Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
Lloyd Collins of Dallas cuts small trees and brush with a chain saw Saturday morning while working to clear the Hart-Riggs Pioneer Cemetery south of Dallas.
August 28, 2012
DALLAS -- When Monmouth resident Ray Files found what remains of Hart-Riggs Cemetery, located off Kings Valley Highway near Bridgeport Road, he was driven to action.
Files' hobby is taking photos of old cemeteries, so he is always on the search for forgotten or out-of-the-way graveyards.
Hart-Riggs certainly qualified in both categories.
"I had to make four trips out here to find it," he said Saturday as he and Dallas resident Lloyd Collins worked to clear headstones buried under poison oak and blackberry brambles on the 2-acre site.
He eventually had to ask the property owner how to find the cemetery.
Files is used to seeing ill-kept cemeteries, but the condition of Hart-Riggs struck him.
"When I saw this one, I said 'boy, this is on the verge of being gone forever,'" he said. "After I found it, I thought it's got to be saved."
To that end, Files organized four weekend work parties starting on Aug. 18. Two more remain on Saturday and Sept. 8.
There's plenty of work to do.
To say the cemetery is overgrown would be an understatement.
"I don't think the damage is vandalism, but trees have blown over on to the headstones," Files said. "It's a terrible, terrible mess. Seedlings have grown and knocked them over and covered them up."
Walking up the well-hidden narrow trail leading directly off Kings Valley Highway to the cemetery, one could easily bypass it and not even know it's there.
Blackberry brambles have taken over the landscape, hiding the headstones from view. Collins was able to clear 20 to 30 headstones, but he suspects many more are buried underneath a wall of blackberry vines and blanket of leaves, needles and debris.
Collins brushes moss from a toppled headstone after uncovering it. Many of the site's grave markers have fallen down, are broken or buried by undergrowth.
On Saturday, they uncovered the headstone of the first person to be buried in the cemetery, Frances Hart, who died in 1848. She was 10 years old. During the next century, 58 people were laid to rest in Hart-Riggs. The last person buried there was Mrs. Martha Jane Riggs in 1947.
Several people with the last names of Bell, Bennett, Hart, LaFrance and Riggs are buried in the cemetery, but Files has yet to find or hear from any descendants.
Much of the history of the cemetery is lost, too.
Files hopes someone with knowledge or a family connection to the cemetery will come forward to help with the effort.
"We need people with memories of this place," Files said.
Files and Collins, the only person so far to respond to Files' plea for help clearing the brush, made some progress on that Saturday.
Tony Harper, whose property borders the cemetery, has watched the steady decline in its condition. He said his daughter used to spend time cleaning off the headstones when she was in high school, but stopped when she began college.
Hearing the whine of Collins' chain saw Saturday, Harper come out to see what was going on. He filled them in on what little details he knew about the cemetery, including that they would indeed find more headstones under the mass of blackberries.
"There's some brass headstones," Harper said. "They're beautiful."
He volunteered his time and tractor to help clear some of the brush away at the next scheduled work session Saturday. That's a good start.
Collins said if a big enough group shows up Saturday, a lot of progress could be made.
"If we could get somebody up here to haul this stuff out, then we can see what we've got," he said.
Files said the next step would be cleaning off the headstones, but he wouldn't try to move or restore them. He would leave that to an expert, if one could be found. He's also looking for someone who would be willing to negotiate the process of getting the cemetery recognized by the state of Oregon. If that's successful, upkeep would be paid for.
"I'm going to keep doing it as long as there is interest," Files said. "I'm simply offering to locals a chance to show respect to the cemetery and clean it up."
Want to help?
* Two more work parties are scheduled for the restoration of Hart-Riggs Cemetery, this Saturday and Sept. 8. Work begins at 7 a.m. and ends at noon. Hand tools and power tools are needed to clear brush.
The cemetery is located off Kings Valley Highway between Falls City and Bridgeport roads.
For more information on the project, go to www.secretcemeteries.com or call Ray Files at 503-569-7698.
For more information on the cemetery and a list of people buried there, go to polkcountycemetery.com.