River Steamer Era
Greenwood Cemetery, located on a gently rolling knoll overlooking Youngs River, has served North Coast families since its incorporation in 1891. Until 1915, funeral processions and visitors came to the cemetery by river steamer, rather than endure the rugged “puncheon” road built of split logs. As the custom of visiting Greenwood on Memorial Day grew, several vessels made the holiday voyage, sometimes towing bargeloads of visitors armed with maintenance tools, flowers and picnic lunches.
The era of water-borne funerals closed with the completion of the rock road that eventually became Highway 202. Pilings in the river are all that remain of the Greenwood dock. They, and pioneer monuments in the cemetery are reminders of this area's formative years.
Clatsop County, location of the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains, has been home to more than two centuries of generations who located here, labored here, lived and died here, and returned to the soil from which they had wrested a living, leaving a firmer footing for those who followed. Greenwood is a pioneer cemetery, an outdoor museum, a memento of great achievements and unheralded lives of ordinary people who contributed greatly to both culture and structure, leaving a better place for those who followed, some by their lives, others by their departures. Here lie explorers, people of commerce and industry, civic leaders, murderers, gamblers, loggers, fisherfolk, and a host of early settlers who lived lives of quiet desperation. Immigrants from Scandinavia, Finland and Ireland wrote to family members back in their land of birth, saying, “Come on over! It looks just like home!” Each grave has a story waiting to be told.
Historic cemeteries have not always been treated with the respect and care they deserve. This photo, taken nineteen years after Greenwood Cemetery south of Astoria was established in 1891, shows several period features. The marble monument in the family plot is framed by raised curbing, and flanked by numerous wooded grave markers. The cemetery is bounded on the north by a fence, and a line of young Sitka spruce trees.
Mid-century, the cemetery was overgrown with blackberry vines, salal, salmonberry bushes, scotch broom and a variety of saplings, to the extent that in order to prepare for a burial, workers with machetes had to chop their way to the gravesite and clear an area large enough for the service. To clear the cemetery, on a hot summer day, it was set afire. Gone were the wooden markers, the fence and the brush. Then, after declaring the cemetery a perpetual care site, most of the curbing was either removed or buried. The photo below shows the same view a century after the vintage photo. The historic character and ambiance is but a shadow of what it was.
However today the cemetery is back again and is receiving the care that those early residents may have expected. It is probably true that many modern cemeteries now receive more care than they did mid-century. We acknowledge our colorful history and take aim on a bright and respectful future.