Jacob Niederaur was Bakersfield’s first undertaker and the first sexton of Historic Union Cemetery, which he helped to develop. Born in Bavaria, Germany in 1841, Niederaur came to America with his family in 1853 and settled in Ohio. Niederaur served in the Union army in the Civil War, and then worked in mining camps across the West. He arrived in Bakersfield in 1869.
Niederaur’s father had trained him in woodworking, so he started a cabinet-making shop. It was the first of his many businesses; in 1873 he opened a furniture store. Niederaur realized that the growing town needed a mortuary, so he studied the business and became an undertaker. (This was common for cabinet makers, as many were called upon to build coffins as well.)
Jacob’s mortuary was located downtown, in the same building as his furniture store.
When the city developed Union Cemetery in 1878, Niederaur took charge of it, planting trees, fencing the property and handling the burials and record-keeping. At a time when most businesses in Bakersfield were housed in modest shacks, Niederaur championed the development of bigger buildings, and stimulated growth by erecting the first substantial shopping block. It included space that was used for meetings, lectures and even opera performances. He also became a partner in the Southern Hotel, the first in town. Niederaur added a gymnasium and athletic hall to his holdings in 1892, which became the first headquarters of Bakersfield’s National Guard unit.
In 1878 Niederaur married Lucy Williams, the governess for the children of Philo Jewett, brother of local business magnate Solomon Jewett.
The couple had two children.
Niederaur died in 1903, a self-made man who had arrived with little and amassed a large estate while building the community he loved.
His gravesite is space 1-7.