Dilapidated Phoenix cemetery has more history than you think

Posted at 9:18 PM, Jul 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-27 07:50:05-04

If you drive by the Williams-Crosscut Cemetery, at 48th Street and Van Buren Street, it looks like an open field with random headstones sprawled throughout. It's a look that suggests maybe this place has been forgotten. But this cemetery holds some of the earliest settlers in Phoenix and dates all the way back to the late-1800s.

"I have roots that go way back," said fifth generation Phoenician Connie Thompson-Morrell. "I just don't want to lose them."

Thompson-Morrell is a direct descendant of the William's family. And she's trying to keep the cemetery alive.

"It would be really nice to tell exactly how many people were  here," said Thompson-Morrell.

Thompson-Morrell's grandparents, John and Manda Williams, were ranchers. They were some of the earliest Phoenix settlers, who migrated from Fresno, California and Scotland before that.

They actually had to dig ditches to get Salt River water to their farm, which was located where downtown Phoenix is today.

When they chose the plot of land to bury their two young children, it was considered far out in the desert. And her family never imagined the city would grow the way it has today.

"When the spot was picked, it was actually five miles outside of the city limits," said Thompson-Morrell.

Thompson-Morrell has been working with Sterling Foster with the Pioneer Cemetery Association, trying to name more of the 90 people who are buried here.

"James Ansley Young, who was the first justice of the peace was buried here," Foster said. "The people who were buried here were not just family, but friends and neighbors."

Since the first burial in 1884 time and vandalism has taken it's toll. Most of the gravestones are either damaged or stolen.

"To see people just destroying it, just really tears you up inside," said Thompson-Morrell.

She hopes to honor the true pioneers and save a piece of the history.

"So it doesn't all fade away," said Thompson-Morrell. "Because once it's gone, it's gone forever. And we can't ever get it back."

Thompson-Morrell is interested if any other people in the valley have family ties to the cemetery. Her hopes is that the National Historical Cemetery Association will recognize the cemetery as a historical site so she can get help to maintain it.