SIERRA VISTA — For those who live or work in Sierra Vista, the name Fry is a familiar one. The city’s main street bears the name and there are still people alive in the community who recall that the area was called Fry, Arizona before Sierra Vista was established in the 1950s.
The Fry family left a forever mark on the area as one of the first families of homesteaders to start building up the city.
On Seventh Street, the Fry Pioneer Cemetery, the family’s personal plot, still stands today as one of the city’s oldest landmarks. It is on the Historic Registry and this November it will turn 100 years old.
To celebrate the historic anniversary, the Henry Hauser Museum, Historical Society, St. Andrews Catholic Church and city will be hosting a series of presentations and activities about the cemetery, people buried there and their rich cultures.
Museum curator Nancy Krieski said that the cemetery is an important piece of the city’s past and they are looking forward to exposing more residents to their history.
“One of best pieces about this happening at this time is that all the people buried there represent our very, very early history and what it took to labor here and the work that they did,” she said. “This is a way to recognize them out of respect and a lot of people are not aware we have it.”
“It will become our landmark,” she added.
In the center of the cemetery is the Fry plot, where family members are buried and descendants still have the right to be buried. Surrounding the plot are the remains of almost 200 others that the Frys allowed to be buried there.
The Historical Society worked with City of Sierra Vista last year to purchase the portions of the cemetery outside the Fry plot, which the city has owned since 2007, that were owned by two individuals, giving them the ability to fully restore the Fry Pioneer Cemetery to its original boundaries.
Who’s buried there
Though the Historical Society and museum did a lot of research on who could be buried there, as well as on the Fry family itself, in 2009 when they applied for National Historic Registry status, there is a still a lot they’d like to learn.
Of the 200 or more buried outside the family plot, they’ve discovered the majority are non-Caucasian. Most are of Mexican-American descent.
“(One of our researchers) is discovering in her research that a lot of them are of Yaqui descent from Northern Sonora Mexico,” she said. “What she’s finding out through having some of the living descents do DNA testing is it’s showing up that they have those native roots.”
Many of them were laborers for the Frys and couldn’t afford transportation, burial or religious ceremonies.
“This was a pioneer cemetery and the Frys allowed them to be buried around their family plot, which is kind of remarkable if you think about,” Krieski said. “So the cemetery tells this really interesting multi-faceted story — a look at different cultures and people, our soiled past I guess you could say.”
Celebrating the culture
To celebrate the Mexican and Yaqui culture of those buried around the Fry plot, many of the planned activities and presentations leading up to the centennial celebration are focused on Hispanic traditions.
They will host some Ofrendas or shrine making workshops, a Dia De Los Muertos dinner dance and several talks about the history of All Souls Day, El Dia Los Muertos and the Yaqui’s historical migration into Cochise County.
Along with the exploration and celebration of the cultures represented at the cemetery, they are still trying to gather more information on the Frys.
Krieski said they have very few photos of the Frys and are asking the public for information and photos on the Frys and the cemetery in general.
“We don’t have a lot in our collection relating to to the Fry Cemetery and we would like to put a call out to the community if anyone has any information on who’s buried there,” Krieski said. “If they have relatives, if they have any photos of the cemetery from the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, any of that — photos, information, documentation.”
“We’re looking for that so that we can help build an exhibit and for research and presentations because with the cemetery and Fry family we’re limited on what we have.”
Historical Society member Ingrid Baillie will be doing a presentation on the Fry family’s history and has been researching them.
“I’m looking for pictures, and I did get an 18-page summary of the Fry family from a man in Bisbee who’s a descendant of Edna Fry,” she said. “We are trying to let the community know about Fry Cemetery.”
“The Frys did all kinds of different things — post office, a dairy, bought land and set up this village for soldiers on Fort Huachuca they got sued over and had a store,” Baillie said. “They were really an enterprising family.”
Along with the activities leading up to the big centennial celebration on Nov. 5, the entities involved in this project are excited to reveal some improvements to the cemetery itself.
There will be a wall built around the cemetery and they hope to place grave markers or a sign of some kind to designate different people and communities who have been buried there.
The festivities kick off on Oct. 26 with a special museum exhibit about the Frys and the cemetary. The centennial ceremony and annual blessing of the Fry Pioneer Cemetery is on Nov. 2 and the 100th anniversary is on Nov. 5.
Those who have stories, photos, newspaper articles and documents can contact the museum at firstname.lastname@example.org or swing by during their business hours.
For more information on the museum, visit www.sierravistaaz.gov/museum.