This cemetery is just outside the town of Livermore on the road to Pleasanton.
Many of the early pioneers of the Livermore Valley were buried here. The graves have been desecrated - we even found signs of digging. Stones have been wantonly broken, and many stones have been pushed or thrown into the creek. Few stones are still standing.
Mr. and Mrs James W. Swent, Jr., of San Francisco, first saw this cemetery on April 14, 1956. At that time the desecration was appalling. Cattle were roaming over the graves, and grass was waist high. Mrs. Swent wrote to Mr. Maitland Henry and to Mr. Chester Langan, a descendant of William "Phil" Mendenhall, informing them of the condition of the cemetery. At that time the Swents took inscriptions from the four Mendenhall stones that could be found.
Mr. Chester Langan made a trip to Livermore and discussed the condition of the cemetery with several people there. It was his feeling that nothing would be done about the conditions that then existed and he removed the stone of William Mendenhall who died on January 12, 1873 and was the first person buried in the "new cemetery at Oak Knoll," according to his obituary notice. This was evidently first the Mendenhall Family Cemetery for Mendenhalls were buried there from November 25, 1855 when Sophia, daughter of Martin and Malvenia Mendenhall was buried there. A copy of an old 1874 map in the possession of Mrs. Ralph Newton of Livermore shows the cemetery surrounded by the land of William "Phil", Martin and Absolom Mendenahll. From the map, it would seem that the land came from either William "Phil" or Martin's land, but a check of the records in the County seat should show which of the brothers gave the land for the cemetery.
From the time the Swents first visited this cemetery until their last visit on December 9, 1962, more desecration has taken place. All of the Mendenhall stones have been removed or broken into bits, as no trace remains of the three that were left there in 1956. No cattle were roaming the cemetery and the grass was lower, but there were not as many stones to be found as there were in 1956.
It is to be hoped that something will be done by the citizens of Livermore to rectify this situation. A new high school is to be built just below the knoll on which the cemetery is located. This old pioneer cemetery should be a well-kept memorial to the pioneers who developed the Valley, rather than the shocking sight it now is.
A unique physical feature on the Valley landscape is Oak Knoll (located at the corner of Wall Street and Stanley Boulevard), an isolated, almost circular rise of some 40 feet surrounded by an otherwise flat plain. Perhaps it was this uniqueness that led it to become an early Valley cemetery. The first burial at Oak Knoll was that of William Mendenhall, Senior, father of the founder of the city of Livermore, on January 12, 1873. Others included Henry Clay Smith, called the "father of Alameda County," who died in 1876.
In the summer of 1889, the Livermore Echo reported "Last Sunday afernoon as a lot of Chinese were burning joss-sticks and performing their customary annual ceremony over the graves of their countrymen buried at Oak Knoll Cemetery, they carelessly set fire to the grass, and the entire cemetery was burned over, destroying all of the enclosures and doing a large amount of other damage."
Natural disasters took their toll at Oak Knoll. In 1906, it is reported that many headstones were thrown down by the earthquake. And several wet winters brought high water in the arroyo that washed away a large portion of the eastern hillside.
Around the turn of the century, the Catholic, Masonic and IOOF cemeteries came into existence, so burials at Oak Knoll became less common. It is not known when the last burial took place there. Oak Knoll was formally abandoned as a public cemetery in April 1963, to be dedicated as a public park. The existing gravestones were removed, and advertised as available to any descendent who wanted them. Today, Oak Knoll still holds that unique attraction for us that probably attracted the early settlers of the Valley to it.
In the book "Centennial Year Book of Alameda County," by William Halley, published in 1876, on page 349, it states that the first burial at Oak Knoll was in January 1873. But according to a piece written by Mrs. James Swent, whose husband is a descendant of William Mendenhall, "This was evidently the first Mendenhall cemetery for Mendenhalls were buried there from November 1855, when Sophia, daughter of Martin Mendenhall was buried there". It was Mendenhall land.
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Last modified: 22nov96.2232