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Forest Grove firefighters preserve centuries-old cemetery

Pictures from the early 1900s show the former Forest Grove Presbyterian Church before the building was lost to a fire.


By Janet Gonter

You may have driven past it on Forest Grove Road dozens of times and just thought it was a big, overgrown lot.

About nine years ago, a Forest Grove firefighter realized that beneath the wild overgrowth was a century-old, abandoned cemetery, and he knew he had to do something. In it rested the remains of not only entire families, but also soldiers from the eras of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He believed that the state of the cemetery was a disgrace and organized a group of fellow firefighters to take on the task of restoring it.

Their numerous attempts to discover who owned the cemetery failed. It was built, along with the original Forest Grove Presbyterian Church, in 1867.

A recent picture of the cemetery shows aging graves. Some date back to the 19th century, when the original church was built.

When a fire severely damaged the church in the early 1900s, the building was abandoned for years and eventually torn down. The church membership was dissolved in 1925, and the Forest Grove Presbyterian Church ceased to exist. Another Presbyterian church was formed in Forest Grove in 1955, but it was unrelated to the original.

So, considering the cemetery to be abandoned, the firefighters began the formidable task of clearing away decades of nature’s overgrowth.

They began by bringing their own weedwhackers and painstakingly uncovering the hidden gravestones, one by one. They also cut down decaying trees. Once they had completed that first seemingly endless step, they brought their own lawn mowers and continued dressing up the property.

Today, the Forest Grove firefighters continue to oversee the beautiful cemetery. They let each other know when it’s time to give it attention. With some 300 graves, it’s a big job. But they don’t mind; they are honoring and respecting the dead.

Along the way, they’ve learned some interesting facts and legends. For instance, it is believed that when the original church was torn down in 1931, the stained-glass windows were buried for safekeeping, but today no one knows where.

Also, it is rumored that the church was worth close to $1 million when it was dissolved, largely due to the hundreds of lucrative oil wells in the township, and that the money was divided among former members. The bell that once announced “time for church” was saved, but like the stained-glass windows, its whereabouts are unknown.

The old cemetery, no longer abandoned, is a peaceful place of rest now, due to the tireless efforts of a group of dedicated firefighters.

Thank you, Forest Grove Volunteer Fire Department! You are our heroes.

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