Historic cemetery plots to be restored

Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery seeks $50,000 to spruce up Ish family grave sites
Historic preservation supporters hope to raise about $25,000 to restore the Ish block of family plots in the Jacksonville Cemetery. Mail Tribune / Julia MooreJulia Moore

JACKSONVILLE — Restoration of one of the most photographed blocks of family plots in the town's cemetery is the goal of a fundraising drive launched by Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery.

About $25,000 is needed to restore the Ish block to its former grandeur, and the group already has allocated $5,000 for the project.

If you go

What: Spaghetti fundraising dinner for Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery's efforts to restore the Ish Family Block

When: 5 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday,

Feb. 23

Where: Independent Order of Odd Fellows building, 175 S. Oregon St., Jacksonville

Cost: $12 for adults and $5 for children age 12 and younger

A combination of factors make the Ish section of plots one of the most prominent in the cemetery, said Dirk Siedlecki, Friends president. Magazines have done stories on the block because it is an outstanding example of Victorian monuments, he added. "There are a total of nine monuments. They are all different. A lot of the family blocks have matching stones," said Siedlecki.

Size and appearance also make the monuments stand out. "They are all large, very ornate, from the Victorian era," he said. "Obviously the family had a lot of money."

Jacob Ish came West in 1860 as the Civil War loomed. He purchased land near town and ended up with one of the largest ranches in the area. A member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, he purchased the block in that section of the cemetery.

Ish's first wife, Jane Ellen, was the first burial, in 1877. Jacob was interred in 1881. The other burials in the block took place in the 1890s and early 1900s.

Location is another factor in the block's prominence.

"It's a perfect location because it's right at the top of the cemetery road," said Siedlecki. "It's one of the first blocks that visitors would encounter."

A beautiful iron fence surrounds the 20-by-20-foot block, Siedlecki said. It incorporates two unusual pedestals at the entrance gate designed to hold urns.

Family members removed the urns after vandalism during the 1960s. An iron bench that depicted ferns also was removed and a damaged headstone was repaired.

Time has taken its toll on other features. Yellow hazard tape surrounds part of the site. One headstone is propped up with boards, and another was placed on the ground in the past couple of weeks.

"It was leaning so badly we were very concerned it would topple and not only break but also damage the one next to it," Siedlecki said.

Four markers will require work, and all the curbing, which has sunk, will be replaced. The iron fence will be removed and renovated.

Some of the work will be done by local professionals who've worked in the cemetery before.

Jacksonville's Jim Oleson, who specializes in historic concrete work, will replace the curbing.

"When it's all done, it will still look like it's been there for 100 years," said Oleson. "Our goal is to make it last for hundreds of years and maintain it with the utmost authenticity."

Integrity Iron Work and Oregon Granite will handle other parts of the job.

"I'm hoping we are going to be able to start next year. It will all depend on fundraising and whether we get some grants," said Siedlecki. "With funds in place, we could do it in about six months."

Over the holidays, $2,500 in donations was received. Many volunteers have offered to assist with the "grunt work" to reduce the cash outlay, said Siedelcki.

Grants will be sought from Oregon's Historic Cemetery Commission and local organizations.

Jacksonville's IOOF chapter will hold a spaghetti dinner fundraiser from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in its building on the corner of Oregon and Main streets. Tickets are available at the town's Visitor Information Center and at the door.

More information can be found at friendsjvillecemetery.org.

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