What do the Historic Embree Cemetery, the Hart-Riggs Pioneer Cemetery, and the Ball Family Cemetery have in common? All these small Polk County cemeteries were rescued by the Polk Cemetery Savers! Ray Files and Lloyd Collins, founding members of this organization based in Polk County, joined us today to tell us their story. Ray was a volunteer photographer for FindAGrave.com and was assigned to take a photo of a gravestone for a member of the Hart-Riggs family. Upon finally finding this small cemetery, he was disheartened by its unkempt, overgrown condition. He placed an ad in the local newspaper requesting volunteers to help him restore the cemetery, and Lloyd Collins responded. Along with a few other volunteers, they went to work on this cemetery, restoring 38 monuments and making it eligible for registration with the State of Oregon as a Pioneer Cemetery.
They were hooked! They found that there were 51 known cemeteries in Polk County, and almost all had no official caretaking oversight. They decided they would take on the 10 cemeteries around Dallas, one by one, and branch out from there, and to date they have completely restored 7 or 8 cemeteries. Lloyd told us of the painstaking care they take to locate, research, repair and restore the grave monuments and headstones in these small private cemeteries. The cemetery map they develop as the final part of each restoration is then forwarded to the Historic Cemeteries Commission and also filed with the Polk County Historical Society Museum in Rickreall. If you'd like to learn more about this organization or want to work with them restoring another hidden treasure, contact them on their webpage, PolkCemeterySavers.org, or follow them on Facebook.
Kuri Gill staffs the Oregon Historic Cemeteries Commission under the auspices of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and she joined us to talk about the Commission and the assistance they can provide. She advised that the Commission is charged with maintaining the registry of these historic pioneer cemeteries, along with encouraging the restoration of similar sites. Their staff can offer technical assistance to such volunteer organizations and assist them in the restoration and registration process. Registration as an historic cemetery provides some legal safeguards as well as eligibility for preservation and maintenance grants.
Photos courtesy of Polk Cemetery Savers and Polk Itemizer-Observer