Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Preserving the past at local pioneer cemeteries

Learn about local history, cemeteries and personalities


by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Pleasant View Cemetery, in the hills west of Wilsonville, holds the remains of more than 2,800 individuals, including some 300 or so who lack a headstone. The style of markers range from obelisks popular during the 19th century, like the one shown, to more modern granite headstones. Looking at the elaborate name map painstakingly pieced together by Charlotte Lehan, you’ll see a virtual laundry list of Wilsonville street and road names.

Boeckman. Tooze. Baker. Barber. Graham. Parrett. Vlahos.

These families and many more are interred at Pleasant View Cemetery, located off Westfall Road west of Wilsonville. With more than 2,800 known individuals buried at Pleasant View, it’s the largest of three significant pioneer cemeteries in the Wilsonville area. All three, however, are a treasure trove of information for anyone looking for a fuller picture of the history of the last 150 years.

Lehan’s ancestors also are buried at Pleasant View, giving her a special viewpoint on local history she will share at Wilsonville History Night at McMenamin’s Old Church on Oct. 29.

“Written in Stone: Stories of Wilsonville’s Dearly Departed” will open its doors at 5 p.m. and Lehan will begin her presentation at 6:30 p.m. There is no admission and all ages are welcome.

It doesn’t take long talking to Lehan to understand the unique nature of cemetery preservation.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Former Wilsonville mayor and historian Charlotte Lehan is president and webmaster at Pleasant View Cemetery, where many of Lehans ancestors are buried, including George W. Bailey, whose obelisk gravestone shown here is typical of the period in which he died. For instance, have you ever tried to locate or identify a buried body using written records and little else? It’s part history, part science and long hours of research, and Lehan does this regularly, thanks in large part to the meticulous records kept by the cemeteries themselves. Obituaries and other public records also aid the search.

“We have probably 300 missing monuments (at Pleasant View) and I can tell you who is buried there,” Lehan said. “More importantly, I know who they are and what plot they’re in. With the family plots, and this is true of most cemeteries, most have a significant number of individuals whose markers have gone missing over the years or they never got one. So just walking around a cemetery doesn’t really tell you who’s there.”

Headstones also tell fascinating tales in a few short lines inscribed on marble or granite.

Former steamboat Captain Marshall B. Short, for example, is buried at Pleasant View. He perished in 1892 in a well-publicized barge accident on the Columbia River in Astoria, was brought back to his family’s Wilsonville roots. His father, R.V. Short, is still remembered for having drawn up Portland’s original downtown street patterns.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Oregon National Guard Private Don Roy Gage died in 1900 at the age of 19. He is buried today in the Stafford Baptist Cemetery located on the road bearing his familys name. In another tragedy, Don Roy Gage was only 19 when he drowned July 8, 1900. The Gage family has deep local roots, and Don was a private in Company G, 3rd Regiment, Oregon National Guard when he died. He’s buried today at the Stafford Baptist Cemetery, which sits side-by-side with the Robert Bird Cemetery off Gage Road north of Wilsonville.

“I don’t intend to limit my remarks to Pleasant View,” Lehan said. “So I’ll talk a little bit about Robert Bird, because it has a lot of local Wilsonville names in it and certainly also Meridian Cemetery on 65th (Avenue).”

The latter actually had its beginnings where the Frog Pond Church now stands on Southwest Boeckman Road. Not long after the turn of the 20th century, however, the church ran out of space for additional burials.

“There are only about 150 graves (at Meridian), but they got started out over at the Frog Pond Church,” Lehan said. “It was the church yard cemetery, and around the turn of the century they decided to move it; and they dug everybody up and moved them.”

If that sounds difficult and, well, somehow ghoulish, it’s because that’s not far off the reality.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Stafford Baptist Cemetery is contiguous with the Robert Bird Cemetery north of Wilsonville. Together the two serve as the final resting place for some 600 local residents and family members.“Relocating cemeteries is a big deal,” Lehan said.

The presentation also will cover cemetery iconography, which is what all those symbols on gravestones are about. From religious signs to detailed Grand Army of the Republic icons carved into the headstones of Civil War veterans, they often say more than words.

Sponsored by the Wilsonville Library Foundation and the Wilsonville-Boones Ferry Historical Society, the presentation also will touch upon the basics of cemetery care and conservation. This will include how the various types of stone — typically marble and, after the 1920s, granite — impact on both those topics.

It all adds up to building appreciation for local history, not to mention deterring vandals.

“Mostly,” Lehan said, “the thought is if you get more people to appreciate it and understand the importance of it and understand the history of it, then more people care about it and they’re less likely to be impacted by vandalism.”

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - These headstones at the Robert Bird Cemetery off Newland Road north of Wilsonville were photographed as Fridays full moon rose above the hills. They show significant damage from lichen, rain and other environmental degradation. This is one of the main challenges facing cemetery preservationists today.




Local Weather

Light Rain

45°F

Wilsonville

Light Rain

Humidity: 97%

Wind: 9 mph

  • 23 Apr 2014

    Rain 53°F 50°F

  • 24 Apr 2014

    Rain 58°F 40°F