June 19, 2024


El Chicano, Colton Courier, Rialto Record

Historic Agua Mansa Pioneer Cemetery, Resting Place of Early Settlers in Colton, Reopens After $1.059M Rehabilitation

3 min read

While 2,000 people are buried at the cemetery, there is only data for 1,000 bodies, as rain and storms over the years buried hundreds of headstones.

The historic Agua Mansa Pioneer Cemetery has officially reopened after an extensive $1.059 million rehabilitation project. This significant investment, funded by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and the California Cultural and Historical Endowment, promises to enhance visitor experiences and preserve the site for future generations.

The renovation, which began in August 2023 and was completed in May 2024, includes drive repairs, landscaping, the addition of an entrance monument, interpretive signage, gate replacement, and the conservation of select headstones and gravestones. A key aspect of the project was the use of ground-penetrating radar to create a comprehensive map of all burials, providing invaluable data for future research.

Nancy Melendez, president of the Old Spanish Trail Association and the Spanish Town Heritage Foundation, emphasized the personal and historical significance of the site. “My third great grandfather, Juan Manuel Lorenzo Trujillo, led the original ten families across the Old Spanish Trail and settled here. He was kind of the unofficial mayor because everyone looked to him. He died in 1855, and this cemetery, established in the mid-1800s, became his resting place. Unfortunately, over the years, rains, floods, and vandalism led to the loss of many graves, including his.”

“We are thrilled to reopen the gates of the Agua Mansa Pioneer Cemetery and welcome back our community to this special place,” said David Myers, Museum Director. “The renovations and improvements made during the closure have been completed with great care and respect for the memories of those who have passed. We look forward to continuing to serve our community and providing a place of solace, remembrance, and education for generations to come.”

The cemetery, which had fallen into severe disrepair and was closed in the mid-1960s, became completely shuttered in 2019. Melendez recounted, “In 2011, we wanted to recognize Lorenzo Trujillo for his contributions. With the help of family genealogist Leonard Trujillo and a sculptor friend, we installed a piece that resembled the Latin cross and the New Mexico flag, symbolizing Lorenzo’s faith and heritage. The Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino blessed the monument, marking a pivotal moment in our preservation efforts.”

Melendez further highlighted the cultural importance of the site, “This reopening is crucial because it’s a place for people to learn about history. You don’t need to have an ancestor buried here to appreciate its significance. For those of us who do, it is sacred ground. We encourage everyone to visit, explore the records, and discover if they have a connection to this historic site.”

The grand reopening on May 22, 2024, was attended by Supervisor Joe Baca Jr. and representatives from the office of Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gomez Reyes. Baca Jr. expressed his gratitude, saying, “This project would not have been possible without the dedication of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and the support of our community. It is our hope that the restored cemetery will serve as a lasting tribute to the pioneers who shaped our region.”

With approximately 2,000 burials, the cemetery holds significant historical value, although records exist for only about 1,000 of those interred. The newly implemented radar mapping aims to uncover more information, bridging gaps in historical knowledge and enriching the narrative of early settlers in the region.

The grand reopening of Agua Mansa Pioneer Cemetery marks a new chapter in its storied history, ensuring that the legacy of the pioneers who helped shape California will be honored and remembered for years to come.

The San Bernardino County Museum’s curator of history is seeking anyone with stories of possible loved ones buried at this cemetery. Please call 909.307.2669 to share your stories.


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