Atown needs to choose its cemetery carefully.

Atown needs to choose its cemetery carefully.

By the end of 1885, Medford was newly incorporated and residents were beginning to feel their oats.

"Medford needs a suitable burying ground," they said.

There were already several cemeteries in the county for them to choose from, but civic pride demanded a final resting place of their own.

The town's newly formed lodge of Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization dedicated to working on "projects for the benefit of mankind," chose the cemetery as its first project.

In April 1887, after a year-and-a-half of fundraising and searching, the lodge purchased a property for $325 just off the new dirt highway to Jacksonville, a half-mile west of downtown.

The nearly 14 acres originally were part of Elisha Bonham's 320-acre land claim.

Bonham, a native of Virginia, had crossed the plains with his family and a small herd of cattle in 1853. His claim stretched from today's West Main Street in the north to just south of Stewart Avenue. From east to west, it covered the area between what would become Lincoln Street and Lozier Lane.

Bonham stayed only two years, abandoning the claim and leaving for California in 1856.

The I.O.O.F. cemetery entrance was at the northwest corner of Lincoln and West Main, the original corner of Bonham's claim. Within a year, a "neat fence" that stretched west to about Elm Street and south to 10th Street surrounded the cemetery.

Then, after a particularly rough winter, lodge members realized they'd made a mistake. The cemetery was a mess.

The nearby road "has been a terror to all passers during the winter season," said a newspaper.

The surrounding countryside was turned into "a mud hole" and was compared to "a bowl of gruel." Worse yet, the cemetery sat on a hill, and rainwater ran down toward Medford.

Months before the massive winter floods of 1889-90, the lodge already had decided to find a new location for its burying ground, but with most of the valley suddenly underwater, a virtual inland sea, it was time for emergency action.

"The authorities have very sensibly concluded to abandon the town cemetery," said a reporter, "to a place where no evil effects can result to the town from the drainage or proximity of the burying ground."

The I.O.O.F. lodge spent another $700 for 20 acres of land that would become today's Eastwood Cemetery. Then they began exhuming bodies already buried in the old cemetery and moved the caskets in hay wagons across town for reburial.

There is no official accounting of how many bodies were moved, but by inspecting burial listings for Eastwood Cemetery, it appears that at least six individuals, including a 2-year-old, were given a new resting place. These are all burials in Eastwood with death dates or dates of internment well before July 1890, when the new cemetery was purchased.

It didn't take long for Medford's first cemetery to be forgotten. By 1969, when the Mail Tribune attempted to confirm rumors that it had even existed, it had already become an urban legend and, if it existed at all, "no one could be found to verify the time or the specific place."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.