History of the Masonic Cemetery

Originally Published In Village News September 10, 1998

Contributed by the Fallbrook Historical Society

Don Rivers, President

The Masonic Cemetery is located on the corner of Hillcrest Lane and Santa Margarita Road on land that was homesteaded by A. D. Wentworth, who received a patent in 1883, after a preempted payment of $199.62.

In 1885 Wentworth sold to G. J. Ely for $1000.00 in gold coin. G. J. Ely's homestead of 160 acres adjoined Wentworth's on the south. Both pieces of land were located along a road know as "Ely's Grade", presently known as Santa Margarita Road. This road connected G. J. Ely's homestead with this brother C. P. Ely's homestead located in the Santa Margarita River bottom. After the floods of 1883-1884 which shut down the railroad and damaged his orchard and vineyard. C. P. Ely moved his home to the hill above the river Even before the new West Fallbrook Townsite was finalized, he bought a lot on the corner of Main and Alvarado Streets and built the Fallbrook Hotel. C. P. Ely also purchased the land on which the Masonic Cemetery would be located from his brother. The Ely family soon moved to Oceanside, but a son married Matthew Tomlins' daughter, and in the 1890's Matthew Tomlins bought the Fallbrook Hotel and operated it for 20 years later the hotel would be torn down to make way for a new bank.

During this period the economic depression, times for the residents of the Fallbrook area were very difficult. The winter floods of 1890 again washed out the railroad tracks along the Santa Margarita River, and Fallbrook's Railroad Station become the final stop on the Southern California Railroad which had run from San Diego to Colton. Soon after the Fallbrook Irrigation District was sued by dissatisfied property owners, and after a seven-year battle in the courts, the District was declared illegal.

The newspaper changed hands five times in 10 years, and when northern San Diego County communities failed in an effort to form a new county, even the news paper editor closed his doors and moved away.

However upon the arrival of the Smelser family, things began to change. Horatio S. Smelser, and sons William J. and Harry H., bought the charter from the Fallbrook National Bank which had been forfeited for nonpayment of taxes, and started the Citizens Commercial Bank. The Smelsers were active in the local community serving both the Masons and Odd Fellows. Soon after the family arrived, Horatio redeemed the Fallbrook Masonic Lodge, which had been taken by the State for nonpayment of taxes in 1907. In 1916 Horatio Smelser was authorized by the Masonic Lodge to locate suitable land for a cemetery, and the following year W. M. Smelser presented a preliminary plat to the members of the Masonic Lodge.

It was an opportune endeavor and non too soon, for in 1917, Horatio's sister, Eliza Smelser , and Reasylvia Fair, the mother-in-law to both William M. and Harry H. Smelser died during that year, and were buried in the new Masonic Cemetery. The following year two more headstones were added, that of Horatio himself and the wife of Harry, Dot Fair Smelser, who succumbed to influenza during the epidemic. Note: the above mentioned graves are located in the Smelser Section of the cemetery just south of the Memorial Circle were the flag pole is located.

By the end of 1919, Harry H. had finished the platting and staking of the cemetery, and in 1921 the Masonic Cemetery Association received the deed to 10 acres of land from the Citizens Commercial Bank.

The first recorded community celebration at the Masonic Cemetery was on Memorial Day, 1922.When a memorial service was conducted by the minister of the First Baptist Church of Fallbrook, after the services were concluded the graves were decorated with flowers.

The Fallbrook Masonic Lodge # 317, Free and Accepted Masons of California administers and maintains the cemetery with an endowment fund.

However the cemetery is open to the general public and administers to all faiths. At the present time (September 1998) there are approximately 3,000 interments in the cemetery, which presently occupies approximately 2/3 of the10 acre site.

Go To:

Fallbrook Historical Society
Fallbrook, CA Area Information: History
Elizabeth Yamaguchi's Writings On Fallbrook History

Copyright © 1998-1999 by Fallbrook Historical Society
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to the Fallbrook Historical Society at this source:
Comments and feedback: Don and Mary Rivers
Last update: 23 January 1999.