1846 – 1866
Spanning 30 acres with more than 25,000 burials, Lone Fir is the oldest of Portland’s original cemeteries. Its first burial was Emmor Stephens, father of landowner J.B. Stephens, who died in 1846.
In the mid-1800s, settlers quickly established land claims. J.B. Stephens purchased a land claim for $200 held by John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver. The claim extended from the east bank of the Willamette River to present day Southeast 23rd and from Stark Street to Division Street. Stephens’ father died shortly after they arrived to Oregon and was buried on the family farm. In 1854, Stephens sold the farm to Colburn Barrell, with the promise that he maintain Emmor’s grave.
A businessman with a number of ventures, Barrell was an investor in the steamship “Gazelle,” which exploded in Canemah in April of 1854. Twenty-four of the 50 passengers perished, including Barrell’s partner, Crawford Dobbins and his friend D. P. Fuller. Barrell buried these two men near the Stephens family plot and set aside 10 acres for a cemetery, which he named Mt. Crawford.
The 10 acres were platted into lots in 1855. A block was donated to the Fire Bureau in 1862 and two were sold to the Masons. In 1865, 13 more acres were purchased and then seven more the next year, bringing the cemetery to its present size of 30 acres in 1866.
1867 – 1936
Barrell tried to sell the cemetery to the City of Portland, but the deal was refused because it was considered too far from town at the time. When the City refused, a group of Portland families and plotholders purchased the land for $4,000 and incorporated it as “Lone Fir Cemetery,” a name suggested by Colburn Burrell’s wife Aurelia in honor of the solitary fir tree on the land.
No money was set aside for perpetual care and the cemetery gradually fell into disrepair. By 1928 it was covered with blackberry mounds and there were 10,000 unknown graves. Prior to the 1870s there were few stone markers and the wooden ones had rotted or were destroyed in one of several fires in the cemetery.
In the early days there were four small cemeteries in what is now downtown Portland. All of the deceased from these cemeteries were moved to Lone Fir. Later, many from St Mary’s Catholic cemetery were partially integrated here, when it was converted to Central Catholic High School. Their athletic field is referred to as the “Bone Yard” to this day.
For more than 40 years, every burial in Portland occurred at Lone Fir, until Riverview Cemetery was established in 1893. The Soldiers’ Monument was unveiled in 1903 to honor soldiers of the Civil, Spanish-American, Mexican and Indian Wars. The original cost was $3,500, which was contributed by 500 local residents. It was commissioned by the Lone Fir Cemetery Association, designed by D.D. Neer and built by Otto Schumann. The soldier was toppled from the pedestal for some time. In 2003, Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery raised funds to have it rebronzed and reset, a fitting 100th-year tribute to the monument.
In addition to the graves and the variety of trees that were planted to honor the deceased, Lone Fir has a special rose garden that is still in existence today. In 1936, Mary Drain Albro founded the Pioneer Rose Association and led a movement to find and save roses that emigrants had brought west on the Oregon Trail. Eventually, 23 different roses were identified. Cuttings were taken and new plants grown from them, which were planted in four gardens located in Champoeg (the Oregon Territorial Capital), Pacific University in Forest Grove, on the Willamette University Campus, and at Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland. Today, the rose garden in Lone Fir is the only one still in existence.