Smith Mountain Cemetery was started by the Odd Fellows Lodge in 1910. The original Board of Directors; A.G. McCracken, W.G. Osterhout, W.L. Muncy, A.L. Dickey and E.C. Dickey, were all lodge members. The cemetery is named for the hill located just north of the cemetery, Smith Mountain.
In 1910 a group of local men took their buggy up to Haden Heights, a point overlooking the local area, looking for a site to start a cemetery. It was too rocky in that particular area but while looking down they saw a dry spot where apparently no grain or other crop would grow. Shortly, a deal was made, and 40 acres of land was purchased. Never expecting to fill the cemetery, a portion of the original acreage was sold.
The first burial in the cemetery was a little girl, Irma Dean, who was killed by a runaway team of horses on September 22, 1911. It was three months before the next burial.
By petition of district residents, Alta Cemetery District was formed April 17, 1940. The first board meeting was held in the business office of Clarence McCormick. The District’s first cemetery board members were; Albert Dickey, Clarence McCormick and S.Q. Simpson. Soon after, Albert Dickey was appointed Cemetery Superintendent and Don Schofield was appointed to fill the open position of Board Member.
In 1943, eight individuals were disinterred from the Orange Cove Cemetery, located at the corner of Jacob & Clayton, and transferred to Smith Mountain Cemetery. The Orange Cove Cemetery was on privately owned land and after the disinterment was planted with fruit trees.
In 1945 the old Wilson Cemetery was declared abandoned and all the interments were moved to Smith Mountain Cemetery. About 75 bodies were moved and of these, only ten or so were known. Two of the bodies were those of John and Charles Ruggles, who were reported to be bandits.
On May 3, 2018, a crew from The Travel Channel came to Smith Mountain Cemetery to film a short documentary on brothers, John and Charles Ruggles, the outlaws who robbed a stagecoach near Redding in 1892. A Wells Fargo guard was killed in the robbery and Charles was badly wounded. The Ruggles brothers were hung by vigilantes in Redding California on July 24, 1892. The gold stolen in the heist was never found. The documentary aired on the Travel Channel's "Lost Gold", episode two, entitled, "The Ruggles Brothers' Deadly Heist", on December 30, 2018.
Smith Mountain Cemetery is home to a Grecian style mausoleum containing 220 crypts and 36 niches. Construction began in 1921 and was completed in 1923 at a cost of $75,000. At the time, the mausoleum was called, "The grandest of its size of any that have been constructed on the Pacific Coast". The mausoleum features Alabama and Napoleon marble, art glass windows, ceiling panels, bronze gates and hand stenciling. An extension of the mausoleum was completed in 1993, adding 280 crypts and 85 niches.
Alta Cemetery District Board of Trustees are appointed to a four year term by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors.
Past Board Members who have served the District are: A.L. Dickey, Clarence McCormick, S.Q. Simpson, Don Schofield, George Bevans, Stanley Fullard, Cliff Cochran, Vern Dawson, Ralph Carpenter, Ervin Schapansky, Richard Ayers, Paulie Romero, Leroy Swiney, Walter Gray, Richard Hachigian, Raymond Montano, Sue Halford, Rose Hachigian and Scott Harness.
The current Board includes Jeff Belknap, Benita Cortez, Linda Faust, Lynn Simmons and Marcia Williams.
Superintendents or Managers of the District:
A.L. Dickey Superintendent 1940-1956
William “Bing” Pitman Superintendent 1956-1969
Walter W. Gray Manager 1969-1988
Guadalupe Telles Manager 1988-1992
Faith N. Hull Interim Manager 1992
Danielle M. Duncan Manager 1992-2014
Sarah Rola Manager 2014-2017
Robin Ogata Manager 2017-present
To date, there have been over 19,000 burials in Smith Mountain Cemetery.