Follow this tour of local pioneer cemeteries

April 06, 2001 11:00 pm

Editors note: The following story by Bill Lundquist appeared in the Curry Coastal Pilot on July 1, 2000.

Cemeteries in Brookings-Harbor are a great way to explore the areas early history.

Board members of the Southern Curry Cemetery Maintenance District recently erected chain-link fences around three pioneer cemeteries.

All three also have monuments listing the names of all those known to be buried there. Flag poles will soon be put up behind each monument.

Board Chairman Joel Bravo took The Pilot on a private tour through history. Several of Bravos ancestors are buried in the pioneer cemeteries.

He can trace the newcomer side of his lineage to Swiss immigrants and even back to the Mayflower. His American Indian ancestors go back as long as man has lived on the continent.

Use of the cemeteries overlapped throughout the years. The Oceanview Pioneer Cemetery on East Benham Lane in Harbor is the oldest of the four maintained by the district.

Oceanview was in use from the 1850s to 1945, and probably contains far more graves than the 15 identified on the monument. Bravo said 50 or more people could have been buried there.

To find it, turn at Matties Pancake House and take Benham Lane straight back up the hill. Where the road turns to the right, the cemetery lies slightly to the left, surrounded by a chain-link fence.

The only recognizable grave there belongs to Wesley Hatfield, who was drowned with George Shartal at the mouth of the Chetco River on May 28, 1912.

Hatfields tombstone is made of redwood. Bravo said the mans brother later erected the wooden structure that marks the grave.

Although local rumor says Hatfield was from the famous Hatfields and McCoys feud, a neighbor who researched the graveyard said that was only a nice story somebody made up.

Bravo had an interesting story of his own. He said one of the Indians in the cemetery, Locy Dick, lived to an advanced age. Bravo said the spelling on the monument, Locy, is correct, even though he pronounces it Lucy.

He said hes heard that Dick used to tell people she could remember when her father held her up so she could see Jedediah Smith and his band of trappers walking up the beach in 1828.

Also buried in the cemetery is Chetco Dick. Bravo said he was a relative of Locy, possibly her father.

Cyrus M. Benham, who the lane was named after, is there too. One of the earlier burials was that of 9-year-old Henry Adams, who died in 1888. His grave is somewhere near the top of the graveyard.

There are several Van Pelts buried there, both Dutch and Indian, telling the story of early relations between the white settlers and natives.

The last burial at Oceanview was just after World War II, and the graveyard fell into disrepair.

Slightly newer, and slightly closer to Brookings, is the Van Pelt Indian Cemetery on East Hoffeldt Lane.

Finding it is a bit tricky. Turn up the hill on Hoffeldt at the shopping center. Like Benham, this road also turns to the right. It changes to dirt and gravel at that point, and has a few deep ruts.

It turns back to pavement shortly, and splits into what appear to be two private driveways. Stay on the right. The cemetery is on the right side of the road across from a house.

As with the Oceanview Cemetery, there is no real parking area, so pull off the road as far as possible and have consideration for the neighbors.

The monument there lists Thomas Van Pelt, whose Indian name was Lewah, 1833-98, and Amelia Van Pelt, Welsuni, 1840-1922.

Many of their children and their spouses are also buried there. John Van Pelt, buried in 1950, may have been the last interred there. There are also some grandchildren in the cemetery.

Bravo said the boundaries of the Van Pelt and Oceanview cemeteries are hard to pin down from old records, so some of the graves could be under the roads. He said the Van Pelt Cemetery could contain more than the 21 people listed on the monument.

The Old County Road Pioneer Cemetery can be found by taking the road past Azalea Park. The Cemetery is across the road and just up the hill from the Star of the Sea Catholic Church.

Look for a new chain-link fence surrounding a grove of fir trees. It contains four or five headstones in various states of disrepair. Bravo said a bulldozer was once used to clear blackberry vines off the property, and it cleared most of the markers as well.

The new monument lists a dozen people known to be buried there. Though the cemetery is larger than the other two pioneer cemeteries, Bravo said there are probably no more than 15 people buried there.

He said the cemetery was used between about 1918 and the late 1930s. He said his relatives told him that Brookings was virtually a ghost town in those days, with grass growing on the streets. That was the period between the closure of the mill and the Easter lily boom.

The monument lists Wilburn and Lauretta Polley, who died in the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918. Bravo said their deaths orphaned five children, who were dispersed throughout the area.

Also buried there is Mary Marjana Potocnick. Bravo said her headstone is up at the William J. Ward Memorial Cemetery near those of her family.

Mary, he assured us, rests in the Old County Road Cemetery. He said an existing map shows where the people are buried.

The modern cemetery at 1035 7th Street began in 1936, when William J. Ward became the first to be laid there.

His monument is a boulder on the edge of the forest at the top of the hill. Painted on it is, In Memory of A Man, W.J. Ward, Aug. 23, 1881, March 28, 1936.