oak hill park
Once the main cemetery of Petaluma, this site has had uses thrust onto it by the needs of the town, and is a particularly unique view into the attitudes of Petalumans towards its parks.
Already used as a burying ground, it was formally named a cemetery by city ordinance in 1868. Burials ceased in 1878, after John McNear established Cypress Hill Cemetery in 1872. By 1900, City Leaders wanted to build a school at the property and advertised that remains should be removed from the old cemetery, but records suggest that this did not occur in all cases.
The city attorney, in researching title to the land, determined that the original donor of the land did not have a legal title to it, and the property could not be developed. The land fell into further disrepair.
Local women, following the example of Petaluma's Ladies Improvement Club, formed the Oak Hill Improvement Club in 1908. Through fundraisers, and a small donation from the City, the club installed a stone wall along Howard Street, pathways, and other small features. Rather than creating a formal park, similar to the two existing parks in town, this club chose to retain the somewhat wild character of the land, making minimal changes to it.
The 1948 Petaluma General Plan had ambitious goals for the park, proposing a road through the park (traffic being a prime concern), and giving over the rest of the park to a busy program - handball, archery, tennis, and a wading pool were some of the activities included. Funding likely limited the plan to paving a narrow road through the park, adding a lawn to the upper section, and a playground. Boy scouts made good use of the lower park.
By 1989, oak trees surrounded by lawn began to die, leading to a neighborhood effort to revise the park. The roadway was removed and a new play area and lawn was created. The lower park became a dog park. A local group of Petanque enthusiasts received permission to create a Petanque court in the upper park. Old oaks have failed in recent years, and budget cuts have resulted in a much-diminished environment.