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Houston | Texas Cemeteries | Historic Preservation

A Visit to Olivewood Cemetery
Houston, Texas

Olivewood Cemetery Location:

Houston’s 4th Ward
Between Heights Blvd, Washington Avenue, I-10 and Studemont
Directional signs begin on Washington Avenue near Heights Blvd.

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Long forgotten, this seven-acre piece of ground is the final resting place of some of Houston’s most prominent Black citizens from the 1870s through the 1930s.

For decades, the site has been hidden behind the warehouses of a large grocery distributor just south of Interstate 10,. The stone markers and tombstones have been covered in unruly privet, and entangled by wild vines while gravesite borders have been split by the sprouting seeds and roots of Hackberry and Chinaberry trees.

The settling of Houston’s notorious "gumbo" soil and vigorous root growth has wrecked the original cement curbing along the cemetery’s promenade and dislodged some monuments while vandals (no doubt) contributed to the toppling of other stones.

Statuary is limited to a pair of angels and two stone lions (both guarding the same angel), and what few iron fences remain are broken and bent from fallen tree branches by unnamed storms. It is possible that other iron fences were removed for scrap drives of World War II.

Proclaimed a Historic Cemetery in 2006, Olivewood has remained mostly cloaked in vegetation until recent months. A visit in the summer of 2010 showed only about 25% of the gravesites visible, facing impenetrable walls of brush and undergrowth on the eastern and northern edges.

Volunteers have been coming to the site on the 2nd Saturday of each month to slowly make progress on this once Herculean task. It’s now estimated that 80% of the graves are now visible although many other unmarked interments will never be revealed.
Houston, Texas - Olivewood Cemetery NCCC workers
Unlike ceremonial photos of projects just getting underway with shiny tools, this one of three NCCC workers is unposed. Supervisor Katie (green shirt) spoke for the whole team when she said: “I don’t know what a clean shovel looks like.”
TE photo, February 2011
Our visit on February 12th 2011 had two volunteer groups present. One was a local Scout Troop helping one of their own complete his Eagle Scout project, while the other was a group of NCCC volunteers based out of Denver, doing yeoman’s work of clearing brush and timber as they earn credit toward college tuition.

Both groups remained at their tasks throughout our visit, but were kind enough pause at their labors to pose for the group photos shown here.
ouston, Texas - Olivewood Cemetery Scout Troop
Volunteers from Troop 1020 of the Sam Houston Area Council with TE mascot and ambassador of goodwill, “Rip”
TE photo, February 2011
ouston, Texas - Olivewood Cemetery NCCC workers
The National Civilian Community Corps Team -
Patrick McMullen from Michigan, Jennifer Lombardo from New York, Robert McLaughlin from Ohio, Corwin Mays from Ohio. Aliesha Kearse from Maryland, Lynea Dempsey from Missouri, Sheila Smith from Illinios, Ben Good from Kansas, Ryan Jordan From Massachusetts, and Katie Hanchuruck from Connecticut. The team is part of Americorps NCCC a national community service organization, see americorps.gov
TE photo, February 2011
ouston, Texas - Olivewood Cemetery - Eagle scout Nicholas Start
Soon-to-be Eagle Scout Nicholas Start standing over the “Mirror Grave” of one W.A. Harris. Nicholas stated that shards of a mirror that “corrected” the reversed tile nameplate were found scattered beneath the headstone. (See last paragraph of Historical Marker)
TE photo, February 2011
ouston, Texas - Sign to Historic Olivewood Cemetery
"Directional signs begin on Washington Avenue near Heights Blvd." TE photo, February 2011
Houston’s Olivewood Cemetery
© John Troesser
February 14, 2011

See
Houston’s Olivewood Cemetery

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Houston, Texas | Texas Cemeteries | Texas
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