A lonely little cemetery
On Memorial Day, the little cemetery on High Heaven Road is perhaps Yamhill County’s loneliest graveyard.
And, this year, High Heaven is where Min Coburn and I are going on our annual trek to honor the memory of Yamhill County’s pioneers.
We are lucky to have McMinnvillan Doug Nicoll as a guide. His great aunt, Ida Anna Michael, who died at age 8, is buried at High Heaven. Doug knows the way.
On this cloudy day, we drive out Baker Creek, then to High Heaven Road, a winding timber-lined route. Seven miles west of McMinnville, Doug pulls off the road, although there is no evidence here of a cemetery. On a scarcely discernible trail, we start uphill through timber and thicket. About half a block from the road we see, through the dense undergrowth, ghostly apparitions. They are grave markers, gray with lichens. Some broken. Some canted. Some almost totally overgrown.
No orderly rows in this cemetery, where little sunlight penetrates. No grass. Scant level area. A tangle of vines grabs at every step. Little trails veer off every which way, and when we follow them, they lead to other isolated markers with inscriptions almost illegible.
High Heaven Cemetery isn’t ready for Memorial Day 2013, but half a century ago that would not have been the case.
A front-page story in the May 27, 1955, Daily News-Register tells of High Heaven’s restoration by the Wilber Loban family of Carlton. Wilber’s grandparents, father, brother and two aunts are buried here. And, about 1900, Wilber’s father planted here at this cemetery a sentinel — a redwood tree brought from California.
When the Loban family visited the cemetery on a later occasion and found it in shameful condition, they did something about it. Neighbors became interested. They cleared brush, set markers upright. Loban rented a dozer to smooth off the surrounding landscape and make passable the narrow entrance road from the highway. At that time, Loban counted about 36 graves and markers, but estimated interments at about 120. That year on Memorial Day, 39 visitors braved the poison oak to pay respects to loved ones.
In 1981, Wilber Loban was buried here, beside his wife, Ann C. (1900-1963). His interment appears to have been the cemetery’s last. But on our visit, the tree planted by his father more than a century before still stands tall and proud — watching over the graves of the Hopfields, Eads, Fronks, Colvins, McCalls, Millers, Farmers.
Here, too, is the grave of a 10-year-old boy whose tragic death was detailed on the front page of the McMinnville Register, May 13, 1910.
Alfred, son of Jacob T. Reed, was dragged to death by a horse he was holding as it grazed on the lawn of their Lafayette home. The horse became frightened, dashed down the street and dragged the boy, who had “unconsciously tied the rope around his body.”
Land for this cemetery site, an acre, where the little Reed boy is buried — in 1886 was transferred by Benjamin and Sarah Wiggins to D.W. McCall and W.M. McCall, et al., trustees of McMinnville ME Church South. McMinnville United Methodist Church is its present owner.
The cemetery’s first burial apparently was 17-year-old Susan Rebekah Miller (1863-1880). A member of the Baker family, she was the first of several Millers buried here. On her marker is a weeping willow — a symbol often used on gravestones, usually referring to a spouse.
One grave we especially want to find on our visit to High Heaven Cemetery is that of Orange Kellogg, as per a story in the High Heaven file at the Lafayette Historical Museum. The file contained startling information: Orange’s brother, Noah, “with the help of an old Spanish jackass” was said to have discovered the Bunker Hill Lode — “a discovery of earth-shattering news.” About November 1892, Noah took that famed jackass down to McMinnville, where it lived out the rest of its life with Noah’s brother, Orange Stoddard Kellogg. Orange Kellogg was buried at High Heaven in 1918.
Despite research, no additional information was learned about the jackass that helped its owner find a gold mine, but what a fine story that would have been.
Other facts about High Heaven also remain a mystery. Who thought of this provocative High Heaven name? “Oregon Geographic Names” offers no answer. Dan Linscheid’s “Origins of Yamhill County Road Names” notes that High Heaven Road begins west of McMinnville and winds its way into the Pacific Coast Range foothills. It was named for High Heaven School, which predated the cemetery.
In 1869, Henry C. Shadden donated an acre of land for the school at a site near the cemetery. “Schools of Old Yamhill” notes that in 1878, High Heaven students included those from Wood, Jameson, Conrad, Gillam, Hudson, Yager and Morgan families. In 1895, the school had 53 students, ages 6 to 19. It closed in 1938-39, and students were then transported to McMinnville.
Another High Heaven mystery: What originally brought settlers in such numbers to these foothills, where agricultural land is more minimal than on the flatlands? Joanne Watts, historian and genealogist, points out that censuses of 1900 and 1910 list the vocation of numerous Yamhill County residents as woodcutter, and that perhaps that explained settlement in High Heaven’s timbered areas during an era when McMinnville Water & Light, Central Heating, McMinnville College and Oregon prisons may have been in the market for such.
History is a lonesome happening. We so quickly forget. But hopefully, at least some will not have forgotten lonely High Heaven Cemetery on Memorial Day 2013.
Elaine Rohse can be reached at email@example.com.