The historic Hillside Cemetery in northwest Reno was the city’s first established cemetery – opened in 1860 as Reno Cemetery and renamed in 1875. It was also, according to historians, ahead of its time by allowing anyone who could afford a plot to be buried there regardless of skin color or station in life.
Local non-profit Our Story Inc. has worked with the Hillside Cemetery Preservation Foundation to create a “Diversity Walk” of the cemetery sharing the history of some of the many people buried there.
The first walk was offered as part of the local Juneteenth festivities. Organizers say they hope to make the walk an annual event, and can provide additional tours by request.
Read more about this month’s Juneteenth “Diversity Walk” from Our Story Inc.:
Fran Tyron, resplendent in her Victorian bodice and skirt and wearing a Women’s Relief Corps pin, led the tour of the Hillside Cemetery property dispensing vignettes of the cemetery’s beginnings and emphasizing that “death does not discriminate.” Tyron is the secretary and treasurer of Hillside Cemetery Preservation Foundation.
Founders of the property felt the same as Tyron; whomever bought a plot was welcomed and thus the site serves as the final resting place of people from all races, backgrounds and stations in life. Needless to say, names that are recorded in Reno street names and other designations are familiar, but there are many who lived amazing lives, contributing to the evolution of Reno history.
Stories of those interred at Hillside chronicle tragic deaths by scarlet fever, dropsy, polio, typhoid, “Spanish flu,” anthrax, diphtheria, alcoholism and other health conditions of times gone by. Life was tough in early Nevada.
Some people buried there were passing through Reno seeking a better life elsewhere but died here leaving stories of intrigue, murder and suicide. Still more stories are of strong people with great humanity and noble public service.
Ken Dalton, founder and president of Our Story, Inc., told the stories of some of the African Americans who now spend eternity at Hillside. They do not suffer a second death because their names are remembered, their stories told.
The Jackson family plot holds Martha Jackson and two of her daughters.
Born in Kentucky, Martha Jackson found herself a widow with four children at the age of 31 in Virginia City in the1880’s. An enterprising woman, she took in boarders, did laundry and accumulated some wealth before eventually moving to Reno and becoming one of the matrons of the African American community.
At age 17, Emma Robinson, also from Kentucky, became one of Martha’s boarders. Several years later Emma was accused of murder in a trial in which members of the African American community filled the courtroom.
The sole witness, Lois (Lola) Lewis, testified that she had seen Emma and her paramour, “Doc” Reinhart, a white man, kill someone. From some remarks by Judge Nash, the evidence was thin and he expected the jury to acquit. That apparently happened as Emma lived until 1909, dying at age 46.
The grave of William Hamilton “Uncle Billy” chronicles the life of a community pillar. Known for taking care of everyone, Uncle Billy was a member of the AME Church and an active Mason. His daughter, Dolly, who also resides at Hillside, married O.H. Hammond, Reno’s first U.S. weatherman stationed in Reno, who was also known as quite the thespian.
The interconnections of families and friends are evidenced all over Hillside. Stories abound.
Participants in the walk were also treated to a bus tour of historic African American sites in Reno including the site of the 1910 Jack Johnson fight, Paul Revere Williams works, the Bell Street AME Church, the sites of Bill Fongs’ New China Club and the Harlem Club, haunts of Langston Hughes, Black Springs and the Northern Nevada African American Firefighter Museum.