Three Rivers Cemetery
ADA Accessibility Notes
Uneven terrain consisting of dirt and grass, but mostly accessible to all.
A lesson in Three Rivers history is as near as the local cemetery. In telling children and grandchildren the story of those who have come before them, a stop at the Three Rivers Cemetery is an important chapter.
A visit to a cemetery, any cemetery, especially one in which family members are interred, can inspire strong emotions: awe at the perseverance of those who lived in a different era, a sense of connection with this past, sadness for the loss of life, a newfound awareness of one’s own mortality, and a commitment and sense of purpose to preserve the memories of those who have lived here previously.
In March 1909, Charles Bahwell sold an acre of land for $10 to the newly-organized Three Rivers Cemetery Association. Subsequent donations and purchases of land came from Noel and Nellie Britten and Byron Allen. Jason Barton and Ira Blossom donated land for the road into the property. All received a cemetery plot in recognition of their donation.
Ironically, in September 1910, Jason’s brother Milton Montgomery “Mont” Barton was the first resident of Three Rivers to be buried in the new cemetery upon his accidental death. Several others who had died previously and been buried elsewhere were exhumed and re-interred in the Three Rivers Cemetery.
The handwritten bylaws of the new cemetery were signed March 12, 1909, by George Welch, Henry Alles, and J.W. Griffes. The original journal is on file in the cemetery district office today and also includes collections and disbursements from 1909, which documents the purchase of the first burial sites by J.O. Carter, John Alles, James Barton, George Cahoon, Marion Griffes, Isham “Doc” Mullenix, George Welch, Judd Blick, and J.W. Griffes.
In 1940, the cemetery became a special district under the direction of the County of Tulare. The newly-created Three Rivers Public Cemetery District maintained its elected governing board, but began receiving property-tax income to continue its essential public service.
By 1949, the annual elections of five trustees were replaced by the appointment of three directors — a chairman, vice chairman, and secretary — by the county Board of Supervisors.
The first gravesites sold for $5. By the 1940s, the cost of a plot was $20. In the 1960s, they were going for $40 each. Today, the cost is $400 for Three Rivers residents and $800 for non-residents. There are about 650 interments.
According to Gary Whitney – a Cemetery District board member who is the fourth generation of his family to reside in Three Rivers – several of the headstones were made from a quarry that is visible from the Cemetery.
“They mined what I believe is called ‘rose quartz,” he said. “One particular stone is that of Civil War veteran Francis Senteney. There are several others but his is probably the most notable.”
In recent years, Gary has spearheaded an effort to ensure every grave in the Three Rivers Cemetery is identified by a marker, which consists of a bronze plaque set in concrete. He also organizes regular Cemetery cleanup days.
Today, the scenic site at the foot of Blossom Peak and with a view of Lake Kaweah contains plaques, monuments, and headstones that are an important part of local history and furnish insight into the community and those who have resided here. Blossom Peak’s namesake family has gravesites at the Cemetery.
As mentioned above, the first burial in the Three Rivers Cemetery was Milton Montgomery “Mont” Barton, who, at the age of 43, was electrocuted while servicing electric pumps for the Elderwood Citrus Development Company. At the time, the commercial use of electricity was new and untried and these pumps were the first of their kind in the area. Six generations of the Barton family have resided on the family’s original ranch property since 1878.
The headstone of Muriel Kenwood is exemplary for its unique text tracing the family’s heritage and ties with local place names. Several descendants of this family still reside in Three Rivers.
There is the grave of Luther Mullenix, who was murdered in his sleep at the Lake Canyon way station on the Mineral King Road (today, the Mitchell home). His unknown assailant was never captured. Luther was the son of Doc Mullenix and brother of Grace Alles and Rose Vaughn.
Onsite is the tomb of Major Frederick Burnham, a South Fork rancher and world explorer, known as the “King of Scouts” for his role in the founding of the Boy Scouts Association.
There is the gravesite of Alfred Hengst, born in Saxony, Germany, and one of several brothers who settled in the area. Two of his brothers, Dedo and Frank Guido Hengst, were members of the Kaweah Colony.
Fred Savage’s final resting place is also here. He “sailed ‘round the Horn” and arrived in Three Rivers in 1892 from England to join the Kaweah Colony. By the time he arrived, the colony had dissolved. Fred instead purchased land on the North Fork of the Kaweah River, planted an apple orchard, and raised his family here. Descendants of Fred Savage today reside on land that is a part of the original Savage Ranch.
“The history of our community is at rest in this field,” wrote Gary Whitney in commemoration of the Cemetery’s centennial in 2009. “Out here we have pioneers, soldiers, ranchers, farmers, miners, store owners, doctors, teachers, family, and friends. Each one has in some way contributed to the Three Rivers that we enjoy today. I am sure that they are all grateful that we would honor their memories by being good stewards of their final resting place.”
The Three Rivers Cemetery is located at the end of Blossom Drive in Three Rivers, Calif. From State Highway 198, take Old Three Rivers Drive or South Fork Drive. Upon reaching the Blossom Drive intersection, turn south. The road ends at the cemetery.
Pet Friendly Notes
Pets on leashes okay when appropriate. Please be prepared to clean up after your pet.
Time Period Represented
19th century to present
Open to the public 24 / 7 / 365 (but no caretaker on-site)