Astoria leaders back historic cemetery name

Edward Stratton, The Daily Astorian, Ore.
·3 min read

Apr. 7—The Astoria Pioneer Cemetery, a burial ground off Niagara Avenue that used to be named the Hillside Cemetery, will revert to its historical name during a restoration by Clatsop Community College students.

Astoria city councilors on Monday voiced their approval of the college using the older name in a new wooden sign on 14th Street a student will make as part of their capstone project.

In 1865, John Welch deeded land for Hillside Cemetery, which replaced Potter's Field at 14th and Irving Avenue as the city's primary burial ground. By the 20th century, the city established Ocean View Cemetery in Warrenton and outlawed further interments in Astoria.

Many bodies were exhumed and moved to Ocean View, along with the private Greenwood Cemetery established in 1891 near Olney. The Hillside Cemetery fell into disrepair.

Residents spruced up Hillside Cemetery as a park in the 1950s and '60s. They installed a wooden sign on 14th and a stone plaque detailing Welch's donation and the site's history, albeit under the name Astoria Pioneer Cemetery.

City councilors shared their surprise at the site's history and supported adding interpretive signage. Mayor Bruce Jones said he'd always heard of Pioneer Cemetery since moving to Astoria in 2011 until several months ago, when someone told him about Hillside. Later research found references of Hillside Cemetery dating back to the 1880s.

"It's a fascinating example of the sort of layers and layers of history in this town, the little mysteries," Jones said.

Some have raised concerns that the Pioneer Cemetery name also glossed over the nuanced, often violent history between Native Americans and European settlers. It also didn't encompass the wide demographics John Goodenberger, a local historian and preservationist, said have been identified at the site.

"There were Native Americans there," he said. "There were Chinese laborers there. There were Scandinavian cannery workers there, et cetera. And so it's a swath of Astoria's history."

College students documented tombstones at Hillside Cemetery, something Goodenberger said has been done several times throughout history and could help track the movement of bodies out of Astoria. They will clean and realign burial markers in the coming weeks. Goodenberger expects the new sign to go up on 14th Street by the end of the college's spring term in June.

The Astoria Pioneer Cemetery will likely stay put as part of the site's history, which Goodenberger said could be interpreted in many different ways.

"It could be something like a single sign talking about the cemetery," he said. "It could be a series of signs like what they did in the Masonic cemetery in Eugene, where you go around and you can read the histories of the people that are lying there."

"The city has only recognized the fact that there's a lot of history up there, and lots of folks don't know it," he said. "So let's put it out there for them, so people can appreciate what's up there."