Restoring the stones of our history

Volunteer crews work to spruce up weathered grave markers at Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery Saturday
Ruby Simmons, 7, pours water over a gravestone during a volunteer restoration event at Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery Saturday morning. Mail Tribune / Julia MooreJulia Moore

JACKSONVILLE — From Michele Simmons' perspective, there was nothing random about the gravestone she was assigned to clean during a volunteer restoration event in Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery Saturday morning.

Simmons had been hunting for that particular grave — the resting place of pioneer Frederick Luy — for months. The former Alaska resident recently moved to Jacksonville and now lives in the house built by Luy in the 1880s.

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For more information about volunteering at a future cleanup at Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery, see

She had searched the cemetery before, trying to find where Luy — a pioneer, miner and cobbler who died in 1906 at the age of 74 — had been buried.

Several walks through the cemetery proved unsuccessful, but her search ended Saturday when an organizer from the Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery — who was unaware of her search — pointed to a gravestone that needed cleaning.

It turned out to be the stone she'd been trying to find all along.

"I feel like it's kind of meant to be," she said, as she knelt in front of the marker with a bucket and a brush, scrubbing lichen, moss and dirt out of the cracks and letter grooves in the stone. "Like we were meant to find this stone."

She gestured to several gravestones near the marker, pointing out the graves of other Luy family members, which she planned to get to next.

Nearby, Simmons' 7-year-old daughter, Ruby, poured water on Luy's marker and scrubbed it with a brush, bits of moss flaking off and leaving cold, clean gray behind.

"We eventually want to go all the way down," Simmons said of the other Luy graves.

Luy's resting place was one of dozens to receive similar attention Saturday. Since April, volunteers armed with cleaning supplies have flocked to the 30-acre site each month to clean growth and grime from the old stones, some of which have stood for more than 150 years. Lichen, moss and other vegetation can hold moisture inside the stones, which can smother the lettering, degrade the overall quality and eventually lead to cracking.

"This is our history," said Dirk Siedlecki, president of the Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery. "If it's not maintained, if it's not restored and repaired, it's going to be lost."

Volunteers use soft brushes, water and a diluted version of D/2 Biological Solution, a cleaning agent used to remove dirt, pollution and growth from old statues, gravestones and other weathered structures.

Siedlecki said several similar groups tend cemeteries across the Rogue Valley, focusing on upkeep for the sake of posterity.

Saturday's efforts centered on several stones in the cemetery's Independent Order of Odd Fellows section.

Nearby, Katy Morgan and Sonia Findley used wooden dowels to remove growth that had filled in the lettering on the graves of William and Missouri McCredie. Morgan, who moved to Jacksonville from Ashland in February, said she volunteered as a way of giving back to the site, where she has taken many memorable walks.

"I just have a ball walking and reading all the headstones. So fascinating," Morgan said.

It's a slow process, Siedlecki said.

During a recent five-hour operation, a similar group cleaned 17 markers. The payoff for all that work, he said, is satisfaction.

"It's instant gratification," he said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or

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