Saratoga’s Madronia Cemetery holds stories and rich history

January 18, 2022 — by Lena Aribi and Meher Bhatnagar
A walking tour with assistant principal Matt. Torrens uncovers the history of the tucked-away cemetery near Saratoga Village.

A large fenced gateway marks the entrance to Madronia Cemetery, a Saratoga historical site located about half a mile north of Saratoga Village. A blooming arboretum and walkway of beautiful flowers line the entrance. Placards engraved in stone cover the front wall of the cemetery. 

Begun in 1863, the cemetery was named after the madrone trees that cover the site. Despite the cemetery’s rich history, visitors are rare because of its tucked away location, according to office staff Sandra Gonzalez.

Since Madronia is an “active cemetery,” burials are still taking place. In the past, new land was purchased near the back of the cemetery to accommodate more burials, but Gonzalez said that new land is not currently being bought because “the existing land will last up to 30 years.”

At least 5,400 people have been buried there, including family members, community leaders, and prominent historical figures. Madronia is also known for its arboretum, which features many varieties of trees representing “people from all over the world,” assistant principal Matt Torrens told us during a tour we took with him one day during first semester. 

There are currently 294 trees from 91 different species located around the cemetery grounds. Benefactors have donated small half curved benches that surround the trees, giving guests a place to sit and relax amidst the shade.

Near the middle of the cemetery is an area in which guests can fill up a plastic can and water flowers placed near or on top of the cemetary’s headstones.

Near the back of the 12.5-acre cemetery are cremation boxes to be filled with ashes. Instead of spreading ashes, people can buy a box to put the ashes in, keeping them in a wall at the cemetery near other gravesites. On the boxes, visitors can engrave information as one would on a tombstone. 

According to Gonzalez, a landscaping company comes in once a week to tidy the cemetery. However, the company does but does not touch or clean the tombstones — each individual is responsible for maintaining the tombstone they have purchased. 

As the cemetery continues to grow, housing Saratoga’s  loved ones, its reputation as Saratoga’s oldest institution still prevails —  many historical figures are buried right under the cemetary’s ground.


The first person interred: C.B. Buckman

In 1854, Saratoga had its first death: a young boy named C.B. Buckman, who drowned while crossing the Saratoga Creek. Since there were no established cemeteries at the time, residents decided to bury him on a plot of land farther up from the sawmill that was located near today’s downtown so his body wouldn’t float above ground in case of flooding. This death led the residents to begin to bury bodies at the same plot of land, which eventually became Madronia Cemetery Torrens said.

A placard at the front of the cemetery informs visitors that the cemetery land was donated by Don Jose Ramon Arguello, the principal owner of the Quito Ranch, in 1863. Today, the land donated by Arguello is considered to be the “Old Section” of the cemetery. Ever since, new land has been purchased to expand the plot of the cemetery’s ground and allow more space for graves. 


The most visited plot: Mary Ann Day Brown, wife of famed abolitionist 

Mary Ann Day Brown’s grave is the most visited site in Madronia Cemetery. Mary was the wife of radical American abolitionist John Brown, a wanted man who killed slave owners in May of 1856 during the Pottawatomie massacre. 

 Mary was just 17 when the two got married —  John was 36 and had taken a fancy to Mary’s looks, Torrens said. They had eight children together; two died of tuberculosis within a week of being born, and another died in a burn accident after a pot of boiling water fell onto her head. 

Eventually, one of their daughters moved to California after John Brown’s death and convinced Mary to move as well. They settled in California and moved to Saratoga. Mary and two of her children are buried in the same location at the Madronia Cemetery. 


John Poroy: a soldier who died in WWI 

John Poroy, a World War I veteran, was a Saratoga Elementary School graduate who died at war. He was buried over 110 years ago at Madronia. Over time, a tree has been planted and grown on top of his gravesite. The tree is fully grown — those who wish to see Poroy’s grave need to use their hands to brush the dirt and leaves away from the base of the tree. 

Poroy’s name is also engraved into the arch that stands at the entrance of Saratoga Village alongside five other Saratoga Elementary graduates who also died at war. Poroy and the other veterans buried at Madronia have special headstones etched with their veteran status. 


Mark Bingham: hero of Flight 93 

On Sept. 11, 2001, Flight 93, originally bound for California, had been hijacked and directed to the White House. Three hijacked flights hit their targets that day: the North Tower, the South Tower and Pentagon — but Flight 93 never did. 

Some passengers aboard — including Los Gatos High School graduates Mark Bingham, 31, and Todd M. Beamer, 32, — rushed into the cockpit and forced the plane into a nosedive into a Pennsylvania field before it could reach what was believed to be the White House, sacrificing their lives to protect the terrorists’ intended target. Thirty-three passengers, seven crew members and the four hijackers were all killed when the flight was sent into the field at 563 miles per hour.

Bingham — a hero whose actions inspired Americans during the 9/11 era — is buried in the Madronia Cemetery and is one of the many stories worth learning about in one of Saratoga’s most historic places.