Metro’s 14 historic cemeteries total 66 acres in Multnomah County and provide an important service for families throughout greater Portland. The cemeteries are managed as active facilities, offering scenic tranquility and a unique window into the region’s history.
Most were established during Oregon’s early homesteading period, between 1850 and 1870. The cemeteries are open to visitors and provide opportunities for picnicking and contemplation in a natural setting.
Lone Fir Cemetery, nestled in the heart of Southeast Portland, doubles as a valuable community greenspace. With more than 700 trees representing 67 species, Lone Fir is Portland’s second-largest arboretum and often attracts neighborhood joggers and walkers.
The stewardship of these special places is a high priority for Metro and local communities. Some have active volunteer groups, such as the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery, which offer guided tours. In October 2017, the Tour of Untimely Departures welcomed visitors to Lone Fir for guided tours about some of the site’s most well-known “residents.” Visitors also enjoyed a free community history fair with interactive displays, snacks and information about Portland’s unique history.
Lone Fir often hosts outdoor theater in the summer, including performances of Shakespeare’s famous plays.
Metro’s historic cemeteries are supported with money from Metro’s general fund only, though the program is housed in the Parks and Nature Department.
Metro honors veterans, local history on Memorial Day at Lone Fir Cemetery
Metro honored veterans over Memorial Day weekend, with staff and volunteers placing 1,600 flags on graves across all 14 of its historic cemeteries in Multnomah County.
At Lone Fir, the largest of Metro’s cemeteries, Memorial Day activities featured a flag-raising ceremony, guided historical and veterans tours led by the nonprofit Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery, self-guided tours of police officers and other notable graves, and a special appearance by a 1949 vintage Mack fire truck.
Nanette Zimmerman visited with extended family to clean and decorate family gravestones.
“Got to train up the next generation, pass on the family lore,” she said. “Otherwise it gets forgotten. We go for the family history. It’s about remembering our family roots and where we came from.”
In the Firefighters’ Section, retired Portland firefighter Don Porth and firefighters from Station 9 raised the flag to kick off the day’s activities. He spoke about the significance of remembering those lost on Memorial Day and offered a brief history of the firefighters’ section, where 141 people are buried, including 12 who died in the line of duty.
Various blocks at Lone Fir represent different generations, groups of people and cultures, Porth said. “Everyone here has a link to this place somehow, some way, and to find that is a pretty special opportunity,” he said.
Firefighters answered questions all morning as children explored the two fire trucks on site with great enthusiasm. Ringing the vintage truck’s bell was a hit with the 10-and-under crowd.
Oregon City residents Danielle Earls and her husband, Ryan Earls, brought their three young sons because her whole family is buried at Lone Fir – including her grandfather, who was buried last year in a panda urn. The boys referred to him lovingly as “G Dad.”
Danielle Earls was born and raised on the East Coast, where “every single town had huge parades, and it was a big deal. People talked about their family members.” She feels the holiday is less celebrated on the West Coast, where she has lived for seven years, and she was grateful for the Lone Fir event. “I’m glad Metro did this,” she said. “I want to have my kids be aware that it’s not just a day off.”