Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve is part of the East Bay Regional Park District in Alameda and Contra Costa counties east of San Francisco. From the 1860s to the beginning of the 20th century five coal mining towns thrived in the Black Diamond area: Nortonville, Somersville, Stewartville, West Hartley and Judsonville. As the location of California's largest coal mining operation, nearly four million tons of coal (black diamonds) was mined here. The residents of the mining towns were from all over the world, and their life was characterized by hard work and long hours. Occasional celebrations and a variety of organizations and social activities served to alleviate the drudgery of daily existence.
The coal mines had a significant impact on California's economy. By the time operations ceased due to rising production costs and the exploitation of new energy sources, much of California's economy had been transformed from a rural to an industrial base.
Although little remains of the coal mining communities, the historic Rose Hill Cemetery serves as a monument to the lives of the former residents.
Rose Hill Cemetery was created in the early 1860s and served as a burial ground for the coal field families. More than 200 burials have been researched and documented but it is likely that more interments exist. The cemetery and its gravestones, once neglected and vandalised, have been painstakingly restored over recent decades by Park District rangers.
Buried here are children who died in epidemics, women who died in childbirth, and men who died in mining disasters and of other things. Although over ten nationalities resided in the mining area, Rose Hill Cemetery was a protestant burial ground, and many of the people buried here were Welsh including people whose origins are in the counties of Dyfed.
Rose Hill - The book Click for a larger image
For over thirty years Supervising Naturalist Traci Parent has researched the history of the people buried at Rose Hill using newspaper accounts, obituaries, and family histories. Her work is documented in Rose Hill: A Comprehensive History of a Pioneer Cemetery
This 1000-plus-page book contains details not just of the residents' deaths, but also of their lives in the remote, bustling communities of the Mount Diablo Coal Field. Accounts of town concerts, weddings and celebrations paint a picture of the lighter side of life in the towns, in a time when horse and buggy was the common mode of transportation, and modern sewage and plumbing were not yet available in this rural community. Daily life in the mining towns was filled with challenges and hard work. In fact, the majority of the individuals interred in the cemetery are children who died from disease when epidemics swept through the coal field. Some of the more prevalent diseases to claim young lives were diphtheria, scarlet fever, and smallpox. Advertisements and newspaper articles of the day reference cures – often of dubious efficacy. Other articles offer practical advice for limiting contagion. Mine explosions, other industrial mishaps, and horse-riding accidents were the cause of many of the adults' deaths.
With over 600 images, including diagrams, photographs and contemporary newspaper accounts, the book gives the reader a fascinating look into local history and life as it once was in the coal towns of East Contra Costa County.
This book is intended as a resource for researchers. For those who have Welsh ancestors who immigrated to this area of America this book is an amazing source of family history.
You can view an index to those who are interred in Rose Hill Cemetery HERE.
To illustrate the remarkable detail that this book contains, this is the entry for David E Griffith who was born in Cardiganshire in 1824.
Rose Hill: A Comprehensive History of a Pioneer Cemetery is available for research at Pembrokeshire Archive, Haverfordwest under the reference HDX/1399/7.