A History of Fairview Cemetery
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Portions extracted from Bulletin of the Historic Santa Fe Foundation, Vol. 12/No. 1, April 1984, article written by Marian Meyer upon the cemetery’s 100th Anniversary
Fairview is Santa Fe’s only non-Catholic pioneer cemetery and its history begins long before the May 7, 1884, date of its founding. The earliest headstone is dated 1862 and was among those moved 1895-1903 from the old Masonic-Oddfellows Cemetery downtown which was located where the Scottish Rite Cathedral now stands and extended to the site of the present Plaza del Monte.
The opening entry in the Fairview Cemetery Company minutes book reads, “The necessity of having and maintaining a proper place for burial of the dead in the town of Santa Fe, N.M., being apparent, Mr. James T. Newhall and Mr. Preston H. Kuhn made an estimate of the amount that would be required for the purpose and being satisfied that the sum of $1250 (divided into 50 shares of $25 each) would be sufficient, they personally solicited subscriptions to the project.”
The list of subscribers represented a cross section of the city’s Protestant and Jewish communities including editor of the New Mexican Maxmilian Frost, bankers Griffin, Watts, Palen, Proudfit and L. Speigelberg; merchants Staab, Schumann, Gerdes, Gold and Sol Speigelberg; attorneys Waldo, Breeden, Bartlett and Clancy; barber-undertaker Olinger, plumber McKenzie, baker Schnepple, florist Boyle and physician Symington.
The company was in financial trouble from the start. Whether it was through incompetence or skullduggery is uncertain, but by 1890 the terse entries in the minutes book tend to indicate the latter.
Of the five directors elected at the first stockholders meeting, only Frost, who was elected president, and J.W. Olinger, were listed in the 1884 business directory. Newhall was chosen superintendent. Kuhn, who was named secretary-treasurer, and Samuel Bonner, vice-president, were empowered to spend $300 on a suitable piece of land. On May 13, 1884, a 4.3-acre site was chosen on Cerrillos Road which was part of a larger 11.53-acre parcel, purchased for $500 three weeks earlier by Kuhn and his wife Facunda Varela de Kuhn from Josefita Maes de Martinez and other heirs.
Stockholders meetings which the by-laws prescribed annually were held in 1885 and 1887. In 1890 a group of men headed by Solicitor General E.L. Bartlett came armed with enough proxies to vote the old board out. Bartlett had 11, Newhall cooperated with 9 and Bonner brought 8. Bartlett was chosen temporary secretary “on account of the absence of Mr. Kuhn who was the last secretary.” Kuhn was never mentioned as on officer again.
The five new directors elected in 1890 were Sol Speigelberg, Dr. John Symington, J.H. Gerdes, Rufus Palen and Bartlett. They ordered an examination of the books and questioned a “discrepancy in the report of the committee and the vouchers furnished.” They probably were on the trail of the fence expense, a list of disproportionately high expenditures for a fence which was reportedly built around the cemetery
The new 1890 directors struggled valiantly to revitalize the ailing company which was headed by Sol Speigelberg for the next eight years. They re-surveyed the cemetery, straightened the improperly laid lines and incorrect sizing of lots, gave shareholders deeds to lots in exchange for their stock and tried to settle a tax suit, But it was all in vain. The early financial report of June 25, 1885, showed the company had already spent $316 more than had been subscribed, and by 1899 the company was hopelessly in debt. $841 was due in back taxes, two years of water bills remained unpaid and the secretary took a cemetery plot in lieu of six months salary owed him.
While the men were grappling with the problems of Fairview, a group of educated, articulate and determined Santa Fe women had organized a civic group with the businesslike name of the Woman’s Board of Trade. It was patterned after a similar men’s group which was the forerunner of the present Chamber of Commerce. Several of the women were wives of Fairview directors, including Cora Bartlett, the founder and first president in 1892 [historical note: Cora died in 1903 at age 44, an inmate at the asylum in Las Vegas]. It was a no-nonsense group, formed for the express purpose of improving Santa Fe, which they proceeded to do.
They eliminated the beggars from the streets by instituting a system of scrip handed out weekly which could be redeemed for food and other needs. They transformed the plaza from an unsightly alfalfa field to “a beautiful lawn of velvety richness, interlined by well-laid walks.” But their two most ambitious and successful projects were the public library and Fairview Cemetery. As early as 1893, Cora Bartlett wrote the company asking for a plot of land for burying paupers. The first request was denied, but in 1894 the men acceded and ground was donated.
Ida Rivenberg, a founder and five times president of the Woman’s Board of Trade, first proposed to take over the cemetery in 1898. The men wanted desperately to accept and voted to do so, but legal ramifications in transferring corporation stock to a benevolent organization delayed the matter for another year. The women finally agreed to operate the cemetery without owning it and assumed control in April 1899.
The first four women on the Cemetery Committee were Bertha Staab, chairman; Esther Thomas, secretary; Ellen Palen, treasurer, and Ida Rivenberg. The committee was an entity of its own, reporting regularly to the WBT, but was entirely self-supporting from the sale of lots and annual fees for care of plots. Initially, owners could have their lots cared for by paying the corporation $5 per year, and in 1900 the women threatened to shut off water to the lots of those who had not contributed their $5 to the support of the cemetery.
In an era when women were considered more an adjunct to husbands or fathers than as individuals, these four Victorian ladies had identities of their own. At home they filled the role of wife, mother or keeper of the house, but as guardian s of Fairview they did not hesitate to meet and negotiate with surveyors, undertakers, plumbers and merchants. They hired and fired caretakers for the season and laborers by the day. They purchased water pipe, manure, trees, lawn mowers and prairie dog poison. They proved to be extremely efficient in managing the cemetery by getting delinquent taxes annulled, water bills cancelled, using convict labor from the penitentiary, dealing with illegal interments, and above all in beautifying the grounds. Fairview became known as the most beautiful “God’s Acre” in New Mexico—renowned for its magnificent trees, well tended lawns and flowering shrubs.
It was a labor of love and the four set a precedent for the dedicated women who followed them for the next three-quarters of a century, including Ruth Seligman, Dora Sargent, Clara Walter, Grace Nuding, Bertha Bowman, and the venerable May Spitz. After Ellen Palen’s death in 1927, “Miss May” succeeded to the post as perennial chairman of the Cemetery Committee, serving over three decades. A past president of the Women’s Club recalls, “The cemetery was practically a life-work for May. Until her health failed, hardly a day passed that she didn’t drive out to Fairview to check on things.”
The Fairview Cemetery Company ceased to exist in 1930 when the cemetery property was finally deeded to the Woman’s Board of Trade during its merger with the Santa Fe Woman’s Club. At the same time, the women established a fund which eventually grew to over $100,000 and was equal to the task of caring for the cemetery for almost half a century. But one by one, the devoted guardians of Fairview Cemetery became its tenants. With the death in 1974 of May Spitz, by then the oldest member of the Woman’s Club, an era ended. In July of 1978 the club deeded the cemetery to Santa Fe County. There were howls of protest from old Santa Fe families, and angry letter s to the editor accusing the Woman’s Club of betraying a trust.
Officials of Santa Fe County learned early on that caring for Fairview was not a simple task. Their agreement had been to maintain the cemetery in exchange for the remaining lots in which to bury indigents, but deterioration set in and within three years trees were dying.
These facts were noted in a newspaper article by Marian Meyer in April 1981. Response from several old families was immediate, with offers of money, so a preservation association was suggested, by former State Historian Myra Ellen Jenkins, and was tentatively formed with support from the Santa Fe Historical Society. In the meantime, the County discovered a mistake in the original deed by the Woman’s Club and tried to give the cemetery back. After a year of negotiation, the issue was resolved in 1982, with the County continuing as owner. The Fairview Cemetery Preservation Association, which had received about $3,000 in contributions during the year of limbo, officially organized and offered its assistance to the County.
Working closely with County officials, the association supervised maintenance work during the summer of 1983. With Preston McGee as volunteer grounds chairman, by autumn the cemetery was restored to some of its former beauty. Lawns were fertilized, mowed and watered regularly, dead trees removed, new gates installed, flower beds at the entrance planted with bulbs for spring bloom, and 50 donated rose bushes were set out. Much more remained to be done when the cemetery celebrated its 100 anniversary in 1984.
Postscript 2012 by past-president Erik Mason (2004-2011):
The Preservation Association, led by its founder Marian Meyer no matter who had been elected President of the Board of Directors, continued to “assist” the County in maintaining and managing the cemetery. The Woman’s Club investment fund was held by the bank and the interest turned over to the County, but it was never sufficient to maintain the cemetery properly. The Association performed yeoman’s service with volunteer labor and donations, but its efforts couldn’t overcome the County’s failure to expend sufficient funds for maintenance. The County’s contention was that its anti-donation law made it illegal to spend any money on Fairview beyond the several thousands of dollars from the Woman’s Club fund. For a while, a County employee lived in the caretaker’s house, but he had an 8-hour a day job with the County and was expected to maintain the cemetery in his spare time. In 1988 vandals toppled 67 headstones; the Association paid the costs of repairing and righting them. In 1991 the situation at the cemetery was so bad that the Association’s president posted a sign telling visitors to call the County and complain (the County very quickly had the sign taken down!). Over a period of years, the Association installed a sprinkler system to water the bluegrass, and for many years it expended thousands of dollars almost every year to trim dead wood or remove dead trees. In 1997 the Association funded a $38,000 project to repair and renovate the century-old, wrought-iron, brick and pentile fence, including fabrication of wrought-iron entry gates matching the smaller “carriage” gate which had been moved from the downtown cemetery in 1901. In 1998, an inventory of headstones accomplished by Meyer was published by the NM Genealogical Society. That same year the Association was able to raise $30,000 to build what is now called “The Marian Meyer Information Kiosk” housing a roster of burials and the cemetery maps to assist visitors.
In 1998, as locations for public burials became scarce, Santa Fe County deeded all of Fairview’s property and operations–and Fairview’s obligations–to the Fairview Cemetery Preservation Association, now a 501.c.(3) non-profit corporation. The investment fund remained under the control of the bank, which charged more in administrative fees than the cemetery received in interest, but a second maintenance fund was soon begun.
In 2002, when the Association was hit with what ended up, after only partially successful negotiations, in a $35,000 water bill, the Board was regretfully brought to the conclusion that it was no longer economically feasible to water 5 acres of Kentucky Blue Grass in our high desert. The water bill was eventually paid, and the decision was made to concentrate the water it could pay for on new, donated, trees. Thirty-three trees were planted with this program.
In 2004, the new president persuaded the Board to rescind the two-decade prohibition on upright headstones. In the winter of 2004, a city water main broke and caused a major flood in large portions of Sections A and E (west) which cost the city’s insurance company $16,000 in repairs to the area and to the fallen headstones. That same year, the president began negotiations with both the bank and the Woman’s Club to have full ownership of the investment fund released to the control of the Association’s Board, in order to be able to apply the several thousands of dollars paid annually to the bank for administrative fees to maintenance efforts instead. The effort succeeded in 2005 after which the Board could make decisions regarding its invested funds. In 2005 Marian Meyer suffered a stroke (she died in 2009) and all the cemetery’s records were transferred from her garage to the home of the Association president. In 2006 an extensive study of records and headstones was made and 800, formerly unlisted names were added to the previous roster of burials. In 2007 the Association was able to expend $19,000 on repairing the cemetery’s road system, and a major landscaping project was begun with 127 new trees watered by an irrigation system along the roadways. Including $20,000 for removal of dead trees and grinding out about one hundred tree stumps, the landscaping project cost over $100,000 which was paid for almost entirely by donations. In 2009, $13,000 was expended on repairs to the house in which the part time, contract caretaker lives, and that same year another $8,500 more was expended on removal of dead limbs and trees.
In 2006 the Board decided to transfer a significant portion of its invested funds to the Santa Fe Community Foundation. Despite the very significant amount of money expended on both regular maintenance, and over $200,000 on capital-expenditure projects since the Association obtained ownership of the cemetery, by 2012 its two investment funds had grown to over $300,000, an amount whose interest, unfortunately, still does not pay for all the work desired. The more that gets accomplished, the more other needs become apparent. Intensive efforts to eradicate the prairie dogs, which have caused very significant damage for over a hundred years, have proved unsuccessful, and in 2012 a capital campaign was begun to construct “the great prairie-dog barrier,” a wall 4 feet deep and 3 feet high along 900 feet of the western and southern boundaries of the cemetery. It is estimated to cost $60,000.
At the 100th Anniversary celebration in 1984, a plaque was installed indicating that the Santa Fe Foundation had declared the cemetery “a site worthy of preservation.” In 2004 Fairview was approved by the State of New Mexico for inclusion on its Registry of Historical Places, and in 2005 it was entered into the National Register of Historical Places. The continued preservation of Fairview Cemetery is definitely worthy of both the voluntary efforts and the funds expended on it!
For a more detailed history of Fairview Cemetery, link to