A very brief history of Veterans Liberty Cemetery

The foundation for Veterans Liberty cemetery was laid in the purchase of a 150 foot by 100 foot lot by the Council of the Administration of Atlanta Post 92, Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) from the County of Fresno on November 16, 1896 for $8.80 (Fresno County deed Bk.204 Pg. 32). The lot lay in the south east corner of lot 3 of the Mountain View Cemetery subdivision adjoining the County's indigent cemetery. It was to serve as an extension of the G.A.R.'s existing plot in St. James Cemetery (a portion of Mountain View Cemetery) for the burial of Civil War Union Veterans.

In 1911 or 1912, the County of Fresno inadvertently buried three indigents in the west end of the G.A.R. cemetery. Post 92 demanded that the indigent burials be removed , or that the County provide them with replacement property. On September 30, 1912, Post 92 prepared a deed to the west 50 x 100 feet of their lot (deed Bk. 529 Pg. 81) with the intent of swapping it for property the County owned adjoining their property on the north. It took the County four and one half months to approve and prepare their deed for the 100 x 75 feet that it would give to Post 92 (Bk.527 Pg. 108). Both deeds were recorded in March 1913.

Recognizing they had more property than they required, on October 21, 1916 the members of Post 92 unanimously voted to donate the west tier of graves in the southwest portion of their properties for the burial of Spanish-American war veterans.

In February 1918, a series of articles appeared in the Fresno Morning Republican regarding the proposed development of a cemetery for all soldiers who died in war. Fresno Mayor W.F. Toomey appointed a task force to locate property for the new cemetery. The local B'nai B'rith chapter operated the Beth Israel Cemetery just north of the existing G.A.R. cemetery, and offered to grant the undeveloped western portion of their cemetery to the mayor's group. With this gift in hand, the mayor's group went to the County Board of Supervisors to request the County donate the land they owned between the property acquired from B'nai B'rith and the G.A.R, and to pay for the development of the new Liberty cemetery. The Board of Supervisors approved the request, and Board Chairman Chris Jorgensen joined the mayor's group. On April 2nd the trustees of Fresno Lodge No. 492, B'nai B'rith granted to Mayor Toomey, Supervisor Jorgenson and five other individuals the west 383 feet of the north 250 feet of lots 3 and 4 of the Mountain View Cemetery subdivision (deed Bk.661 Pg. 329). A landscape specialist was engaged, volunteers were called for, and in short order the cemetery they named Liberty was ready for use. A grand celebration was held for its opening on Memorial Day, May 30, 1918.

In February 1920, Mayor Toomey, Supervisor Jorgensen, and the other trustees of Liberty Cemetery turned their interest over to Fresno County (deed O.R. Bk. 7 Pg. 161). In June 1920 the entirety of the current Veterans Liberty finally came under unified ownership and operation when the Council of the Administration of Atlanta Post 92, Grand Army of the Republic granted their portion of the cemetery to the County of Fresno (deed O.R. Bk. 4 Pg. 128).

On March 15, 1957 the sexton for the cemetery sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors advising them he had only enough grave sites to last another 18 months. On March 28, 1958 the Veterans Service Office notified the County Administrator that a ledger system had been implemented to monitor the inventory of remaining grave sites. In July 1958 the County implemented a plan to use double deck burials for veterans and their spouses. In 1962, with grave sites running low, and proposals from various veterans organizations that a new veterans cemetery be developed by the County, the Board of Supervisors requested County Counsel Robert Wash investigate the matter. His report to the Board indicated that state and federal law prohibited the County from providing free burial space to any veteran who was not indigent, and since most veterans were eligible for a death benefit that was sufficient for private burial, they did not qualify as indigent. On April 25, 1962 the Veterans Service Office issued new rules reflecting this legal opinion.

In 1974 the Veterans Service Office issued new rules on who was eligible to be interred in Liberty. They reopened the cemetery and used the existing inventory ledger to begin tracking burials. Typed lists of burials and reservations began to appear to supplement the index cards with burial information. These lists and card files appear to have been kept up by various County departments, and fragmentation of the burial data occurred. Today the cemetery is essentially filled. A recently completed set of files merging all of the previously known lists of burial and reservations will help the various County departments involved in the administration and maintenance of the cemetery to document any remaining unused grave sites.

A monument was dedicated at a celebration of the first one hundred years of Liberty Cemetery held on May 30, 2018.

Eugene Sibley
August 30, 2016
updated November 8, 2018