Cemetery of the Week #136: Lone Fir Cemetery

The Soldiers' Monument at Lone Fir.

The Soldiers’ Monument at Lone Fir.

Lone Fir Cemetery
SE 26th Avenue and Stark Street
Portland, Oregon 97214
Telephone: (503) 224-9200
Established: 1846
Formally dedicated: 1855
Size: 30.5 acres
Number of interments: 25,000 (at least)

Portland’s lovely Lone Fir Cemetery began in 1846 with the burial of Emmor Stephens, father of a man who owned property nearby and rests there now. In 1854, victims of a steamship accident were buried near him and the ground was formally dedicated as a cemetery in 1855.

Many Oregon pioneers are buried in graves that are no longer marked. There may be as many as 10,000 unknowns buried here. Some of these are Chinese laborers. The men intended that, after their bodies had been buried a suitable length of time, their bones would be exhumed, scraped of flesh, bundled together, and sent home to China. A large number of them still reside in their “temporary” graves.

Dr. Hawthorne's obelisk

Dr. Hawthorne’s obelisk

A tall obelisk marks the grave of Dr. James C. Hawthorne, who cared for the insane shortly after Oregon achieved statehood. He opened the Oregon Hospital for the Insane in 1862 and cared gently for his patients, who were allowed time outdoors and musical performances. If patients – who were often abandoned by their families – died at the hospital, Dr. Hawthorne saw that they had a decent burial at Lone Fir. 132 of them rest there now.

Among them, in an unmarked grave, rests Charity Lamb, who murdered her husband with an axe as he sat down to dinner with the family. She had hoped to escape an abusive situation, but was instead convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in the Oregon State Penitentiary, where she was the only female prisoner. Eventually she was released to Dr. Hawthorne’s asylum, where she died.

Here lies a Woodsman of the World.

Here lies a Woodsman of the World.

Lone Fir has a good number of beautiful tree stump graves. One might suspect that the men remembered by these stones had been loggers, especially since many of them say “Woodsman of the World,” but in fact the stones were purchased from an early burial insurance company.

Another lovely grave at Lone Fir has been badly vandalized. Not much seems to be known about 31-year-old Paul G. Lind, except that he liked to play Scrabble. You can see photos of his unique monument at Findagrave. None of the letters are left in place now.

Once this was a beautiful tiled Scrabble board.

Once this was a beautiful tiled Scrabble board.


Scottish immigrant Donald MacLeay invested in the Oregon railroads and was the President of US National Bank of Portland, which became USBancorp. He commissioned a mausoleum after his first wife died. It was completed in 1877 for $13,500. He survived for two more decades before he joined her. Unfortunately, the winters have been hard on the mausoleum and its stone is flaking away. It looks spooky and has appeared in several movies.

The MacLeay mausoleum

The MacLeay mausoleum

Even with the ravages of time and vandalism, Lone Fir is breathtaking. When I visited last weekend, the chestnut trees were in glorious bloom and the rhododendron at the Soldiers’ Monument smelled like heaven. Squirrels played, birds sang, and everywhere I looked was bright with shades of green. National Geographic magazine named Lone Fir one of the Top Ten Cemeteries to visit in the world.

Mad as the Mist and Snow: Exploring Oregon through its Cemeteries (which I’ll review tomorrow) says, “If you choose only one cemetery to visit in Oregon, this should be it.” As it was the only cemetery I’ve visited in Oregon so far, I can’t speak to the reality of that statement. I can only tell you that Lone Fir is spectacular in the spring. I am so glad I didn’t miss it.

The Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery offer tours beginning at the Soldiers’ Monument every second Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. They also offer headstone-cleaning workshops. Their calendar of events is here.

In fact, the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery’s website tells the tales of pioneers, prostitutes, shanghai captains, mayors, governors, and preservationists buried in the graveyard. It’s worth reading their biographies even if you can’t make it to Portland to pay your regards in person.

Useful links:

History of Lone Fir Cemetery

The Portland Metro government page on Lone Fir Cemetery

The Lone Fir Cemetery Foundation is raising money for restoration work.

National Geographic’s list of the 10 Best Cemeteries in the World

Notes from one of the Halloween tours of Lone Fir

A news report on vandalism in 2013


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