Archaeological analyses underway at Methodist Meeting House
Community members have been working with a property developer to gain additional archaeological information about the probable site of a historic cemetery and pioneer meeting house near Brookwood Parkway.
Local historians believe the Methodist Meeting House was built there in the 1840s and served as a place of worship and a seat of government for early pioneers in Hillsboro — including Joseph L. Meek and his wife, Virginia, who was a member of the Nez Perce Tribe.
Descendents of the Meeks suspect the couple's five children were buried in a cemetery near the meeting house.
Last week, Majestic Westmark Partners, LLC, a property developer planning to build three warehouses at the 44-acre site, sent a human remains sniffing dog to look for the Meeks' buried children. The company also hired engineers to do ground-penetrating radar analyses of the area.
Dirk Knudsen with Five Oaks Discovery Coalition, a group working to preserve the site, said Majestic conducted archaeological work in good faith to resolve community members' appeal of the development.
The City of Hillsboro approved the development along with an on-site monument for the Methodist Meeting House.
But people wanting to memorialize the site said plans for the monument fell short of what they were promised when development was approved. They said they were promised a 1-acre area that would recognize its historical significance.
"Those of us lobbying felt the monument was very small," Knudsen said. Advocates also wanted archaeological analyses before construction started.
Local historians and descendants of the Meeks appealed the city's land use decision allowing the development and provided testimony at an appeal hearing on Sept. 4.
Knudsen said Majestic has been a willing partner in resolving the appellant's complaints since the hearing.
"We're working with the developer on a better monument and on more archaeology," Knudsen said.
Site advocates and Majestic have been developing a new design for the proposed monument. Draft designs include basalt stones with the names of the Meeks etched into them. A spiral wall 10 feet at its highest point would include information about the Methodist Meeting House. The draft designs also include five benches, native plants and a parking lot.
"The goal is a bigger, more meaningful monument that people will actually slow down and maybe want to stop and see what it is," Knudsen said.
On Wednesday, Sept. 25, Knudsen went to the site while a remains sniffing dog combed the grassy plot of land in search of the burial site.
"He hit on three locations out here, which just means he sat down, which gives (the handler) enough to know that he sat where he thinks he smelled something that could qualify for human remains," Knudsen said.
Engineers also used white flags to outline sections historians think was an old wooded area where the Meek children were buried. They used a ground-penetrating radar to look for anomalies that might indicate something is buried.
"Majestic has dedicated themselves to looking in the location of the old woods to get us all happy about the fact that there's nothing else here," Knudsen said.
While Knudsen and the Meeks' descendants are confident of the location of the meeting house, Knudsen said it's possible any human remains have decomposed.
"We won't get any results on this for probably a week or so," he said.
By Monday, Sept. 30, Knudsen said initial results didn't indicate anything significant. He hadn't seen the results, which are Majestic's property, but was in communication with the company. Phillip Brown, who has been overseeing the project with Majestic, was not available for comment.
Advocates want additional conditions, including approval of the new monument designs and an onsite archaeologist during construction, placed on the development, Knudsen said. He added the two parties are close to an agreement, which would resolve the land use appeal.
Another appeal hearing is scheduled for Oct. 9, and the Hillsboro Planning Department would have to impose the new conditions on the development.
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