The Durham Cemetery, located six miles southeast of Chico, Butte County, California, has had a long history of both tranquility and turmoil. The cemetery is located at 1730 Chico-Oroville Highway, approximately ¼ mile east of the Lott Road / Chico-Oroville Highway intersection, just south of the Butte Creek Country Club.
In 1844, early pioneer Samuel Neal was awarded the Esquon Grant of 22,000 acres by then Mexican Governor, Micheltorena. Upon his death in 1859, Neal willed a large portion of his land to his friend, Robert Waddell Durham. The Durham Cemetery, currently encompassing 2.5 acres, rests within this original Mexican Land Grant.
Durham, an early farming community, was settled by Robert Waddell Durham in 1852. He came from Missouri on a freighter owned by himself as a partner in the Waddell branch of the Pony Express. Durham became a close friend of Samuel Neal and worked as Neal's business manager at the ranch. Having no children of his own, Durham sent for his nephews, George W. and William W. from Missouri, to assist him in farming the willed portion of Neal's estate.
Robert Waddell Durham died in 1871 and a portion of the ranch was set aside as a cemetery. The family continued to use the site, and invited other residents of the thriving community to bury members of their families there, as well. The cemetery remained part of the Durham family ranch until the mid 1930's when it was sold to the Parrott Investment Company. Parrott Investment, in turn, deeded the cemetery portion of the ranch to the Chico Burial Society, later known as the Christian Service Society. The Society interred many of its members in the cemetery during the late 1940's and into the 1970's prior to the dissolution of this group.
In 1978, the defunct Christian Service Society deeded the cemetery to a private family. Over the years, weeds, brush and huge bushes of poison oak were rampant throughout the gravesites, and it became impossible for families to place flowers or visit the final resting place of their loved ones. When building materials appeared on top of the gravesites, the community of Durham became outraged. Residents banded together in a joint effort to protect and defend this sacred and historic site. In 1994, after many years of conflict and legal proceedings, the Butte County Board of Supervisors initiated eminent domain proceedings and subsequently approved an agreement designating the newly formed "Durham Cemetery Preservation Association, Inc." as caretakers. The non-profit Association was given the responsibility for restoration, repair and maintenance of the cemetery.
The monumental task of cleaning up years of neglect and disrepair was started immediately. The cleanup has revealed beautiful marble and granite grave markers which have not seen the light of day for decades. Other stones were repaired, and families contributed toward obtaining new stones for those missing or destroyed. Records of burials at Durham Cemetery had long since disappeared, so research was conducted to document evidence of those buried there. Records have since been transcribed and are posted to the Durham page at: Find Durham Cemetery which is a free-access informational site.
Burial at Durham Cemetery is under the rules of the State of California Health and Safety Codes, and space for future interments is available. Contact the board for further information regarding interment rules for Durham Cemetery. Your contributions to this 501 (c) (3) corporation are welcome, and can be mailed to Durham Cemetery c/o 1384 Durham Dayton Hwy., Durham, CA 95938.