There’s a cemetery along Perrin-Beitel Road on San Antonio’s Northeast side. Buried there are people with the names Eisenhauer, Rittimann, Wurzbach — names that dominate any map of the city. A team from the City Council's staff wants to help maintain the cemetery.
But there's a problem: They can’t figure out who owns it.
The name Salado Cemetery adorns the gate of this peaceful place on Perrin-Beitel Road.
It’s halfway between Loop 410 and Wurzbach Parkway, near a Dairy Queen and in front of an InTown Suites hotel. It looks like most other cemeteries but there's something different. The headstones from the 1800s carry names that would be very familiar to today's San Antonio residents, especially if they're drivers.
“So your older stuff is gonna be back here, and you'll find your Wurzbachs, your Eisenhauers,” said Rebecca Kaufman Podowski, the senior policy advisor for the office of District 10 City Councilman Clayton Perry. “All the old San Antonio families that owned land and that we now just know as street names, they are here. They were instrumental in building the San Antonio that we know of today. Unfortunately, their final resting place has been forgotten for such a long time.”
There’s also the names Rittimann and Stahl — all roads that are within a few miles from here. There’s history behind these names, like Eisenhauer — familiar to drivers on Interstate 35 who take that exit.
“They were landowners here, their sons and daughters remained here, held on to land and then eventually over time it was broken up into the neighborhoods that we have today,” she said.
Podowski says the District 10 office wants to help preserve the cemetery. It wants to help with landscaping, fencing or providing some re-investment funds. But they soon realized that there’s no owner to contact.
“We can't do any of that without either getting permission from a property owner or looking towards legal channels if there is no true owner or manager left to take over oversight of this cemetery,” she said.
Podowski and some city staff members have checked county records, and the only deed transfer they can find dates back to 1910, when a couple gave it to the Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery and a few trustees. Owners of cemeteries don’t pay property taxes on the land.
“I guess that's why no one has thought to look for themù because there's no money to collect,” Podowski said.
That Lutheran deed transfer led to the belief that the cemetery might have been owned by Beitel Memorial Lutheran Church a few blocks away.
But Nathan Reeh, property manager of the church, says it doesn’t belong to them. They conducted their own research about 15 years ago.
“This church has been plagued with this for many years. People said, 'No, it belongs to Beitel,' and everybody says, 'I don't think so. Nobody's ever told us that.' We have no written acknowledgement of that or anything to show proof of that,” he said.
He says a member of the church, Calvin Harlos, used to help take care of the cemetery. But he died in 2010 and is buried there next to his wife. It's likely he bought the plot many years ago. Other members of the Harlos family are buried there as well.
Reeh said Sunset Memorial Funeral Home at Austin Highway and Eisenhauer may own it, but after a quick visit there, a manager said it wasn’t theirs either.
The grass in Salado Cemetery was overgrown until some volunteers stepped in. Last November, the local CrossFit group Jones N4 CrossFit began volunteering to help clean it up and accept any liability in doing so. They’ve come every few weeks. Shelby Jones, the group leader, says he wanted to give back to the community he grew up in.
“Everything was overrun. I don't know when the last time it had been tended to. But we've … trimmed the trees, gotten all the leaves out of here, trying to get the borders and edges lined up again. It just looks completely different. It's crazy,” Jones said. “A lot of time and effort put into it. I'm just glad we have the community that's able to come out here. And the city entrusted us with this too.”
If, in the end, there’s no owner, Podowski says there are means for the county or city to obtain it.
“There is a legal process in place that the city attorney's office can start. But we really would like to solve the mystery of who owns this and work with them to keep this place like a little treasured spot,” she said.
She hopes there is someone out there who can help. Until then, the mystery will go on.
Jerry Quijano contributed to the production of this story.