When St. Patrick’s Cemetery closed its gates to incoming customers in 1906, it had served as the final resting place for Grass Valley’s Irish Catholic community for 55 years.
On the corner of Church and Chapel in Grass Valley, California, a cemetery filled with cedars and crumbling headstones takes up a small lot about the size of a city block. The grass is mowed but dried and yellow, and the gates around family plots have been swallowed by the massive tree trunks of the mighty trees that don’t concern themselves with markers or fences.
The majority of the gravestones belong to men who died young - Grass Valley in the late 1800s was a rowdy and rambunctious boomtown, no place for ladies and an easy place to meet your end. As the town grew with the success of the mines, especially the seemingly bottomless Empire Mine, the culturally diverse but segregated mining town began throwing up churches of many denominations, most with their very own graveyards. St. Patrick’s belonged to St. Patrick’s Roman Church, located across Chapel and still a popular parish for Catholic residents.
Across Church on the north side of the cemetery is Mount Saint Mary’s Academy. Operated by the Sisters of Mercy from Ireland and serving as an orphanage for a time, Mount Saint Mary’s is the oldest operating Catholic school west of the Mississippi. Part of the building still acts as a Catholic school, while the former orphanage wing is now the Grass Valley Museum, directly across the street from the cemetery on the second floor of what is now the St. Joseph’s Cultural Center.
Know Before You Go
The cemetery is on the corner of Church St. and Chapel St., across from the St. Patrick's Parish