adjacent street and warehouses. Lilies cover the graves. In the center of the  picture, near a tree, may be seen the grave of Judge J. M. Patterson, Dallas’ first merchant. The large monument to the right is erected in honor of Andrew J. May.”

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Below are a few extreme close-ups from aerial photographs by Lloyd M. Long (from the Edwin J. Foscue Map Library, Southern Methodist University — links to the original full photos can be found beneath each image). Cemetery markers are visible in these photos taken from the west.

cemeteries_1938_foscue_smu_longAbove, a detail from a 1938 photo.

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cemeteries_1939_foscue_smu_longDetail from a 1939 photo.

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And a detail from a 1949 photo.

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Map detail via The Portal to Texas History

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More on this cemetery can be found on Julia D. Quinteros de Hernandez’s timeline, here.

A collection of newspaper stories about the adjacent “Old City Cemetery” (some of which describe shocking disturbances of the land and of graves) can be found on Jim Wheat’s site, here.

More on Dallas’ older cemeteries can be found in Frances James’ article “Cemeteries in Dallas County: Known and Unknown” (Legacies, Fall, 1996), here.

I actually had to look up the historic Trinity Churchyard in New York referenced by Ms. Richardson in her article. The church and churchyard are in Lower Manhattan, at Broadway and Wall Street (the oldest grave dates back to the 1680s). Wow. Great photos can be found here. For those interested in how architecture and development can harmonize with historic sites, a New York Times article from June 4, 1905 about how the brand new Trinity Building was built right next to the churchyard can be read in a PDF, here.

More information about how the city dealt with the cemeteries before Memorial Auditorium was built can be found in this article (click for larger image):

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DMN, Dec. 18, 1958

A bird’s-eye view of Pioneer Plaza can be seen on Bing, here (zoom in to see the historic markers in the lower right corner).

All images and clippings are larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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