National Register of Historic Places


Carbon Cemetery

Carbon

Date Added to Register

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Smithsonian Number

48CR1927

Read all about it

Carbon was the first coal camp to be established in Wyoming, and the cemetery is among the first formal burial grounds established in the state. The town of Carbon grew along with the mines, and reached its peak population around 1890. Over the following decade, the mines began to be depleted and the railroad diverted its main line a distance to the north as the Hanna coalfield to the northwest came under production. In 1902, the last of the mines was closed and Carbon was soon reduced to a depopulated ghost town. Many of the town’s buildings were moved over the following decades, both to Hanna and area ranches, leaving behind numerous stone foundations and the cemetery. The cemetery is the most intact surviving feature of the formerly bustling community and remained in use throughout the early decades of the 20th century by persons associated with the former mining town.

The Carbon Cemetery is significant at the local level under Criterion A in the area of Exploration/Settlement, specifically the period of settlement and town building that followed the 1868 arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad. It has remained in use from 1868 through the present time, primarily as a final resting place for residents, former residents, and descendents of the pioneers who first populated the historic coal-mining town of Carbon and the surrounding ranchlands.

Carbon Cemetery is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria Consideration D for its history as a burial ground that derives primary significance from its age, distinctive design features, and direct association with the historic mining town of Carbon. Historical geographer Richard Francaviglia wrote in his groundbreaking 1991 book Hard Places: Reading the Landscape of America’s Historic Mining Districts, that among the many important physical remnants of each mining town, the cemetery is a microcosm of that urban environment and its economic underpinnings. These sites reflect and tell us a great deal about the ethnic variety, cultural values, social and economic stratification, and burial traditions of the community. They are, in effect, an important part of each mining community’s social landscape. Historic cemeteries also provide evidence of early landscape design and examples of funerary art as these features evolved over time. As Francaviglia states, “The cemetery remains one of the most intriguing aspects of the mining landscape, for from its serene vantage point we may look back and see the rest of the mining district as an island of buildings, structures, and forms that permitted its occupants to extract wealth quickly from the earth, and each other, and then move on.” This, exactly, is the broad scope of the story told by Carbon Cemetery and its association with the adjacent town and mines of Carbon.

Carbon Cemetery appears to have experienced few alterations since its period of significance ended around 1940, and today exhibits a high level of integrity. Although the site was most active from 1868 to 1902 during Carbon’s heyday as an active coal-mining town, it continued to evolve over the following decades as the cemetery remained in use and was maintained by family and friends. Changes to the perimeter fence that involved shoring up the original wood posts with twinned metal ones took place sometime around 1910 and are historically significant. The south gate may also have been removed at that time. Non-historic changes to the site appear limited to periodic burials and replacement of the original main entry gate at the east entrance in recent years (although with a historically sensitive replacement), along with the installation of a flagpole and platform nearby. None of these non-historic changes have diminished the site’s overall integrity.

Today the cemetery holds numerous graves that date from the period prior to 1902, along with a smaller number of burials dating from the several decades following Carbon’s demise. By far, most of the graves are more than fifty years old, and are considered historically significant. From 1902 through around 1940, Carbon Cemetery continued to receive burials of former Carbon residents and their descendents, some of whom had resettled in the nearby coal-mining community of Hanna. Family and friends continued to visit the remote site during these years, ensuring that it was maintained as an active cemetery. However, the World War II era was a watershed in terms of rural population out-migration, and a corresponding shift to a national mindset that favored forward-looking thinking and action. Many historic rural cemeteries throughout the West went into decline and, in some cases, were abandoned. While additional burials took place in Carbon Cemetery after 1940, these occurred less frequently than before.

Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources