Historic Mercedes Cemeteries Memorialize European Immigrants
On the corner of Anacuitas and Mile 1W roads, two historic cemeteries sit catty-corner to each other.
One is fairly well known with its historical connection to one of the oldest churches in the Diocese of Brownsville. It’s Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery. Its origins go back to 1910 when four acres were donated by Capisallo Town & Improvement Company. The cemetery was named for the parish church in Mercedes – Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church.
On the adjoining corner of Anacuitas and Mile 1 W, there’s another cemetery – nearly as old – and also tied to a historic church in Mercedes. The Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery was established in 1913 on land donated by the American Rio Grande Land & Irrigation Company. This cemetery, like its Catholic counterpart across the street, has ties to a historic Mercedes church.
The Evangelical Lutheran Emanuel Church was organized in Mercedes in 1910. It was first known as the German Evangelical Lutheran Church and today is named the Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church.
These two century-old churches – Lutheran and Catholic – and the cemeteries tied to them speak to the pioneering spirit of Mercedes. They are also a testament to the first residents and immigrants who shaped and formed Mercedes.
“As the city, (Mercedes), grew, there also grew a need for the immigrant population from the Midwest to join together in worship,’’ says an online history on lutheranmercedes.com “There were families of German heritage who moved south with the promise of land and a rich future in agriculture.’’
The legacy of those early European immigrants is honored at the Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery.
“Gravestones bear the names of many Germans, Norwegian, Finnish and Russian settlers who immigrated to this area from the U.S. Midwest,’’ says a Texas Historical Commission plaque at the Lutheran cemetery.
This cemetery, the state marker notes, “has served Lutherans (from) throughout the Rio Grande Valley.’’ Under the swaying canopies of elm and mesquite trees, the family names of these European immigrants and their families are written on gravestones, along with those of Hispanic families.
The oldest one goes back to 1913 and is that of Wilhelm Schumacher. There’s a gravestone for Mathew Haapoja, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in World War I. He lived to be 100 years old, being born on Feb. 5, 1894 and dying on Feb. 6, 1994. There are also family plots such as those of Henry and Margaret Riesterer.
“In loving remembrance of Clara Hahn,’’ reads one gravestone, stating she died on Jan, 25, 1920 and was only 23 years old at the time.
These European immigrants, and their descendants, left touchstones in Mercedes that are memorialized under the old elms of the Valley’s first Lutheran cemetery.
- Ricardo D. Cavazos