Portland’s Historic Cemeteries

By David Krogh

Many people think of books about cemeteries in terms of spooky tales. Others might assume these books would only discuss important people buried there. A new book Historic Cemeteries of Portland, Oregon by Teresa Bergen and Heide Davis, is a different kind of cemetery read. 

The book is extremely interesting with an eye on history and the people involved with the cemeteries it discusses, but there’s much more. It is being published by The History Press, well known for local and regional history.

In 202 pages, it delves into no less than 27 area cemeteries and included are the Historic Pioneer Cemeteries currently under the supervision of Metro, several privately managed cemeteries and many others of interest. 

It focuses for the most part on people involved with the development of each cemetery, those of note interred there and information on cultural and family groups therein. 

Also included by the authors is interesting information regarding natural features, memorable monuments, historical tidbits, movies filmed on location and hauntings.   

How many people know the Lone Fir Cemetery at SE 26th  Ave. and Stark St. is on the National Register of Historic Places? It was originally platted in 1855 as the Mount Crawford Cemetery (since renamed Lone Fir). 

Lone Fir is also known as Portland’s other arboretum (second only to Hoyt Arboretum in scale) having a collection of more than 550 trees of 71 different species. 

The first cemetery known in Portland proper was located downtown near the current Skidmore Fountain in 1817, but due to building development and marshy ground, most of those graves were subsequently relocated to Lone Fir and other cemeteries by 1887.  

Lincoln Memorial Park was previously built as the Mount Scott Cemetery in 1906 and often referred to as “the pricier cemetery up the hill.” It went through an unusual history including its use as grazing land and later (in the 1920s) was the location of mass scale cross burnings by the Ku Klux Klan before it finally settled down as a cemetery. 

Since 1926, when its name was changed to Lincoln Memorial Park (in honor of Abraham Lincoln), it has included areas dedicated to veterans, a large Chinese section, an AIDS memorial and several sites of noteworthy monuments for Romani and other families. It has remarkable hillside views of several area mountains.

A Catholic cemetery (St. Mary’s) once stood at the current location of Central Catholic High School (across the street from the Lone Fir Cemetery) and dating from 1858. Space needs caused the Portland Archdiocese to purchase land in the West Hills which became Mount Calvary Cemetery. 

Most of the graves at St. Mary’s were then relocated to the current Mount Calvary Cemetery, a place to visit if you want to see statues of angels, crosses and ornately carved monuments. 

The Southeast Examiner asked the authors which cemeteries include the most interesting historical figures. 

The response was that River View and Lone Fir contain a substantial number of people who contributed to local, state and national politics, arts and other fields. Mountain View in Oregon City also includes people involved in early Oregon history. 

“But every cemetery we visited had people who were at least locally famous,” they replied. “And sometimes we came across someone really famous, like Linus Pauling in Oswego Pioneer Cemetery.” 

Another person of note mentioned in the book buried in Lone Fir is Harriet “Hattie” Redmond, an African American suffragist known locally for her efforts in the Black community and for furthering women’s rights.

When asked if they had observed any uniqueness or quirks with any of the cemeteries the authors responded, “People often like to leave special things at the graves of loved ones and we saw an unusual number of such offerings at Lincoln Memorial Park. Things like bottles of beer, soda and soymilk. Our favorite was a fresh corndog and jojos.” 

Also of interest, “The mix of styles at Wilhelm’s Mausoleum in Sellwood is really fun and odd. The street-facing side looks like a Spanish villa, but on the back, facing the Springwater Corridor, is a massive waterbird mural.”

Asked which cemeteries deserve a visit, they replied, “All cemeteries! Every cemetery is interesting in its own way. Just be respectful when you go.”

Both authors are antique and history buffs too. Davis is a painter and Bergen has previously authored Easy Portland Outdoors and Transcribing Oral History. 

This book was released in September and is available in local and online bookstores. 

For more information on this and other books by the publisher, visit historypress.com.

Portland’s Historic Cemeteries

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