Crown Hill Cemetery was established in 1906 on a knoll overlooking Vince's Bayou in what is present-day Pasadena, Texas. Although now surrounded by 20th-century industrial development, this cemetery survives as a link to the area's pioneer heritage, the Gulf Coast, and the Texas Revolution as well.
The final battle of the Texas Revolution took place near modern-day Pasadena on April 21, 1836. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texian Army defeated the Mexican Army in a fight that lasted just 18 minutes. Santa Anna escaped and was later captured at Vince's Bayou. Not only was Crown Hill established near Vince's Bayou, but the cemetery is home to a monument dedicated to those soldiers of Santa Anna's army whose bodies were left along the banks of the bayou.
In 1843, Sam Allen started what would become the Allen Ranch, occupying present-day western Pasadena all the way to Harrisburg, Texas. By 1888, the ranch contained 25,000 acres stretching across Harris and Brazoria counties. With the Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad running right through the ranch, it was only natural that settlements would spring up. Proposed towns in or near present-day Pasadena were short lived or never even got off the ground until 1890 when Colonel John H. Burnett of Galveston purchased 5,673 acres out of the William Vince Survey and the James Seymour Survey in Harris County just east of the Allen. Burnette was involved in construction and the promotion of railroads, so he was well versed in their impact on property values. Although lot sales of 10 acres each began in 1893, the plat of the town was not filed until 1896. Finally established, the new town was named by Charles R. Munger after the town of the same name in California. Pasadena is a Chippewa name meaning "crown of the valley". Although Munger had never been to the California town, he had read about its lush vegetation and perfect agricultural climate. This was exactly what he thought about the land here in Texas, and wanted to convey the same image to others.
The 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston damaged Pasadena as well. Following the catastrophe, the city received a population boost from some Galveston refugees who relocated. Red Cross donations, including millions of strawberry plants brought by Clara Barton herself, founder of the organization, helped revive the community. With the establishment of a major strawberry farm in the area by Texaco founder Joseph S. Cullinan, Pasadena became a major fruit producer.
Growth created the need for a dedicated place for burials. Burnette had not provided for a community cemetery site, so burials were unorganized and scattered in various parts of the new town. On October 24, 1906 a community cemetery was established by the residents when a six-acre tract was acquired. The tract was located in the William Vince Survey, on the top and southwestern slot of a knoll overlooking the confluence of the Vince and Buffalo Bayous. It was a beautiful and tranquil setting where the Baptist often held their baptismal ceremonies. Several community leaders, including School Trustees E. P. Pomeroy, J. L. Holbrook and J. A. Jackson, had been discussing the need for a cemetery earlier that year. When E. P. Pomeroy suddenly passed away on October 23, R. M. Guinn, J. A. Jackson, J. T. Shine, C. H. Tilley and J. L Holbrook, as Trustees for the Pasadena Cemetery, purchased approximately six acres later that day for $200.00 to be used as a community cemetery. Although they paid full value for the property, the executors of the Burnett estate accepted a six-month promissory note (at 8% interest) so that the Trustees did not have to come up with the money on such short notice. Mr. Pomeroy was laid to rest on October 25, 1906 in Block 1, Lot 4 (later renumbered Section A, Plot 105) of the hastily organized cemetery.
The Pasadena Cemetery Association was organized two days later on October 27 with J. L. Holbrook serving as President, C. H. Tilley, Secretary and R. M. Guinn, Treasurer. J. A. Jackson and J. I. Shine also served on the Board of Trustees. Needing a large piece of material on which to draw the plot plan for the cemetery, W. L. Wilson provided a window shade for the purpose. The window shade map is now permanently stored at the Pasadena History Museum and Heritage Park. Family plots containing six grave sites, were sold for ten dollars. Undertaker costs for Mr. Pomeroy totaled $28.50.
After World War I, the community of Pasadena felt the need to incorporate. H. L. Patterson drew up a proposed City Limits map, dated June 12, 1920 and included the cemetery site within the corporate limits. Although the proposed city limits were revised by the time an election was held in December of 1923, the cemetery site remained within the incorporated area. A new cemetery lot plan was drawn up in February 1924 and a new lot numbering system established. Areas within the cemetery were designated with such appropriate names as Haven of Rest, Slumberdale, Peaceful Crest and Rose Hollow. With the increase in Mexican-American farm laborers during the 1920's, the Mexican Allotment area was established. Perhaps because the road to the cemetery passed the new Crown Central Refinery on the Houston Ship Channel, the cemetery was renamed Crown Hill Cemetery.Crown Hill Cemetery was not formally established as a perpetual care cemetery and even though the price of the family plots were later increased to twenty-five dollars and individual grave sites made available for five dollars, there never was enough money to properly maintain the cemetery. The maintenance of the cemetery fell upon the families of those buried there. Over the years it became neglected, vandalized and was even used as a trash dump by uncaring residents as early as 1929. Periodically, efforts were put forth to clean up the cemetery. In the 1940's, the Association reorganized with R. C. Williams as President, U. G. Atkinson as Secretary-Treasurer and Earl Guinn, M. E. Ford and J. D. Parks, Jr serving as additional trustees. Better cemetery records were established, and an attempt was made to run the cemetery in a business-like manner. By the mid-1950's, the cemetery again fell into misuse. The Garden Club, the Grandmother's club and the local Boy Scouts all tried their hands at keeping the place in order. Unfortunately, no permanent changes were achieved.
Crown Hill Cemetery has sometimes been referred to as the Mexican Cemetery. Although the first Hispanic was buried at the cemetery in 1914, only 139 persons of Hispanic surnames are listed as buried at Crown Hill. Hispanics moved to Pasadena during the 1920's and 30's to work in the strawberry fields and their percentages of the burials increased radically during the 1940's. With the rapid growth of the community from the late 1930's, more cemeteries were established in the area. Many Anglo-Americans decided to use those newer cemeteries with their perpetual care provisions. Some remains have even been removed to these other cemeteries.
Burial plot sales in Crown Hill Cemetery ceased in about 1960, but an occasional burial in those plots sold previously continued, with the last verifiable burial in 2007. Due to the cemetery's historical designation, no new burials are permitted today. Although approximately 650 burials were reportedly made at Crown Hill, only about 420 names can currently be identified with about 400 of those names and specific sites that can be matched. Work on improving the burial listings and grave site identification continues by the current Association.
Some of the early community leaders buried in the cemetery include: John L. Holbrook (original cemetery trustee and school board trustee); Robert M. Guinn (original cemetery trustee, school board trustee, charter member of the Methodist Church and third postmaster of the community); James Andrew Jackson (original cemetery trustee, school board trustee, Jackson Intermediate School named for him); Joseph M. Cruse (spearheaded the city incorporation drive); Ralph E. Parks (first Mayor of Pasadena and city fire marshall); James D. Parks (school board trustee); Ira L. Pitts (the first settler to purchase land in Pasadena); William B. Williams (school board trustee, charter member of the Baptist Church, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party). Buried in the cemetery are veterans of the Civil War (both Union and Confederate); the Spanish American War; World War I, World War II, the Korean War and peacetime service.
The farming community of Pasadena was laid out along the southern bank of the Buffalo Bayou in East Harris County. In 1914 the City of Houston converted that segment of the bayou into the Houston Ship Channel. With the commercialization and subsequent industrialization of that area, the economy of Pasadena changed from it agrarian past. Farms and woodlands along the waterway became industrial plant sites. The land was more valuable for industry than for farming, or for cemeteries.
When Champion Paper and Fiber Company of Hamilton, Ohio purchased the land adjoining the cemetery in 1936 it persuaded the City to abandon the cemetery entrance road so that the paper plant could build upon that property. Richey Street was extended northward and became the new entrance road to the cemetery. In 1961, Champion Paper offered to purchase the cemetery property for $107,500. The money was to be used to move all of the remains to Forest Park Cemetery where the endowment funds there would provide perpetual care for the new graves. It was proposed that a specific area of Forest Park be set aside for the Pasadena people and that a special marker be erected giving the history of the Pasadena Cemetery, now known as Crown Hill. Four of the five trustees agreed with the offer. After several years of meetings and discussions, the whole group could not agree. Even as late as 1969, Champion was willing to adhere to their original 1961 proposal.
Those opposing the Champion proposal renewed the effort to maintain the cemetery in 1964. A maintenance board was organized on March 7, 1964 and Aubrey R. Cruse, Jr was designated President. Also serving with him were W. M. Lamb, Antonio Davila, Paul Herrera, John Ellis and Felix Ramirez. With renewed community support the property was completely cleared and a fence erected. The American Legion conducted Memorial Day services at the cemetery and draped flags on the graves of war veterans. Champion finally conceded and offered to have their security guard to keep an eye on the property.
The continued maintenance of the cemetery was assured in November 1969 when three feet of the property was sold off of the Vince Bayou side to the Harris County Flood Control District. An endowment of sorts was established, and the property began being maintained with the proceeds of that trust. Aubrey R. Cruse, Jr continued to head the Cemetery Board until his death in 1983. R. C. Kingsbury was elected to the board in 1964 and also served Crown Hill until his death. Wilbert D. Boyd then served on the governing board starting in 1967 along with B. A. Lorenzo, Paul Herrera, Antonio Davila and John Gonzales.
Upon the death of Mr. Boyd, the association was passed on to Charles Florrow in 2010 and continued on till 2016 when he was no longer financially or physically able to maintain the cemetery. At this time, the association was put in the hands of Mike Murphey and the Association has grown to almost 30 members with invaluable support from the City of Pasadena, Pasadena Historical Society, Lyondellbasell, McCoys Building Supply, Gulf Coast Authority and Sunbelt Rentals, along with local individuals and the community.
Time, industrial corrosive fumes, subsidence and vandals have taken toll on the tombstones that once marked every grave. Yet a quietness still prevails as one walks the cemetery grounds. Nearby the Vince's Bridge historical marker and the Santa Anna Capture Site historical monument are also nearly lost in the industrial forest that now occupies this once sylvan land.
Under the new leadership of the Crown Hill Cemetery Association, the group has worked tirelessly to restore the cemetery to the condition those interred here deserve. Numerous changes have been made including the addition of a gazebo, benches, visitor's information center and placement of crosses at unmarked graves and a memorial sign honoring our veterans. Many more changes are planned in the near future and we will endeavor to make Crown Hill Cemetery a place that the families of those entrusted to our care and the community as a whole will be proud of.