Polk County itemizer observer. (Dallas, Or) 1992-current, April 01, 2015, Image 7

Below is the OCR text representation for this newspapers page. It is also available as plain text as well as XML.

    Polk County
Polk County Itemizer-Observer • April 1, 2015 7A
Group restores broken gravesites of Oregon founders, pioneers
By Jolene Guzman
Much Done ... Much To Do
The Itemizer-Observer
Lloyd Collins uses a
trowel to scrape ex-
cess epoxy from the base of
a broken headstone he is re-
pairing in a pioneer ceme-
tery south of Monmouth.
The simple gesture has a
rhythmic quality to it:
scrape, scrape, scrape and
then tap, tap as he knocks
off the solution into a near-
by bucket. Collins performs
the task as if he’s done it
dozens of times.
He has.
An original member of
Polk Cemetery Savers, a vol-
unteer group that finds and
restores pioneer cemeteries
in the county, Collins is
among its most dedicated.
He and fellow volunteers
Ruby Garman and Pete Mc-
Dowell have been faithful to
the cause, working on the
cleaning and restoration of
all six cemeteries the group
has undertaken.
Sometimes, like on March
21 at Chamberlin Pioneer
Cemetery, Collins works by
himself, slowly piecing to-
gether broken or toppled
headstones. It’s a monu-
mental task and one that
takes patience and respect
for the final resting places of
people who lived and died
many decades ago.
“I’m not sure what hap-
pened to this cemetery,”
Collins said. “During World
War II, Adair Village was
training soldiers and they
used this whole area for
training and maneuvers. We
understand that some of the
cemeteries got moved, sup-
posedly this one did not.”
Unveiling the history of
the area — and the inhabi-
tants of the cemetery —
often comes with the work
of restoration. Volunteers
don’t just clear debris and
repair headstones, they cat-
alogue burials, making an
official record. Those
records are turned in to
Bollman Funeral Home in
Dallas, the Polk County Mu-
seum and the state.
Chamberlin Pioneer
Cemetery has its mysteries
— including the identity of
an infant buried there. Still
unable to identify the baby,
Collins made a temporary
maker, stamped with “in-
fant” to mark the gravesite.
Pieces of headstones that
don’t appear to belong in
the cemetery have been
found, adding to the in-
trigue surrounding Cham-
“Lots of unknowns and
lots of questions,” Collins
said. “We have more ques-
tions than we have answers
in this cemetery.”
Doing the detective work
— much like the physical re-
JOLENE GUZMAN/Itemizer-Observer
Lloyd Collins repairs a headstone at Chamberlin Pioneer Cemetery during a recent
weekend Polk Cemetery Savers work session. The group is in need of more volunteers.
JOLENE GUZMAN/ Itemizer-Observer
Collins examines a monument that will have to be repaired and repositioned in its orig-
inal place. Finishing the job will require pouring a new base and sliding it into place.
pair of headstone and family
monuments — is something
Collins and other volunteers
learned on the job, so to
speak. The first restoration
began almost three years
ago at Hart Riggs Cemetery
between Dallas and Falls
JOLENE GUZMAN/ Itemizer-Observer
Leaning headstones, or broken and missing markers, are common in neglected pioneer
cemeteries. The group performs repairs and documents burials at each location.
Many of the tasks are at
least two-person jobs, but
that doesn’t stop Collins
from doing what he can on
his own. When asked why
the three-person team con-
tinues to do the work with
little other help, Collins
pauses for a second.
“Somebody asked me
that about two years ago …
I said these people were pi-
oneers, so they made this
state what it is,” Collins
said. “I don’t want to see
their cemeteries rotting into
ruin. It doesn’t take a lot of
money to repair them. It
takes a little of bit of time;
you have to be careful be-
cause you don’t want to do
any damage. But basically
that’s the reason. When I
saw Hart Riggs, I think both
(group founder) Ray (Files)
and I had tears in our eyes.”
McDowell has similar
Projects of the Polk County Cemetery Savers:
Hart Riggs Cemetery
This was the first cemetery the group restored, found by
group founder Ray Files when he was looking for pioneer
cemeteries to take photos of. The deplorable condition of
the final resting place of 58 people buried there prompted
Files, Collins and other volunteers to take action. They began
work at the cemetery, located between Dallas and Falls City,
in the summer of 2012. That soon led to other projects.
Whiteaker Cemetery
Located southeast of Dallas, Whiteaker Cemetery with its
15 interments had been
long neglected and
vandalized. Headstones
and monuments were
leaning, damaged or
toppled. Thick blackber-
ries, poison oak and ap-
ples trees that were
damaging gravesites
had to be removed be-
fore the painstaking
process of cleaning and
repairing headstones
could begin. Pieces of
original headstones
were found all over the
cemetery and carefully
pieced together and placed back where they once stood.
Carey D. Embree Cemetery
Embree Cemetery was founded in 1844, located in a grove
of trees in a field in Rick-
reall. This cemetery had
a volunteer caretaker
and was in relatively
good condition, but
needed repairs. Deciding
to restore the cemetery
to its original state, vol-
unteers reseated several
monuments and re -
moved dead trees dam-
aging headstones. Work-
ers removed decades of
dust and dir t from
gravesites and cleaned and repaired headstones. Thirty-nine
people are buried at the cemetery.
Burch Family Pioneer Cemetery
Also located in Rickreall in the center of a farm field,
Burch’s earliest burial was in 1849. This cemetery houses the
resting place of Harrison Brunk — the builder of the Brunk
House on Highway 22 — and
other notable pioneers. Larg-
er than other cemeteries —
more than 140 burials — the
restoration started in 2013
and continued into this year.
Like the others, it required re-
moval of brush, weeds and
trees, in addition to finding
and restoring headstones.
M.L. Robbins Cemetery
Located just outside Dallas,
M.L. Robbins Cemetery was in
very poor condition by the
time the group found it. All
the headstones had been
knocked over or broken. The
seven-week restoration revealed 20 interments, though four
of them still are unknown. The group cleaned the area, re-
trieved pieces of headstones and monuments for repair. Fol-
lowing the restoration, the cemetery was fenced off.
Chamberlin Pioneer Cemetery
The group’s current restoration project, Chamberlin
Cemetery’s first burial was in 1845. Still cataloguing inter-
ments, Collins estimates between 20 and 30 people are
buried at the hilltop site south of Helmick State Park near
Monmouth. Restoration began in September 2014 and
should continue for another month. More than half the
headstones were damaged and all were sorely in need of
cleaning. The land owner, who has been cleaning the ceme-
tery annually, may build an access road.
— Jolene Guzman
reasons for volunteering for
the cause.
“Since I started doing it,
I've come to see that this
work is really important for
preserving these historic
sites,” he said. “Besides just
showing respect for the de-
ceased, I think we need to
preserve the record of life
and death during the early
days of our state.”
As dedicated as Collins,
McDowell and Garman are,
they could use a few more
hands. No longer able to
perform many of the physi-
cal tasks, Files has had to
step away from much of the
McDowell added main-
taining the cemeteries once
restoration is finished is an
ongoing process.
“We just need to get more
people involved so the bur-
den gets spread out a little,”
he said.
Collins listed two other
cemeteries he’s looking into
for future projects and they
will find more, no doubt.
Work parties are scheduled
every Tuesday, Thursday
and Saturday mornings
starting at 8 a.m.
“If we can get some more
volunteers, it’s not so bad.
They don’t need anything
but boots and gloves,”
Collins said. “We can use all
the help we can get. They
don’t have to make three
days a week, but if they can
make it one, that’s great.”
To volunteer, or for more
information, go to
or email Lloyd Collins at
LydCollins@aol.com. In the
last two weeks of April, the
group will be cleaning
cemeteries of winter debris
and could use volunteers.