Mount Calvary Cemetery in Portland, Oregon

By Connie Lenzen, CGSM[1]

On the 30th of September 1888, a dark, drizzly fall day, the Most Reverend William H. Gross, Archbishop for the Archdiocese of Oregon, consecrated Mt. Calvary Cemetery. [2] It was the second Catholic cemetery in Multnomah County, Oregon. It was also the third cemetery in Portland's West Hills. The Nathan B. Jones and the Poor Farm Cemeteries were the first and second. This article provides background on Mt. Calvary and the early Portland cemeteries. It describes some noteworthy tombstones and tells the story of pioneer Catholics buried in Mt. Calvary. (Note: Other cemetery links can be found on my "Helpful Articles" webpage. )

Jones Cemetery

Nathan B. Jones' Donation Land Claim, #2761, was located in section 6 of T1S R1E. [3] It extended roughly from West Burnside Street to a line about 1/4 of a mile south of Canyon Road and from about SW 56th to 65th Avenues. [4]

Nathan Jones was born in 1819 in Rockingham County, New Hampshire. He arrived in Oregon in 1847 and settled his claim on 25 November 1850. [5] In 1854, his father died, and he set aside two acres in the southeastern portion of his claim for a cemetery. [6] The Jones Cemetery is located near present day SW Hewitt and Scholls Ferry Roads.

Multnomah County Poor Farm Cemetery

The Multnomah County Poor Farm was established in 1868 on 160 acres of the Eli and Ann Stewart Donation Land Claim, south east of present-day Mt. Calvary. [7]

Visitors entered the Poor Farm grounds through a swinging gate leading off from Canyon Road. The winding wagon road passed the graveyard on the right, went past the one room shack used as the 'pest house' and up the hill to the main buildings. The Farm was home to the poor, the sick, and a colony of lepers. In 1880, twenty-six men and two women were enumerated on the census as residents of the farm. [8] In 1888, David M. Dunne, newly elected Multnomah County Commissioner, arranged for passage back to China, on the English brig "Kitty" for fifteen Chinese lepers who were living at the Poor Farm. [9]

St. Mary's Cemetery, Portland's First Catholic Cemetery

In 1858, Timothy Sullivan donated four acres in the southeastern corner of his Donation Land Claim to the Archdiocese. The site, located at SE 24th and Stark Streets, was across the street from Mt. Crawford Cemetery, which was later named Lone Fir Cemetery.

In 1888, thirty years after its opening, St. Mary's was almost full to capacity, and the cemetery was no longer desirable or appealing. Houses and businesses surrounded the property that had once been in the midst of farms. The grounds were not maintained, and they were becoming shabby.

Most importantly, the cemetery was in East Portland, a rival town to Portland where westsiders wanted a cemetery on "their" side of the river. They complained that crossing the Willamette River to bury their loved ones and to tend the graves in St. Mary's was inconvenient.

Consequently, the Archdiocese of Portland located and purchased one hundred acres for a new cemetery on the west side. The lovely site overlooked Portland and had room to expand. It had a further bonus; forty acres had been cleared of trees, providing room for the cemetery. The purchase included 20.5 acres of the Nathan B. Jones Donation Land Claim and 10 acres of the William and Levina Naylor Donation Land Claim. [10]

Time went on, burials declined, and St. Mary's Cemetery took on the look of an abandoned site. The cemetery was not the "best use" of the land. However, the site was perfect as the location of a Catholic high school that the Archdiocese wanted to build. St. Mary's Cemetery was closed to new burials in 1930. Over a seven-year period, the remains were sent to other cemeteries. Central Catholic High School was then erected on the site of the former cemetery. Mt. Calvary, as the only other Catholic cemetery in Portland, received most of the remains. The St. Mary's section of Mt. Calvary holds the rest of the burials not reentered.


According to an article in the 1888 Catholic Sentinel, the way to Mt. Calvary was out "B" Street (later renamed Burnside), up Barnes Road, past Johnson's place and Reid's place. The carriage ride took 45 minutes. The view back to the city was often obscured by thick wood smoke from the homes and businesses. [11]

The original entry to Mt. Calvary was from Barnes Road, near the present day crucifixion scene. A chapel was located at the entrance, as was a watering trough for the horses that made the fatiguing journey up the mountain. The stones mentioned below are located, or viewed, in roughly a direct path from the entry to the present day maintenance building. The gravesite of Rev. John Francis Fierens is at the entrance to what was to have been the priest's circle. Rev. Fierens was a Portland pastor from 1863 to 1893. When he died on 20 August 1893, it is possible some of the mourners arrived by trolley car. The Barnes Heights and Cornell Mountain Railway made its first run to the cemetery from West Burnside and 23rd Avenue in April 1892. The trolley car followed Barnes Road directly up the canyon. Near the top of the summit, the steepness of the incline was moderated by four sharp hairpin loops near, and on top of, the present tunnel. [12]

The Wiley Vault, to the east of the entrance, holds members of the Elias K. and Catherine (Heeney) Wiley family. The Wileys left Missouri on the Oregon Trail in 1852. Elias Wiley, who was the captain of the train, died on the plains and was buried in an unmarked grave. Catherine Wiley, his widow, later married William P. Burke. Joseph R. Wiley, son of Elias and Catherine, was a Multnomah County school superintendent, captain of the Portland police force, a member of the Portland City Council, and proprietor of the Catholic Sentinel [13] The Wiley family were buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, and later moved to Mt. Calvary. A memorial stone to Elias K. Wiley is in the vault, along with internments for other family members. [14]

Mt. Calvary was open just a week when Reverend Edward J. O'Dea, the cemetery manager, filled out Burial Permit No. 1 for Mrs. Mary Hanley in Lot 21 in Section A. She died on 4 October 1888 in Astoria, Oregon, and was buried by Horatio Cook, undertaker, on 7 October 1888. [15] Her grave is a couple of stones from Father Fierens.

The large tree fashioned into a cross as a marker for Margaret Cassin is unusual. The tree is a symbol of mourning. The ivy on the trunk is a symbol of immortality. Margaret Cassin's stone is important to family historians for it gives her place of birth, Firoda, County Kilkenny, Ireland.

Tombstones show what was important to the deceased. Service in our country's defense is often indicated. Fifty-seven Civil War veterans are known to be buried in Mt. Calvary, [16] including one Confederate. Capt. Charles R. DeBurgh died on 11 March 1920 and is buried in the St. Mary's section across Burnside Street. James Short (1839–1914) was a Civil War Veteran from Co. H. of the Connecticut Volunteers.

Tombstones that show the diversity of Portland's Catholic heritage are noted near the Cassin stone. Slavic, Irish, German, and Italian names roll off the tongue. Anna and Candino Garbarino, Evanovich Sargousse, Lusich-Dragigevich-Brezzolaire, James Leahy, Metzler. Most were born in another country and chose to come to this country.

A distinctive circular emblem adorns Joseph Burke's stone. He was a member of the Woodmen of the World, a fraternal insurance company. One of the benefits was a tombstone for members. Some of the more ornate Woodmen of the World markers look like tree trunks.

A red marble stone gives the birthplace for Daniel Shea who died in Astoria on 26 July 1878—Cork, Ireland. He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery and later removed to Mt. Calvary. The inscription on the stone gives the names of the family members who erected the stone and paid for the lettering.

Thomas S. Mountain (1822–1915) was a Mexican War veteran, gold miner, and a river man. He served on steamships traveling to and from the Orient and the United States before settling down in the Northwest. [17] On July 4, 1876 he flew a huge American flag on a 200-foot flagpole. The flag was 40 ft. by 80 ft. and cost $365. [18]

John E. Dempsey (1862–1895) was the U.S. middleweight boxing champion. He was the first Jack Dempsey and one of the greatest boxers of all time. He was defeated only three times out of sixty-five contests. [19] He died at the Portland home of his wife's parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Brady. His funeral from St. Francis' Church was one of the largest in Portland. [20] His early death, caused by tuberculosis, stopped his career.

The Albers monolith is one of the largest in the cemetery. Bernard Albers established the Albers Brothers Milling Company. He was president until his death in 1908. Henry Albers was president of the Albers Brothers Milling Company after Bernard's death. [21] The Albers Brothers Milling Company had mills in Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, and San Francisco. It was the largest milling company on the Pacific coast. The Naito family refurbished the old Albers Mill, located by the Broadway Bridge.

Using the Albers marker as a vantage point, several significant stones can be viewed. A picture of Jacob Gansneder adorns his marker. Jacob Gansneder (1871–1910) was a Bavarian immigrant who came to Portland to work as a chef in the leading restaurants, including the Hotel Portland. In 1906, he opened the Bismark Restaurant, a popular eating-place. At the bottom of the draw, and to the left, the Arpin marker is visible. Henry Arpin (1878–1893) was a member of the 2nd Oregon Volunteers in the Spanish American War. His marker is made from white bronze rather than marble. Bronze markers were sold as an alternative to marble. They resemble marble, but the symbols and letters on the faces never fade. The tombstones were bolted together and were hollow inside, and they made a nice hiding place. A story often told of prohibition-era bootleggers is that they used the white bronze markers as their store. They would leave the goods in the hollow. "Customers" would take what they wanted and leave payment.

The Zeller stone across the road, and to the right, is an eight sided marble beauty. Phillip J. Zeller (1838–1910) was an early day Portland grocer with a store on the corner of Fremont and Mississippi. [22] He founded Zeller Mortuary in 1904. Zeller Chapel of the Roses is a direct descendant of that company.

Up the hill, and to the left, the Ben Holladay stone rests near the south road. Ben Holladay (1819–1887) made his fortune through ownership in the Ophir mine in Nevada. In 1861, he started the Mail and Overland Express, an overland pony express that operated from the Mississippi to the Pacific. In 1866, he sold the line to Wells Fargo for a million and a half dollars. He moved to Oregon and built an empire. He owned steamboats, steamships, wharves, and mansions in many cities. His Portland Street Railway Company was a forerunner to mass transit. He won a federal subsidy to build the Oregon and California Railroad. However, the panic of 1873 took its toll, and the O. & C. was not able to make its bond payment. Three years later it was taken over by Henry Villard, a competitor. Ben Holladay was considered a financial genius and political powerhouse. He boasted that judges, local officials, and US Senators were on his payroll. Public offices were made and unmade at his dining room table. [23]He died on 8 July 1887 and was buried at St. Mary's with later reinterment at Mt. Calvary.

Continuing with our walk, the Dunne marker appears. David M. Dunne (1851–1929) was a successful Portland paint manufacturer, Multnomah County Commissioner, and Collector for the Federal Internal Revenue. [24] He was one of the west-siders who negotiated for the opening of Mt. Calvary Cemetery. His daughter, Florence, died in 1887 and was buried in St. Mary's. He wanted a cemetery closer to home, one that he could access without crossing a river.

We are now at the road. As we walk towards the cemetery office, some interesting stones appear. To the right is the large angel marking the last resting place of John Barry. The angel was a symbol of innocence and is commonly used for young people. A large stone tree trunk erected by the Woodmen of the World memorializes Patrick O'Reilly who died in 1898 and John H. Glennon who died in 1897. The ivy winding around the tree trunk symbolizes immortality. Any one who ever tried to get rid of ivy in their garden understands this attribute.

At this point, the visitor to the cemetery is left on their own to seek out other stones that tell stories about Portland's early Catholics. Mt. Calvary is unique for it has no "sections" for ethnic or fraternal groups. That provides for a delightful walk. Who knows what the next stone will divulge?

[1] Connie Lenzen, a Portland native, is a Board-certified genealogist. She authored the history of St. Mary's Cemetery, the first Portland Catholic cemetery. This article is based on a Mt. Calvary Cemetery tour that she gave on Father's Day in 1994.

[2] "Consecration of Mt. Calvary Cemetery." Catholic Sentinel. (Portland, Oregon) 4 October 1888, p. 5, c. 2.

[3] Index to Oregon Donation Land Claims, Second Edition, 1987. (Portland: Genealogical Forum of Oregon, 1987), 82.

[4] Eugene E. Synder, We Claimed This Land: Portland's Pioneer Settlers(Portland: Binford & Mort Publishing, 1989) 129.

[5] Genealogical Material in Oregon Donation Land Claims, Volume II ( Portland: Genealogical Forum of Portland, 1959), 14.

[6] Eugene E. Snyder,We Claimed This Land: Portland's Pioneer Settlers, page 131.

[7] Courtney M. Smith, History of the Origin and Growth of the Multnomah County Hospital (March 30, 1933); Manuscript in “Poor Farm” folder, Oregon Historical Society, Portland. "Holladay File," Clippings about Ben Holladay; Located at Oregon Historical Society, Portland.

[8] 1880 US Census, Multnomah County, Oregon, pop. sch., Western Precinct SD 110, ED 92, sheet 213 (stamped), page 14, line 22, dwelling 111, family 125. 10 June 1880; citing NARA T9, roll 1083.

[9] Interview with Rev. Arthur M. Schoenfeldt, grandson of David Dunne, 13 June 1994.

[10] Catholic Sentinel, 29 July 1988, p. 1 & 11.

[11] "The New Cemetery," Catholic Sentinel, 20 Sep 1888, p. 5, c. 2.

[12] John T. Labbe, Fares, Please! Those Portland Trolley Years (Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd, 1982), 83–85.

[13] Joseph P. Gaston, Portland, Oregon, Its History and Builders, Vol. II (Portland: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co, 1911), 728.

[14] Connie Lenzen, St. Mary's Cemetery, Portland's Pioneer Catholic Cemetery (Portland: Privately printed, 1987), 213.

[15] Burial Permit No. 1. Mt. Calvary Cemetery Permit Book 1.

[16] Spencer Leonard, "Civil War Veteran Grave Registration" Manuscript Civil War File at Genealogical Forum of Oregon.

[17] Joseph P. Gaston, Portland, Oregon, Its History and Builders Volume III, 369–70.

[18] Scrapbook 110, page 36. Oregon Historical Society Library, Portland.

[19] Ring Sports Magazine. (Reno, Nevada) April 1994.

[20] Catholic Sentinel, 7 November 1895.

[21] Joseph P. Gaston, Portland, Oregon, Its History and Builders Volume III, pages 185 and 235.

[22] Joseph P. Gaston, Portland, Oregon, Its History and Builders Volume III, page 807.

[23] E. Kimbark MacColl, Merchants, Money and Power; The Portland Establishment, 1843–1913, (Portland: The Georgian Press, 1988), 260.

[24] Joseph P. Gaston, Portland, Oregon, Its History and Builders Volume III, pp 585–6.

© 2000–2011

Connie Lenzen, CG

CG, Certified Genealogist is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

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