Metro’s 14 historic cemeteries encompass a total of 66 acres and are managed as active facilities, offering scenic tranquility and a unique glimpse into the history of the region’s early settlement.
Most were established during the 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 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 that plan events and help with maintenance. Many host celebrations, such as honoring veterans and those in the armed forces on Memorial Day. On Halloween, the Tour of Untimely Departures welcomes visitors to Lone Fir for guided tours about some of the site’s most well-known “residents.”
Metro’s historic cemeteries are supported with money from the general fund only, though the program is housed in the Parks and Nature department.
New basalt columns grace Lone Fir Cemetery entrance
At one time, Lone Fir Cemetery’s two entrances were each flanked with hand-carved stone columns. The original columns on the cemetery’s west side are still standing. The east side columns were removed, leaving only the bases.
”We don’t know when the original columns were placed or when they were removed,” Janice Reid, former chair of Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery, told a small crowd gathered along Southeast 26th Avenue on July 16.
The occasion: the dedication ceremony for two new columns that now grace the east entrance to the cemetery. About 20 people came to show their support for this latest effort to restore and beautify the cemetery.
Friends of Lone Fir came up with the idea and raised $35,000 for the project. The group’s volunteers partnered with Metro staff to commission the columns and to work through the permitting and land-use review process. Stone mason Matt Goddard of Poetry In Stone carved the new columns to look like the originals on the west side.
“Lone Fir is not just a cemetery,” Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick said in her remarks, “It’s valued by the community as a park.”
Watching the speeches was former Gov. and Metro Councilor Barbara Roberts, who said she never misses anything to do with this beautiful cemetery. U.S. senators, leaders of the suffrage movement, Chinese workers, and Dr. James Hawthorne, who co-founded the nearby Oregon Hospital for the Insane in 1861, are all buried at Lone Fir, she said.
People cheered as Wendy Palmer, vice-chair of Friends of Lone Fir, and Monty Woods, parks operations supervisor at Metro, cut the red ribbon strung between the two stone pillars.
“My great-great-great- grandparents are buried here,” Palmer said after the ceremony, with tears in her eyes. Palmer came here as a child to decorate their graves. Buried nearby are their infant twins, Mamie and James. “But they have no headstone,” said Palmer, explaining that she took to calling the new columns after the twins.
“Mamie is the one with the plaque, dedicated to those who rest here,” she said with a smile.
“I’m also proud of our partnership with Metro,” she said. “Monty and I work well together, we respect each other.”
Woods said he jumped at the chance to work with Friends of Lone Fir on a project like this. “It’s a great day for a place where the community comes to reflect,” he said.
The new columns are made from blue-gray basalt that comes from a quarry in Corbett.
Goddard, the stone mason, said the basalt in the original columns likely came from the Rocky Butte Quarry that closed when Interstate 84 was built. “The Corbett basalt is so similar,” he said.
He wanted to honor the work of prior masons who carved the headstones in the cemetery.
“There’s a lot of high-level stonecraft,” he said. “This was a powerful place to work. There are 25,000 souls here watching over me.”