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Farmers Planting Grapes Discover Lost Cemetery

Farmers planting a new vineyard near Salem have discovered a lost historic cemetery.

A lost cemetery was discovered when a new vineyard was being planted near Salem. Photo courtesy Kuri Gill of Oregon Historical Cemeteries.

The land was plowed over many years ago. But while working the Waldo Hills property off Howell Prairie Road, workers found a cluster of three headstone bases. The stones themselves may have been moved.  Or, if they were made of wood, they may have rotted over time. 

The land originally belonged to pioneer Daniel Waldo. He spent time at the Willamette Mission before settling. But he served as a judge for Oregon’s provisional government, so it’s possible that significant discussions took place on the property.

Oregon Historic Cemeteries coordinator Kuri Gill says the Waldo family was very influential during the 1800s.

“Many things are named after them,” Gill says. “They were involved in all kinds of politics and education in early Oregon history, prior to statehood and after statehood.”

It’s not clear how many graves might be in the plot. But research points to between five and 10. 

Gill says the graves may include some of the Waldo family children, a black man named Drake and George Beale, who was hanged for murder in 1865.

“It is very exciting and the descendants are very happy because there were records that said there was a cemetery out there and people thought that it was lost forever,” Gill says. “So, to discover these bases and have a new place to start on the research is very exciting.”

From left: Amy Vadergrift, Willamette Heritage Center; Ted Shepard, Aumsville Historical Society; Gwen Carr, Northwest Black Pioneers; Kuri Gill, State Historic Cemeteries Program. Photo courtesy Kuri Gill.

Much is known about the Waldo family. But the Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers, the Willamette Heritage Center and many other groups are trying to find out more information about others who were buried there.  But that could take a couple of years.

Gill says she says she’s just pleased the new owners didn’t just plow over the land once more.

“It was basically plowed over for grass crops. So over time and with the farming, the exact location was lost,” Gill says. “But there were always historical records that indicated that there was a cemetery out there. There was also a school house out there.”

The new owners of the land, Ken Johnston and “Winemaker Investment Properties,” were presented with an Oregon Heritage Stewardship Certificate for finding and preserving the cemetery.

The hope is to fence the area off, plant a small garden and eventually have a memorial, listing the names of those interred.

As a working farm, the property isn’t open to the public. Access can be requested by appointment. 

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