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Developers plan to build where Hillsboro pioneers met. Opponents say burial ground may be on site.

COURTESY: KOIN 6 NEWS - Dirk Knudsen with the Five Oaks Discovery Coalition in Hillsboro shows plans for a memorial, August 22, 2019.
For years, historians and community members have been pushing to protect the probable site of the Methodist Meeting House near Brookwood Parkway, used by early pioneers in Hillsboro . Some people also believe there's a cemetery there.

The city of Hillsboro has approved the construction of 3 warehouse buildings on the nearly 50 acres of land. The city also OK'd an on-site monument for the Methodist Meeting House.

But critics say that falls far short of what community members were promised. Local historians and community members said they were promised a 1-acre section set aside for a monument that recognizes the historic significance.

They claim the Methodist Meeting House was built here in the 1840s and served as a place of worship and a seat of government for the early pioneers — including Joseph L. Meek and his wife, Virginia, who was a member of the Nez Perce Tribe.

Dirk Knudsen with the group Five Oaks Discovery Coalition said the Methodist Meeting House — "a very modest log structure" — was the "second organized church in the Oregon Territory" and was where people met, passed laws, celebrated life and worshipped.

He acknowledged no one has proven there's a cemetery under the ground. He said there are written documents in the "last 120 years" along with "stories" and "archaelogical work to indicate something is in the ground. It just hasn't been looked at."

The state, the governor's office and the state historic preservation group want to see more work done, Knudsen said. "That's going to happen, but it's not going to stop the building from occurring."

Descendants say the couple's five children were buried in a cemetery near the Methodist Meeting House.

Judy Goldmann, the great-granddaughter of the Meeks, said she wants the memorial "to be big enough that it commemorates both the early worshipppers and these children, and other possible burials in that it be big enough and explanatoy in the fact that it lets those persons that live here now know more about what went on as the settlers arrived."

Goldmann said she knew for many years about the land. Her parents, she said, :recorded information with some of the landowners that were still in the area."

The city's current plan, she said, is "too modest."

Knudsen isn't happy at all with the city's decision.

"What we're getting is a monument in a planter strip. That's it. And it's surrounded by parking and a building that's 40-plus feet high," Knudsen told the News-Times' media partner, KOIN 6 News.

"When you look behind you here you see the weeds and the pole. That's what we're getting is a piece of cement over there. It's not acceptable. It's not what was promised."

In an email, the Hillsboro Planning Department said city staff have spent "considerable hours working with all parties involved to find solutions. The site's inclusion on the City's Cultural Resource Inventory reflects the City's awareness of its importance and its role in our community's history. Policies are in place to ensure that upon development of the location, its significance to tribal and pioneer settlements is honored. The City is committed to balancing the long-term development of industrial land while memorializing the historically significant site for the benefit of our entire community."

Some local groups are appealing the city's approved development plan and will go before the Hillsboro Planning Commission on Sept. 4.

But before that they also plan to meet with the developer to see if something can be worked out.

"It should be a simple issue to solve if all sides want to work together," Knudsen said. "If they don't we're willing to take our chances to protect the asset that's here."

This story originally appeared on KOIN 6 News is a media partner of the News-Times and Pamplin Media Group.

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