Proud of East Texas: Rosedale Cemetery

GLADEWATER, TX (KLTV) - Gladewater's Rosedale Cemetery dates back to the mid-1800s and has a wealth of history from that time and later.

But it's what happened there in the 1930s that makes it one of the most unique cemeteries in the world.

"We still get royalty checks."

America was in the depths of the Great Depression when oil was discovered in East Texas in 1930. Oil promised unimagined riches to families waiting for turns in soup lines throughout the nation.

Individuals flocked to East Texas by the thousands, although the small towns of the area had no extra shelter to house them.

"They had tent cities everywhere"

Etta Withers is the manager of Rosedale Cemetery, where many of those hoping to strike it rich, or just to scratch out a living, are buried.

With the first wells erected in Gladewater in 1931, oil field workers' tent cities dotted the landscape. Ironically, of the many buried here, the cemetery itself was one of few entities to truly strike it rich.

"They had already established previously, years before, that they wouldn't sell the land. We sell permits, burial permits."

Circle Oil Company of Houston drilled two producing oil wells on Rosedale's "permitted" land, with the income to the cemetery so substantial, an endowment was established.

"They gave the association $13,000 to start with and then they had the checks coming in regularly."

A caretaker cottage, roads, a unique rock fence and entrance, and landscaping were created with the proceeds of that first check. Since the oil income was used for the cemetery's upkeep

Since the oil income was used for the cemetery's upkeep, Rosedale became the only self-supporting cemetery in the United States, and at one time boasted of being the richest graveyard in the U.S., even in the world.

The Rosedale oil wells were plugged in 1973, and though the royalty checks still arrive, they are substantially reduced.

"A lot of their parents left. They moved on with jobs."

Sadly, there are many unmarked graves in the cemetery. An entire section of its five acres is devoted to babies, who died too young to even dream of the black gold that brought their parents here.

Infant mortality rates were high in those early days and many families were too poor for even erecting the simplest of markers.

Some tombstones are more elaborate than others, suggesting that perhaps a few benefited from the richest oil strike in history in the great East Texas oil field.

These days, Rosedale Cemetery is a lovely "silent city", still echoing its glory days of the past.

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