Washington Cemetery: Historic Texas Cemetery in Houston
The address of the historic 13.5-acre Washington Cemetery is 2911 Washington Avenue, Houston, Texas 77007-6034.
On the day my husband and I decided to visit there, we had to access it by driving through the adjacent beautiful Glenwood Cemetery. A closed sign appeared at the Washington Avenue entrance. Taking the road and always bearing right in Glenwood Cemetery, a sign points the direction to the Washington Cemetery.
Once one has entered the cemetery, there is an official Texas Historical Marker which tells the story of what initially began as a German cemetery. The sign shows the following:
The Deutsche Gesellschaft von Houston, founded in 1875, established the German Society Cemetery in February 1887 by purchasing this property, then located outside the city limits, from the heirs of John Lawrence and Thomas Hart. Twelve-space family lots were sold to society members for $10 and to the public for $25. It was renamed Washington Cemetery in July 1918 due to anti-German sentiment during World War I.
Though headstones of reinterred persons show birth dates as early as 1800 and death dates as early as 1855, the earliest known burial is that of three-year-old Pauline Ottilie Zeitler, on March 31, 1887. At least 15 citizens of the Republic of Texas and immigrants from more than 20 nations lie at rest here. Eighteen lots are owned by fraternal, labor, or veterans groups. More than 7600 persons are interred here, with more added each year.
Also buried here are more than 300 veterans of nine wars, from the Black Hawk War of 1832 to Vietnam, including more than 135 Confederate and Union veterans. Sarah Emma Evelyn (Edmonds) Seelye, aka Franklin Thompson, is noted for writing a book about her service as a man in the Federal Army, 1861-63.
After the last charter expired in 1947, the superintendent’s widow and her housekeeper tried to maintain the cemetery, but they did not have the resources needed. By the 1970s, it was badly overgrown. Concerned Citizens for Washington Cemetery Care (CCWCC) was founded in 1977, cleared away the jungle-like growth, and cared for the cemetery over the next 22 years. In 1997, CCWCC became the first group in Texas legally granted the authority to “restore, operate, and maintain a historic cemetery” under a 1995 Texas law; that authority was transferred to adjacent Glenwood Cemetery in 1999.
Historic Texas Cemetery – 2012
Marker is property of the State of Texas”
Different Types of Grave Markers
There are monuments of all types in Washington Cemetery. There are quite a few rough-hewn monuments such as the ones shown above. There are also smooth obelisk markers and ones of many different types. The Weiss family plot caught my attention as I have a dear friend who lives in Herrenberg, Germany bearing that last name.
Notice the outlines of the gravesites above. There are many such instances of concrete borders with the affectionate designations of Papa, Mama, Mother, Father and the like at the foot of each outlined space. That seems very endearing to me over and above just their names at the top of the grave.
Words on Gravestones
Then there are the poignant words carved on many of the headstones such as the ones noted on the Seegar monuments.
On the monument of Louise F. Seegar who died in 1895:
“A precious one from us has gone.
A voice we loved is stilled.
A place is vacant in our home,
Which never can be filled.”
On the monument of W. L. Seegar who died in 1896:
“Lo! where the silent marble weeps
A friend, a husband, a father sleeps.
A heart within whose sacred cell,
The peaceful virtues loved to dwell.”
On the monument of Fannie T. Caperton-Seegar who died in 1907:
“Gone, but not forgotten.
She was a kind and affectionate wife, A fond mother, and friend to all.”
Hopefully, the distraught wife of Robert Weeder did find comfort in the years following his death. The following was on his tombstone:
“My husband Robert F. Weeder died April 3, 1896.
All my plans of life are broken,
All my hopes of life are fled.
Counsel, comfort, and adviser:
Alas! Alas! for thou art dead.”
Losing a child is always heartbreaking. The parents of Charles Hartmann who died as an infant in 1897 undoubtedly found comfort in this inscription:
“Sleep on sweet babe and take thy rest.
God called thee home. He thought it best.”
Many people like to do gravestone rubbings. If this is of interest to you, you will find many tombstones of note in this cemetery voted “Houston’s Best Cemetery – 2015” by the Houston Press.
Woodmen of the World Gravestones
There are numerous and varied Woodmen gravestones in the Washington Cemetery. There are also those with Masonic emblems.
To read about both of those types of tombstones click on my article titled Visiting the Historic Masonic Cemetery in Chappell Hill, Texas. You will find information about that and much more of historic interest!
Most of the Woodmen of the World markers appear as portions of trees. Some are more intricate than others. They vary in height and girth. The simplest one in this cemetery looked like a simple log on the ground engraved with the Woodmen signage.
Several of these Woodmen gravestones looked much more modern than others I had seen in various cemeteries in the United States. One thing is certain. Once you have seen one of these distinctive markers, you will easily spot others unless they are different like the one shown below.
One of the interesting Texas Historical Commission Markers in Washington Cemetery tells about William Gammell (1812 – 1869) who was born in Scotland. After immigrating to the U.S. with his parents, he eventually enlisted in the Texian Army and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Serving as a gunsmith with the Republic of Texas, he fought at the Battle of Salado Creek defending San Antonio against a Mexican army. He eventually owned and operated a gunsmith shop from 1851 to 1866 in what is now called the fifth ward in Houston.
The Washington Cemetery Historic Trust (WCHT) is a non-profit entity. Research, site improvements and the restoration of monuments is a part of what they undertake making a visit to this site even more enjoyable. The WCHT welcomes donations as well as the work of volunteers.
Charles August Albert Dellschau
Another notable person interred in this cemetery is Charles August Albert Dellschau (1830 – 1923). Born in Brandenburg, Prussia, he came to the U.S. at age 25 in 1853.
In the late 1800s, there were many UFO sightings from California to the midwest and even in Texas. Dellschau created a journal and even more interesting a compilation of fantastic pencil, pen, and watercolor painted collages showing flying machines he called “aeros.”
A secretive group called the Sonora Aero Club located in California not far from Yosemite National Park supposedly had created a formula which defied gravity and powered the motors of unusual flying machines. These discoveries preceded the famous first flight of the Wright Brothers.
Dellschau after retiring from being a butcher lived for a time with his stepdaughter and husband Anton Stelzig, Jr. who was a successful saddle maker and leather worker. That Stelzig company business still exists today. It was in their attic that Dellschau started creating these unusual images on paper using cutouts from newspapers as well as his drawings and paintings.
Long after his death, 12 large notebooks that had been put out for the trash were recovered and brought to the attention of several people. One was an art history student at the University of St. Thomas.
Dominique de Menil ended up purchasing several of these notebooks, and they are now a part of the Menil Collection. Others have ended up in art museums in San Antonio and elsewhere. Dellschau is now a recognized well-known artist.
Are these stories portrayed in art fact or fiction? We may never honestly know the answer but scholars, as well as mystery enthusiasts, can keep researching and delving into this subject. You can see some artwork of Charles Dellschau by clicking here.
There are numerous other types of markers and history to be learned if visiting the Washington Cemetery. I hope you enjoyed this introduction to this cemetery. We certainly enjoyed our visit there.