Small cemeteries around the globe carry the weight of much more than those who have passed on from this world — they hold stories, secrets, rich histories and heritages.
The Hill Cemetery in Gaston is no exception, but after a startling discovery, established resident historians Ken and Kris Bilderback ponder the future of the space.
"We got a call from the Washington County Museum about someone wanting to bury their relative at Hill, and we checked with the cemetery board, and all certifications for the spot had lapsed," said Ken. "Hill Cemetery is operating without legal authorization."
The spot is a pioneer cemetery, with prominent people buried there, and holds a lot of history, according the Bilderbacks. For the last seven years, the married couple has worked to unearth a tremendous amount of historical significance — they've catalogued a massive amount of information. Ken worked for nearly 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, and Kris' background was in higher education administration, including 13 years at Pacific University.
Without legal authorization, there are two major impacts that can befall the cemetery. First, without tending to grass and other standard maintenance procedures, physical decay can occur, and second, people will not be able to bury their loved ones in the spot. Luckily, the Bilderbacks are on the case.
"The state has given me the necessary forms, and we're hoping that someone will take up the task of keeping the place in good condition," said Ken. "That means getting everything back on track, dealing with families who want to bury people there and creating a board to oversee it."
The issue isn't uncommon for small cemeteries, especially in rural settings, according to the Bilderbacks. As friends of the Washington County Museum, they'll be featured in this month's installment of the Local Author Series on Saturday, May 20, between noon and 1 p.m.
With the perfect blend of well-researched history and a captivating story, each book authored by the Bilderbacks has been described as a light read that doesn't sacrifice historical depth.
On Saturday, they'll be leading a discussion on the pioneer cemetery under threat of being forgotten. As one of Washington County's non-profit pioneer cemeteries, the space relies on the work of committed volunteers to maintain the grounds and assist relatives who are seeking to have family members buried there. This year saw the remainder of those volunteers, those who had worked tirelessly for decades, step down, leaving the future of the cemetery in question.
Hill Cemetery is the resting place for some of Gaston's most notable early settlers, along with many other important Washington County figures like Peter McIntosh, known as the "King of Cheese," who created Tillamook cheddar. In 1940, he died on the floor of a cheese factory in Gaston.
William Doughty, a pioneer figure from early on in Oregon's history, also rests at the cemetery.
The Bilderbacks even traced a fire back to somewhere in the early 1900s that broke out and burned all of the grave markers, which were made of wood at the time. Some families knew where their loved ones were buried. Others who returned after their travels did not.
The talk happening at the museum serves as both a learning experience and an avenue for people to get involved to ensure that Hill Cemetery remains a landmark in the future.
"There are a lot of personal stories that come from this space, both funny and tragic, and we want to contribute by telling these stories and get people interested," said Ken. "We want to honor the memory of the people buried there, and also have an entertaining discussion about the value that the cemetery holds."