From the 1860s to the turn of the 20th century, Black Diamond was the site of California’s largest coal-producing region. Known as the Mount Diablo Coal Field, the area once boasted the five thriving communities of Nortonville, Somersville, Stewartville, West Hartley and Judsonville.
Created in the early 1860s, Rose Hill served as a Protestant burial ground for the coal field families. Although more than 200 burials have been documented through research, it’s likely that more interments exist. Once the site of neglect and vandalism, the cemetery and many of its gravestones have been painstakingly restored over recent decades by park district rangers.
The result of more than three decades of research through newspaper accounts, obituaries and family histories, “Rose Hill: A Comprehensive History of a Pioneer Cemetery” is the only comprehensive account of the people interred in the cemetery.
Through the records brought together in the 1,000-plus-page book, details come to light not only of the residents’ deaths, but of their lives in the remote yet bustling coal mining communities. Accounts of town concerts, weddings and celebrations paint a picture of the lighter side of life 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. The majority of the individuals interred in the cemetery are children who died from disease when epidemics swept through the area.
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 – many 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.
Accompanied by more than 600 images, including diagrams, photographs and contemporary newspaper accounts, the book gives the reader a fascinating look into the history and life of the coal towns of East Contra Costa County.
“Rose Hill: A Comprehensive History of a Pioneer Cemetery” is available at the Black Diamond Visitor Center for $65. Proceeds from the sale of the book are used for the repair of gravestones in Rose Hill Cemetery.
For more information about obtaining the book or visiting Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, visit www.ebparks.org or call 888-327-2757.