Most people know that Portland began as a timber and land claim filed in 1843 by Asa Lovejoy and William Overton (who soon sold his interest and left the area). And how in 1843, Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove flipped a coin to determine if the new settlement would be named Portland or Boston (Pettygrove won). Although Portland would not be incorporated as a city until 1851, an influx of settlers in the late 1840's and the inevitable accidents and disease that followed made it necessary for the community to set aside land for use as a cemetery. They chose blocks 33 and 34 on which to establish what was variously known as City Cemetery and Stark's Cemetery. Block 34 is at the corner of SW 1st & Ash - where Station 1 was built.
We know that this cemetery contained a minimum of 38 graves, and probably more. Records from the period are incomplete. The first documented burial was of a Mr. Smith in 1847. Other burials included a Mrs. Warren in 1849, Mrs. William Berry, daughter of the aptly named Stephen Coffin, and Mr. Coffin's infant son in 1850. In 1854, Crawford Dobbins and David P. Fuller were buried here. These gentlemen were killed along with twenty-two others when the steamboat Gazelle exploded near Oregon City. There were sixty people on board. In addition to the twenty-four killed, another thirty were seriously injured. This remains the worst accident to occur on the Willamette.
By 1857, the city was growing north and the property occupied by the cemetery had become valuable to commercial interests. Council ordered that the bodies be removed and the land sold. The new owner of the cemetery property was Fred Bickel. Mr. Bickel ordered the relatives of the dead to relocate their loved ones. Some of the bodies were reburied in the newly established Lone Fir Cemetery, including Dobbins and Fuller, while others were buried in another cemetery bounded by Abernathy, Lowell, Hood and Macadam Avenue. This cemetery was also later abandoned and the bodies moved again. So much for rest in peace.
Before starting commercial development of the property, Mr. Bickel affirmed that all of the bodies were removed...but were they? It was well known by residents of the time that many bodies remained buried under the new development. We know that in 1912, construction workers unearthed decayed wooded coffins and two partial human skeletons and in 1923, street maintenance workers discovered a human skull and parts of a coffin.
So, when Station 1's crews are sleeping peacefully in their beds (does that ever happen?) they may not be the only ones sleeping on what was once Portland's first cemetery.
Portland Fire & Rescue
We Respond: Always Ready, Always There
October 29, 2010