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Modesto cemeteries yield Ceres historical figures
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Acacia Memorial Park in Modesto bears the unique grave marker of Ed Whitmore, complete with his signature. Ed was a product of the Richard Whitmore side of the Whitmore family and started out in Ceres. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Each day thousands of motorists stream down Scenic Drive and drive past Modesto's biggest conglomeration of burial grounds where five separate cemeteries conjoin.

What they probably don't know is that Scenic was once called Cemetery Road at a time when the burial ground was east and far outside of Modesto.

But since Ceres has its own cemetery, many Cereans probably are unaware that some of the biggest names of Ceres' past are entombed in the grounds of Acacia Memorial Park, Modesto Pioneer Cemetery, Modesto Citizens Cemetery and St. Stanislaus Catholic Cemetery.

A wall made of round river rock cemented together separates the burial ground of wall and the seemingly constant flow of traffic. Directly north of what was once the Scenic General Hospital are several grand monuments cut of marble and granite marking the graves of early residents of the county.

One remarkable stone marker that stands taller than any man is the grave of John Vivian for whom Vivian Road west of Ceres was named. Mourners were on this site after his Dec. 20, 1881 death. His story is fascinating to those who love local history.

Vivian was born in Cornwall, England in 1821 and came to the United States four years before the Gold Rush. He became a lead miner in Wisconsin and upon news of gold being discovered in California, he headed with wife Mary to mine in Tuolumne County. He had enough of gold mining after three years and headed to the Valley where he raised cattle on land that would become Ceres. By 1880 his 4,000 acres were used to also raise sheep, hogs and wheat for a day without irrigation. She followed him to the cemetery after her death on Jan. 22, 1910.

When one walks the cemeteries today - where the very recent are buried with the very ancient - one gets the sense of a smaller Stanislais County community a century ago. The diversity of names include the McHenrys of Modesto, the Foxes of Hughson, the Beards of Waterford, the Blakers of Ceres, the Cogswells of Hickman, and the Roberts of Roberts Ferry. They are all here comprising a historical collection of wealthy landowners from way back.

Acacia Memorial Park
Acacia is the resting place of Edith Nellie Collins (1872 to Nov. 26, 1966). Edith was the daughter of early Ceres pioneer James Warner, an American immigrant from England who first settled in Wisconsin. He came to California in 1852 and maintained a 15,000-acre ranch in the Waterford area. A Sierra Railroad stop was named Warnerville and hence Warnerville Road out of Oakdale is named for him. He died in 1910 in Oakland.

Edith, the eldest child of James Warner, married Leland Charles Collins in 1892. They moved from Oakland to Ceres in 1904. The name Collins is significant as he was the grocer in the Collins & Warner building, which was a store on the first floor and dance/meeting hall on the second floor. In fact the very first Ceres High School graduation was held in that building, which was located on the spot that later became Youngdale's (corner of Fourth and El Camino). Mr. Collins also was a partner in the Collins & Green Feed Company of Ceres. Leland was born April 17, 1872 and died on April 27, 1953.

It is said that Mrs. Collins was active in women's circles in Ceres and was still driving her car at the age of 92. The aunt of Lucille Warner Capra (wife of movie director Frank Capra), was 94 when she passed away.

Ceres blacksmith Robert Craig and his wife, Viola Averill Craig, are among those buried at Acacia Memorial Park in Modesto. While 16 years separated their deaths, the early Ceres couple is buried alongside one another.

Robert Craig was born in Scotland in 1859 and arrived in Ceres in 1889, retaining his thick brogue. He opened his Ceres blacksmith shop in 1905 and dubbed it the Shadynook which was located at the corner of Hatch and Moffet. He married into the Averill family. Viola Averill Craig was born 1856 but died March 26, 1931. She came to Ceres in 1880 to be with brothers George William "Will" Averill and Jesse Averill. Mr. Craig lived until June 19, 1947.

Ed Whitmore has an unusual marker in that it bears his raised signature in cemetery that has survived the elements since his October 1962 burial. You'll notice that the grave is with the West family, best known for the J.S. West Feed store that existed in downtown Modesto. Ed married into the West family as his wife was Vera West.

Born in 1882, Ed, the son of Richard K. Whitmore II of Ceres, attended grammar school in Ceres before graduating from Modesto High School. Ed joined the National Guard and served under his dad's command to keep order in San Francisco after the devastating earthquake of April 18, 1906 killing about 3,000 people. Earlier in his life Ed had operated a combine harvester for Thomas K. Beard, a wealthy landowner. He worked on his dad's ranch at Whitmore Avenue and Mitchell Road driving mules pulling combine harvesters. From 1909 to 1915 he was assistant postmaster in Modesto. Ed was elected Stanislaus County treasurer in 1918, receiving 272 of the 273 votes cast in Ceres. He served 36 years in office and was opposed only once. He also was assistant cashier at the Bank of Ceres.

Moffet Road in Ceres was named for Frederic William Moffet, who lived from Dec. 6, 1874 to April 26, 1963. One of the founders of Superior Fruit Ranch between Ceres and Hughson and who planted roses along a stone fence seen by travelers today, is buried at Acacia alongside his wife, Byrdelia Hall Moffet (1874 to May 12, 1949).

Fred Moffet started Superior Fruit Ranch in 1904 with partners E.S. Welch and Dan Campin on 320 acres between Ceres and Hughson. He lived in a two-story home that sat on the corner of Whitmore Avenue and Moffet Road. The 1919 house was moved in 1964 to make way for the Richland Shopping Center. Today the house is on Mitchell Road where it's being used as La Cascada Mexican Bar & Grill. Bill and Verda Brumley had first occupied the relocated structure as the Missourian Restaurant.

As a member of the Turlock Irrigation District board, Fred Moffet helped guide the construction of the first Don Pedro Dam from 1921 to 1923. After suffering a stroke in 1955, Moffet turned ranching operations over to grandson Sid Long.

Byrdelia was one of four children of Merrit J. and Rhoda Hall who made separate trips to California in the 1850s and met in Columbia in Tuolumne County. The Halls were successful wheat farmers and able to send Byrdelia to the New England Conservatory in Boston when she was 18. She came back to Ceres where she met Fred, son of William and Sarah Moffet.

Merrit J. Hall died March 23, 1910 and is also buried at Acacia, as is Rhoda who died Christmas Day in 1913. Curiously, cemetery records indicate that she wasn't buried in Acacia until May 25, 1921.

Many members of the distinguished members of the Gondring family of Ceres are buried at Acacia. Judge John M. Gondring who was stricken in a Fourth Street courtroom and died March 8, 1933, is buried at Acacia.

A native of Illinois who practiced law in Nebraska and served in the Nebraska State Senate, Gondring headed to California in 1905 for the health benefits of the climate. He and wife Ottilia M."Dillie" Gondring settled in San Jose first but then learned of land for sale on Fowler Road. They moved in 1910 to a ranch house on Whitmore Avenue on what is now the Richland Shopping Center.

The couple had seven children, including Frances Clara Gondring (1886-1986). When she died at age 100, she had lived a long life of community service. The former teacher donated $27,000 toward the construction of the Ceres Library, which today bears the name of her sister, Florence Leona Gondring. Florence, who lived from June 14, 1890 to Aug. 29, 1968, is also buried at Acacia.

Another Gondring was John "Jack" M. Gondring Jr., who was a farmer south of Ceres and a postmaster of Ceres in 1933.

Dr. Clairborne Wayne Evans (1859-1937) is also here. A native of Alabama, he came to Stanislaus County in 1859. He practiced medicine with Dr. S.M. McLean and attracted patients from over neighboring counties. Evans Road in Ceres is named for him and his home was located just to the north of the former hospital grounds in a grove of eucalyptus trees. In fact, part of his ranch later became the grounds where Memorial Hospital Ceres was operated.
Dr. Evans built Evans Hospital at Tenth and L streets in Modesto. It would become the forerunner of McPheeters Hospital which turned into Gould Medical Center.

The grave of butcher Jason C. "J.C." Garrison (1893-1946) is also here. Garrison arrived in Ceres in 1902 with his brother C.C. "Lum" Garrison to take over the Ceres butcher shop operated by A.B. Ford. They read about the business being for sale in a magazine back in Lebanon, Mo. With the sale came a wagon and team of horses with which they made the delivery of steaks and other kind of beef. They later opened a shop was located on the east side of Fourth Street south of Lawrence Street.

Members of the Ustick family - for which the road west of Ceres is named - are here as well. Ellis Ustick (1871-1942) purchased a 240-acre ranch west of Ceres on Grayson Road in 1900 with his father-in-law, William Hiram Crooks. They introduced cattle to the land and then used it for hay growing. Ustick also owned a Modesto butcher shop. Word is that during the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, Ellis felt the ground move in Ceres. He shipped beef to the ravaged city for relief purposes but later learned the meat had been sold, not given away.
Buried next to him is wife Gertrude Ustick (1879-1960).

Modesto Citizens Cemetery
Ceres storekeeper George F. Wood is among the recognizable Ceres names buried at the Modesto Citizens Cemetery. Wood died March 28, 1933.

Wood was born in Kansas on Aug. 27, 1866 and made his way west, arriving in Modesto in 1885 with his parents and siblings. Six years later he married Mary Belle McMullen. In 1898 Mr. Wood served as the postmaster of Modesto, a post he held until 1902. That October he opened the George Wood Mercantile store that was in downtown Ceres on the triangle section that houses the Valero and Rocket gas stations. He owned and operated the store until 1928 and then devoted himself to raising fruit on his ranch on S. Central Avenue.

Wood served as a member of the Ceres City Council, president of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce and was fire chief.

Tucked away in the back of an old part of the Modesto Citizens Cemetery is the Hughson family plot. It is here where the remains of Hiram Mark Hughson, the namesake for the city of Hughson, is buried. On the other side of a large marker is the grave of his wife.

Hiram Hughson was born Nov. 22, 1840 in Middleburgh, Schoharie, N.Y. and arrived in the Hughson area of Stanislaus County in 1882 where he farmed 1,000 acres of wheat. His land holdings grew to 5,000 acres. When the San Joaquin Railroad (now Santa Fe Railroad) built a line through the area they bought a portion of the land and named it the Hughson Stop. The town was founded in 1907 and borrowed the Hughson name.

Mr. Hughson died Jan. 15, 1911. Luella Rosalie Hughson survived him by 40 years and lived to be 102. Before her death she owned the Hotel Hughson in downtown Modesto. She passed on Oct. 25, 1951.

Others buried in the Hughson family plot are Orra Hughson (1868-1952), World War I veteran Lester Roy Hughson (1888-1966), and Hiram D. Hughson (1878-1979).

Modesto Pioneer
Many longtime Ceres residents instantly recognize the name Barbour's, the store at Whitmore and Mitchell. It's now been converted to Boyette's Cruisers station. However, many are less aware that Barbours first came to Ceres with Er Barbour, who is buried at Modesto Pioneer Cemetery.

Born in 1861, the same year the Civil War started, Er Barbour came to Ceres in 1916 to begin farming 25 acres in the area of Mitchell Road between Fowler and Hatch roads. Mitchell Road was then known as Barbour Road in the days before it crossed the Tuolumne River. Barbour died June 29, 1954. The oldest of his 10 children was William "Homer" Barbour who opened a Ceres service station along the highway frontage road and then at Whitmore and Mitchell. Son Leroy "Lee" Barbour took over and upon his 1994 death the operation fell to Dennis Barbour.