An organization of committed community members remains dedicated to sharing the rich history of Riverside and its historic cemetery.
Located at the base of Mt. Rubidoux between 13th and 14th Streets, the Evergreen Historical Cemetery was dedicated in 1872. It contains memorials to the families of John Wesley North, Frank Miller and Eliza Tibbetts, along with many other early settlers, community and business leaders.
When state cemetery law changed in 2000, funds dedicated to maintaining early grave sites disappeared. The 6.2 acres of pioneer cemetery grounds were neglected and the gravestones were damaged. A grassroots effort to restore Evergreen was launched in 2005.
“Without the intervention by retired judge Victor Miceli and the formation of the Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery organization, we would have lost the opportunity to walk with pride among our founders and reflect on our inheritance,” said Judith Auth, the group’s past president.
The restoration at Evergreen is ongoing, and the organization also is working to discover and share the narratives of Riverside’s beginnings. Recently, Riverside’s African-American Historical Society erected a monument listing founders buried in Evergreen who contributed to the vitality and continuity of the African-American community.
Among them is Robert Stokes, who arrived from Georgia around 1870. He owned a hog farm where the Fox Theater is now. He was the first African-American landholder in Riverside and a special constable appointed by the county. His nephew, David Stokes, who opened Riverside’s first minority business, the Colored American Mercantile Hall, is also honored there.
“Taking pride in our ancestry as individuals and as a community, we put forth our best efforts,” said Auth. “We assume the courage, vision and industry of those early pioneers.”
The organization, its board of directors and volunteers share these stories through tours and community presentations. Visitors are welcome and tours are available on request. History seekers can find 120 biographies on the Evergreen website. There also is a smart phone app in the works that will make it possible for visitors to conduct their own tours.
Evergreen hosts events throughout the year, including showing films during its Tombstone Cinema series, hosting a pumpkin patch, and inviting the public to its signature event, Front Row Fireworks on July 4. This event is the organization’s largest fundraiser.
Maintaining the grounds of Evergreen requires $100,000 a year, which the organization works to raise annually. Recently, the organization received a grant from the Illes Family Donor Advised Fund at The Community Foundation. The organization can always use more support.
For the next few months, donors can double their donations. An anonymous donor has offered to match $500,000 in gifts to Evergreen. The organization has raised 75 percent of the funds and has until July 2019 to reach its goal.
Those interested in volunteering can contact the organization through its website to set up an interview. Volunteers are needed to help with events and serve as docents for guided tours.
“We want the community to take pride in the restored cemetery and treat it as a historic park,” said Auth. “For anyone who has an interest in history, the cemetery is just a jumping-off point for your explorations.”
Evergreen is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
For more information, go online at evergreen-cemetery.info or call (951) 522-6462