This blog is about the story of my family here in America. We arrived in the 1630s as Puritans, and became the common folk of the New World.

The Williams-Crosscut Cemetery in Phoenix, Arizona

If you visit the Williams-Crosscut Cemetery, just west of the 7-11 on 48th Street and Van Buren, in Phoenix, Arizona, you won't see much. The fact that there is still a tiny bit of open land, a few miscellaneous headstones and some fencing is the only indication that there had once been much of a cemetery there at all. But if you're interested in history, like I am, it's one of the most significant places in Phoenix history.

Phoenix is a relatively young city, and it doesn't take much time-traveling to reconstruct the story. To do that, you have to travel back to the 1870s.

For just about any other city in the country, the 1870s wouldn't really be that terribly long ago. But Phoenix was a very primitive place then. While they were drinking champagne in San Francisco, the pioneers of Phoenix were building with adobe. There was no railroad, and there wouldn't be one until 1887. And that meant that there were no bricks, and certainly no materials for headstones. Any lumber would have come from up north, and would have been wildly expensive, not just to buy, but to transport. But people lived in Phoenix then, and they died there.

Two of the people who were living there in the 1870s were John Wesley Williams and his wife Amanda. They started the Williams cemetery as a family plot. And although it seems to be "way out in the desert", it really wasn't. It was located on the Tempe Road (Van Buren Road today) about five miles from the townsite of Phoenix and even closer to the Phoenix Settlement (Mill City). One of their close neighbors was Jack Swilling, who, along with his company, had dug the first pioneer canal, bringing water from the Salt River at about where 44th Street is today, going northwest as far as where downtown Phoenix is today.

Documentation on the Williams-Crosscut Cemetery is difficult to find. As a researcher, I'm inclined to be very suspicious. But this is where the fact that Phoenix is so young helps tremendously. In an 1965 article in the Phoenix Gazette, Harrison Williams, the son of John Wesley and Amanda Williams, has personal recollections. His mother lived until 1934, and certainly would have spoken of her trials and tribulations as a young woman in pioneer Phoenix. The exact details are admittedly vague, but the Williams Cemetery was a place where he had been going since he was a young man, and still went to as an old man.

When the original Crosscut Canal was built, in 1888, it passed the cemetery. Whether it was a coincidence, or whether it was out of respect for cemetery, is not known. If you're wondering whatever happened to the Crosscut Canal, it was abandoned in 1913 when the new one was built on the east side of the Papago Mountains. The new Crosscut Canal is still over there. The old Crosscut Canal was finally covered up in the 1990s and a linear park was built on top of it. You can walk your dog there.

Time, and vandalism, have removed just about every trace of this important pioneer cemetery. There is no real reason to stop as you drive by, and there is really nothing to see but dirt and a chained-link fence, but it's an important place for Phoenix history. A marker would be nice.



Thank you to the Phoenix Pioneers' Cemetery Association, who provided me access to their documentation on this cemetery. They are headquartered at the Smurthwaite House on Jefferson and 13th Avenue, near the Pioneer & Military Memorial Park, but they support the preservation of historical cemeteries all over Arizona, of which there are quite a few. A lot of good people volunteer their time for this, so if you think that you're the only one that cares about this kind of stuff, you need to meet them. And they know where the Lost Dutchman is! Really!


The Tempe Road, by the way, is the continuous trail that goes from Phoenix to Apache Junction. Run your finger along a map going east from Phoenix (along Van Buren and Washington), then cross the Salt River going south through Tempe, then curve east again at the edge of Arizona State University. And then on straight to Apache Junction. The names along this road have changed over the years, but the main route hasn't.
Post a Comment