By Beth Dodd:
The historic Sunnyside Cemetery in Victor is an excellent place to peer into the past of the gold camp. Scenic and peaceful at any time of year, it is a beautiful place to remember the people who came to the mountains to seek their fortunes and never left. The burials at Sunnyside include pioneers and their children, hard-rock miners, veterans from five different wars, the poor or unwanted in unmarked graves in the potter’s field, and many others.
The cemetery is accented by an arched metal entrance gate and outer fence, stone carvings, intricate ironwork, and weathered wooden plot fences. Wildflowers and waving grasses grace the grounds in the summer. Aspens paint the nearby hillsides in the fall. Snow lingers in the shadows in the winter against the stunning backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance.
Soon after the town of Victor was founded in 1890, a place to bury the dead was needed. This pretty hill to the west of town was chosen. The earliest known burial there is 3 year old Maggie Ferrans, who died on April 26, 1891. Tragically, her father and brother, James and Robert Ferrans, joined her at Sunnyside on May 1, 1900, after they died in a mining accident.
The 1200 burials at the Victor cemetery include the very young. For example, Baby Phillips was born on October 6, 1899 and died only a week later on October 13, 1899. Sunnyside also holds those who enjoyed a full span of years like W.H. “Biscuit Bill” Banks who was born in 1872 and lived 80 years before being interred at Sunnyside in 1952. And of course there are those who died in the bloom of life like Mrs. Jean O’Connell, a 38 year-old mother of seven children, who died on April 9, 1899. Ben Reed was shot to death on July 17, 1899. The leader of the Goldfield Band, Chas. B, Muir died of “acute mania” that same year. William Warner, age 45, died instantly in a cave-in at the Ajax Mine on February 16, 1915.
The earliest official historical record of the Victor cemetery is from several years after burials had begun. In 1894, the Victor city council announced that the members of the town’s cemetery committee would be William J. Gower, Henry Bush, and H. H. Williams. No doubt they wanted to create some structure to support the growing cemetery and make it a nice place for the community to honor their dead loved ones.
Eight years later on July 11, 1902, Lee W. Davis, a civil engineer in Victor, started the Sunnyside Cemetery Association and served as its first president. The cemetery may have been platted by this association, but some sources claim that the cemetery was never platted. Those arranging for a funeral were able to select whatever gravesite they wanted and laid out the body in whatever direction they preferred. Either way, no original burial records for Sunnyside exist today. If records were once kept, they are now lost.
Some of the historic tombstones at Sunnyside mention far-away places, reminding visitors today that people from around the world came to the “City of Mines.” Many fenced areas within the cemetery grounds were reserved for fraternal society members, speaking to the community’s strong social structure. Unfortunately, many of the original wooden markers have become unreadable over time and other burials are unmarked, leaving visitors to guess who is there.
In 1989, the Pikes Peak Genealogical Society surveyed the old cemetery. Since then they have recorded nearly 1,100 names along with tombstone locations and inscriptions from burials prior to September 2001. Since the PPGS volunteers did not have maps or sexton records to refer to, they assigned section, block, row, and plot numbers to the burial markers. These records and others are available on line or through the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum for those who want to find a specific burial.
The Victor cemetery is unique in that it is in the heart of a mining district and the burial plots include only the surface ground. The land underneath the cemetery is cris-crossed by old inactive gold mines including portions of the Hattie W. Lode, the Cemetery Lode, the Robert E. Lee lode, and the Anny B. Lode.
Local volunteers care for the cemetery grounds today. In 2008, one such volunteer, Veldean Petrie, asked the Cripple Creek & Victor Mine to run ground-penetrating radar outside the present fence. Petrie thought that pauper’s graves might be found there. Sure enough, the mine’s survey discovered an additional 50 or more unmarked graves. This potter’s field is now identified with a stone marker.
Victor’s Sunnyside Cemetery is located southwest of town. From Victor Avenue, turn south on 7th Street and continue on the winding road about 0.9 mile to the cemetery entrance. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the cemetery’s beautiful natural setting, but are asked to honor the sacred nature of the site.