St John's Cemetery, San Mateo

About St John's Cemetery, San Mateo

The first cemetery in San Mateo was built in 1877 by Agnes Tilton for her husband John Quincy Adams Tilton. It occupied the land between the railroad tracks and Delaware Avenue, just north of Tilton Drive. However, the growing town coveted the Tilton land for development, and, thus, San Mateo needed a new cemetery. In 1884, the devout Abby Parrott donated 6 acres of prime western land to the Roman Catholic Church. She named it St. John’s Cemetery, in memory of her husband John Parrott Sr. who died that year.

Botanist John McLaren, who sowed the eucalyptus trees which line El Camino Real in Burlingame, planted some of the trees which still inhabit the cemetery. Dedicated on May 25, 1886, the cemetery offered 3 consecrated acres for Catholics and 2 unconsecrated acres for Protestants. A portion of the graveyard was also set aside for paupers.

By far, the most impressive feature at St. John’s Cemetery is the looming, domed Parrott family crypt, located in the northeast corner of cemetery. The structure features a towering, lead-covered dome, supported by Romanesque columns and pilasters. The floor is a blend of black slate and white marble, while the crypt’s concrete exterior is made to resemble stone. Some say it is San Mateo’s most outstanding 19th century structure. A mortuary turned monument, a Mass honoring John Sr. was actually celebrated at the crypt until 1929.

In addition to John Sr. and Abby, other members of the Parrott clan are interred in the great monument. John Parrott Jr. (1859-1918), who married Mary Emilie Donohoe (1862-1965), is also buried in the crypt. John and Mary lived in a famous cottage called Bungalow, located near Abby’s Baywood estate. John Jr., a pianist and enthusiastic patron of music, may be best known as the founder of Burlingame Country Club.

Two of the Parrott men died while serving in World War I. Serving in the 62nd Infantry of the United States Army, Joseph Augustine Parrott (1888-1918) died at Camp Fremont Hospital, then located in Menlo Park. He succumbed to Spanish influenza, part of the influenza epidemic and scare that infected more than 2,000 individuals on the Peninsula during World War I. Edmund or Edward Anthony Parrott (1896-1918) reportedly was shot behind enemy lines. He was buried in France. A plaque honoring his memory hangs within the Parrott Crypt.

Other Parrotts honored within the memorial include Stephan Vincent Parrott (1899-1965), Frances Cuthbert Parrott (1898-1917) and Genevieve Parrott (1889-1889), who apparently died in infancy.

The other impressive memorial of St. John’s Cemetery stands like a Grecian temple just to the south of the Parrott crypt. Henry P. Bowie built it in 1893 for his wife, the renowned Agnes Poett Howard Bowie. Agnes married William Howard. After William died, she married his brother George, who built St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in San Mateo. When George Howard died, his body was interred in a crypt under the church. However, Agnes converted to Catholicism in order to marry Henry Bowie. Therefore, when Agnes died, she was barred from the tomb under St. Matthew’s. Instead, her husband buried her beneath this unmarked temple-like tomb at St. John’s Cemetery.


910 Oregon Ave, San Mateo, CA 94402
Open Daily 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Office Hours

Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Sundays by appointment

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