The one-acre Rose Hill Cemetery is in Black Diamond Regional Mines (a 6,096-acre park). From the 1850s until the turn of the century, the surrounding area was known as the Mount Diablo Coalfield. It featured five towns: Nortonville (the largest and oldest), Somersville, Stewartville, West Harley, and Judsonville. The current site contains the remains of 12 coal mines, two sandstone mines, more than 200 miles of mines, Rose Hill Cemetery, and three of the original towns (Stewartville and West Harley are on private property to the east of the park). During its years of operation, it produced more than 4 million tons of low-grade coal and 1.8 million tons of sandstone, and eventually became California's largest mining operation.
Sand mining ended in 1949. Emma (only daughter of Alvinza Hayward, the president of the Black Diamond company) and her husband Andrew Rose deeded the land to Contra Costa County. She inherited her father’s fortune after his death in 1904. The East Bay Regional Parks district acquired the cemetery and much of the surrounding land in 1973. By then, much of the site had been vandalized over the years. The road to the cemetery had remained open, which made it a popular spot for teenage parties, romantic getaways, and cattle grazing. Many gravestones were broken with bats and knocked over by cows. Many have been stolen. Early conservation attempts by the EBRPD also failed. The cemetery also hit a rough patch in the 1990s when Antoinette May featured it in Haunted Houses of California. Tourists came to see the haunted tales and often left with more than just photographs.
Many people believe Rose Hill Cemetery is haunted. The most notable manifestation is believed to be the ghost of Sarah Norton, also known as the White Witch. Sarah Norton is the widow of Noah Norton, the founder of Nortonville. She was the popular midwife, who delivered some 600-plus babies in all types of weather and all times of the day or night. She was known as an independent and gutsy lady, and rumored to be an "nonbeliever." On Oct. 5, 1879, Sarah was traveling via buggy to deliver a baby. She was thrown from her buggy and killed when her horses bolted and ran. The citizens attempted two funerals for her, but both were stopped by a huge storm. This resulted in her being buried into her grave without a proper "Christian burial." The entity of Sarah has haunted Rose Hill for many years, and there are a few speculations on why. The most common is she is upset she didn't get a proper burial (despite accusations of her religion), but many also speculate she feels as though her job on earth wasn't finished. Her ghost is described as a "Glowing/Gliding Women." Many people have also reported a horse drawn buggy going up and down the trail to the cemetery.
There are also many other reported ghosts upset at the vandalism. A glowing white entity likes to glide right above the gravestones and lets out loud chuckles. Another common site has been glowing, floating crosses along with 13 children dressed in all black walking around the area. The most common presence is the hearing of bells, ghostly cries and laughter, and the sound of strong wind with no wind being present.
- It is rumored Ansel Adams’ "Poplars, Cemetery near Mount Diablo California," taken in the 1960s, features Rose Hill Cemetery.
- The earliest known gravestone was Elizabeth Richmond; died February of 1865 (plot 81).
- The youngest known person was the one-day old, unnamed daughter of Thomas H. and Elizabeth Jenkins, who died on April 15, 1880 (plot 9).
- The oldest known person was Ruth French, who died at 81 years old on September 11, 1874 (plot 115).
- The most recent known burial was William T. Davis, who died in 1954 and was buried in the Davis family plot (plot 104).