Washington Cemetery


German Society Cemetery (1887-1918)


The story of the Washington Cemetery of today began almost a century and a half ago, with its founding in February 1887 by the Deutsche Gesellschaft von Houston (German Society of Houston), a charitable corporation founded in Houston in 1875. Meeting minutes were kept in German until 1901. The new German Society Cemetery was situated just outside the Houston city limits, on 27 acres purchased from the heirs of Thomas Hart and John Lawrence. Thirty-seven shares of stock, valued at $500.00 each, were issued to Deutsche Gesellschaft members in December 1894.


Although the cemetery was primarily intended to serve as a burial ground for the German community near Houston, it was never exclusive. From its inception, family lots were available for purchase by the public, and the German Society Cemetery operated in this manner for several decades. At least 18 twelve-space lots were purchased by fraternal groups and labor unions, including the Fraternal Order of Eagles, Sons of Hermann, Grand Army of the Republic, United Confederate Veterans, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Order of Railway Conductors, Street Railway Employees of America, Knights of Labor, Musicians Protective Association, and Plasterers Union.


However, even this peaceful cemetery on the outskirts of Houston was not immune to changing societal pressures. In response to the rapidly spreading anti-German sentiment brought about by the outbreak of World War I, the cemetery association determined that the best option was to replace its name with a more patriotic sounding American name. Therefore, the German Society Cemetery on Washington Avenue was renamed Washington Cemetery in 1918, 31 years after it was founded.  At that time, it also changed from a for-profit corporation to a non-profit corporation. 


Between its founding in 1887 and its name change in 1918, the cemetery saw the burials of immigrants from many countries (15 different countries in the first 15 years), and several well-known Texans, including two veterans of the Battle of San Jacinto and at least 10 other citizens of the Republic of Texas. The earliest known burial in the German Society Cemetery was of Pauline Ottilie Zeitler, who was buried here on March 31, 1887, after her death at age 3 of “congestion of brain.”


In the years following this initial burial, veterans of both the Union and Confederate armies were also laid to rest here. Among these Civil War veterans is Sarah Emma (Edmonds) Seelye (1841-1898), a Canadian woman who had begun dressing as a man and going by “Franklin Thompson” before the Civil War. “Franklin,” who lived in Michigan at this time, enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry in 1861. She served in disguise as an infantry soldier, orderly (male nurse), brigade postmaster, and scout until 1863, when she contracted malaria, causing her to leave the unit. After recovering, she returned to the war effort and served as a (female) nurse.  Her 1864 book about her war experiences, Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, was quite popular, and she donated the proceeds to various soldiers' aid organizations.  Sarah died near La Porte, Texas in 1898, and was reinterred here on Memorial Day 1901.


In addition to the veterans buried in this cemetery, you will also find civilians of historical prominence.  Among them are Judge Henry Cline (1828-1901), Supervisor of Free Schools for Harris & Montgomery counties (1871-1873), and member of the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1875; and Professor William H. Von Streeruwitz (1833-1916), civil and mining engineer, geologist, metallurgist, chemist, and designer of the original plan of the Deutsche Gesellschaft Cemetery.  


Despite initially being known as the German Society Cemetery, this was a cemetery for all.  Fittingly, people with diverse cultures and political views found their final resting place here during those 31 years under the original cemetery name. In the many years to follow, the new name of Washington Cemetery would help to better represent the diverse collective of Texans buried in this plot of Houston soil.


The following 38 men were members and stockholders of the Deutsche Gesellschaft in 1894, many of whom were likely among the founders of the cemetery in 1887: William Angerhoefer, Alexander Barttlingck, George Bauss, Jacob Drenkel, Theodore Dreyling, Alexander Dietrich, Albert Fischer, Henry Goebel, Henry Götting, Felix Götzmann, Henry Hartmann, Charles Hahn, Herman Hundt, Friederich Jürgens, Henry Kasche, Ernst Knodel, Chris Kuntz, Charles Lang, John H. Lang Sr., James Masterson, Frederick Minster, Nicholas Pippert, William Reichardt, Jacob Remmel, Gustav Sauter, Gustav Schiebler, Gustav Schifer, Erich F. Schmidt, Louis Schmidt, E. B. H. Schneider, Herman Schneider, Charles Scoregga, Andrew Sens, Herman Sonnen, Louis Stahl, Fred Temme, Carl Voss (died before the stock was issued), and John Wagner Jr.  (No membership rolls have been found prior to 1894.)


These  members were a diverse group: 6 grocers, 5 saloonkeepers, 2 restaurateurs, 3 carpenters, 3 carpenter-builders, 2 laborers; also one each attorney, barber, beer wagon driver, blacksmith, butcher, druggist, gardener, hardware store owner, hotel owner, lumberyard owner, metalsmith, notary public, saddler, shipping clerk, shoemaker, tax assessor, and violin maker.


Members and employees of the German Society Cemetery after 1900 include G. L. Charlton, James Charlton, Jerome B. Cochran, Owen L. Cochran, Amelia Goetting, W. S. Hoskins, Houston Ice & Brewing Co., E. C. Isaac, Ike Keller, Theodore Keller, Edward H. Lang, John H. Lang Jr., Jesse Mattox, Gus Minster, L. Gus Mueller, Raymond J. Noland, William L. Noland, Jennie Sharman Noland, Mrs. Ed F. Perry, H. Prince, Julia Proetzel, Charles Rau, Elsa Schmidt, Emily Schneider, Conrad Schwartz, Otto Sens, C. E. Settegast, Milford V. Sharman, A. E. Sternenberg, Max Taub, and Carl Winkler.


More details about the founding of Washington Cemetery can be found in the historical narrative that was submitted to the Texas Historical Commission in 2012, in support of the application for a State Historical Marker honoring Washington Cemetery as a Historic Texas Cemetery.