I have to admit that I like walking through cemeteries (in the daylight) but not for any morbid reasons. It’s just that they’re usually big wide-open spaces and hardly ever crowded with people – at least living ones.
When Lex, my sister and I discovered that the Jacksonville cemetery had the grave sites of the pioneers of the town, we decided to visit it (with a copy of the tour map).
Walking through the eerily quiet location, we were able to locate the oldest part of the cemetery where the pioneers and their families were buried.
These were people who originally came to Jacksonville to mine for gold but stayed to create a life and legacy.
One of the most well known pioneers was Peter Britt. Peter Britt was a Swiss immigrant who arrived in Jacksonville via Portland, Oregon to mine for gold. He wasn’t successful with gold mining but was with photography. His photographs of Crater Lake were the first to be developed and he documented life in Jacksonville during the late 1800’s.
Not only was he a talented photographer, he also cultivated 300 varieties of various horticultural plants including pear, apple trees, fruits and vegetables. After many years, his home burned down and the gardens were in shambles. Due to the efforts of certain organizations in Jacksonville, the gardens were restored and are now the location of the Britt Festival where it hosts summer concerts including a Classical Music Festival.
Other pioneers such as Cornelius Beekman came to Jacksonville for gold but eventually opened Oregon’s first bank. William Hoffman arrived with his wife and six daughters in the 1850’s. All six daughters married prominent Jacksonville residents including Mr. Beekman, David Linn (owned a lumber mill and woodworking business), and JC Whipp who was a stone mason.
Cornelius Beekman’s daughter, Lydia died when she was five years old and her grave site is marked with a cradle. It was a very touching experience to see such a marker.
The Jacksonville cemetery was dedicated in 1860 but the first burials were in 1859. The older parts of the cemetery have markers identifying certain fraternal and religious orders such as the Masonic Order, Catholic, Jewish, German Order of Redmen, Redman, and the Odd Fellows.
I was curious about the origins of some of the fraternal orders so I looked them up. Both are active and presently giving aid to those in need. Here is what I found:
The Order of Redmen was a popular fraternal organization of the time, claiming descent from the instigators of the Boston Tea Party. Over the years, they have changed their name a couple of times and are known now as the Improved Order of Redmen.
The Odd Fellows organization began in 18th century England. They were called odd fellows because it was odd and impractical at the time for people to organize for the purpose of giving aid anonymously to those who needed it. The US and Canada adopted the organization in 1819.
It was a solemn experience walking through the gravesites and seeing the markers but it gave us a chance to learn more about the history of Jacksonville and the resilient pioneers who found it.
On a hill overlooking the town of Jacksonville is their historic cemetery, one of the oldest in the state of Oregon. We thought we would be in for quite a steep walk, but one of the locals was kind enough to tell us we could park up there. It is a beautiful cemetery, filled with tall green trees and a scenic view of the town below.
We knew that we would see a number of gravesites of original settlers of this Old West town. The first official burial there was Margaret Love in 1859. The cemetery is divided into different plots, often by religion or fraternal order, like the Masons and Odd Fellows. The atmosphere there is subdued and tranquil, and every headstone feels like a historical marker.
While there were a number of prominent people whose names I recognized as some of the first Jacksonville settlers, such as Peter Britt, photographer and founder of the popular Britt Festival there, one marker stood out for me even though I didn’t recognize the name.
This was a military marker for Second Lieutenant George W. King. There are several military markers for veterans of wars throughout the cemetery, but this is someone who served in the Spanish-American War, which I found fascinating.
I think what Neek and I really appreciated about the place was how it imparts a sense of history on a quieter more personal level. Reading about these people, when they lived, how they died, you do get a more intimate sense of the struggles they went through in the Old West, but also the feeling that their lives mattered; their struggles built a great town that’s still great today. Visiting a cemetery can be a somber occasion, but for us it was a wonderfully inspiring complement to our journey through Jacksonville.