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Volunteers keep Hill Cemetery alive

The Hill Cemetery Association will hold its annual meeting and cemetery cleanup at 8 a.m. this Saturday, May 20. Association members, those with family and friends resting in the cemetery, and the community are invited to bring clippers, weed eaters, rakes, and bags to help with the maintenance.

Thanks to many willing hands, cleanup is generally done by noon.

The Hill-Dunn Cemetery sits on a rise overlooking Emigrant Lake and, from this vantage point, you can see the old Route 66 coming in from Klamath Falls and the sounds of the lake echo against the hills. It is a beautiful spot for quiet contemplation or a slow, thoughtful walk under the trees.

Ed and Brenda Gibson walk the cemetery often as many of their family rest on that grassy hillside, Philander Powell and the Doziers (Dosiers) among them. Ed is chairman of the Hill Cemetery Association board and he is both proud and reluctant to admit the fact.

“It was Craig and Juanita Mayfield, they’re the ones who asked us to continue their work,” Ed says. “Juanita was the daughter of the Howell’s (Richard and LaVeta) and (LaVeta) daughter of the Baer’s.”

LaVeta’s mother was Mattie Dosier Baer, the daughter of Andrew and Livonia Dosier, who bought their Buckhorn Springs land from the Murphys in 1876. The Dosier property was designated a Century Farm by the Oregon’s Century Farm and Ranch Program in 1976. Others on the Hill Cemetery Association board are Jeff Mayfield, John Hopkins and Margaret Landers. All are longtime, well-known Southern Oregon families.

The cemetery was first established in 1853 when Isaac and Elizabeth Hill gave the land as a free burial ground for their nephew, Isham Keith. Isham died during the Rogue Indian Wars, and he, along with 17 unidentified dead, rest in this place. It was Martha Louise Hill Gillette who finalized the donation in 1895, setting aside two acres of the land she inherited for the burial ground in honor of her parents and selling the rest of the parcel to David Chapman. The cemetery was deeded to Jackson County School District No. 7 on Sept. 5, 1895, with the school district represented by George Washington Dunn, J.C. Neil, and John Ross, directors. Despite the name, there are no Dunns interred in the Hill-Dunn Cemetery.

The Hill-Dunn Cemetery is probably best known for Anne Russell Hill, an early marble worker who made many of the markers found in cemeteries throughout Jackson, Josephine, Douglas and Klamath counties. She learned the trade from her husband, who built a mill on Ashland Creek in back of the IOOF building on the Plaza, working local sandstone, granite, and marble and later, when the trains made shipping possible, Vermont marble.

By the mid-1950s, Rogue Valley agriculture needed more irrigation water. After decades of investigation and reports, the Rogue River Basin Project, Talent Division was funded in 1954. The Bureau of Reclamation expanded canals, built water holding areas, constructed the Green Springs Power Plant, and re-engineered the 1924 Emigrant Dam. The new dam was completed in 1958, an earthen structure that would completely cover the earlier concrete dam, raising the water level by 100 feet and greatly enlarging Emigrant Lake. Many of the Hill-Dunn Cemetery graves would be at the bottom of the lake and needed to be relocated.

As a matter of cosmic irony or perhaps sensitive planning, the Bureau of Reclamation engineer responsible for removal and reburial of the graves before the expansion of the dam was Frank Earl Ross, grandson of John Edward Ross, a U.S. Army Colonel during the Rogue Indian Wars. The Ross family rests in the Jacksonville Cemetery.

There’s lots of history surrounding the Hill-Dunn Cemetery and, thanks to the Talent Irrigation District, photographs of the construction of the 1924 Emigrant Dam are posted online to the Stories of Southern Oregon collection in the SOU Hannon Library digital archives at http://soda.hanlib.edu. The Stories of Southern Oregon collection also has the full reburial map and guide to graves that Frank Earl Ross drew in 1958. And, if you’d like to help out with maintenance on Saturday, May 2,0 beginning at 8 a.m., Ed Gibson’s got a walking guide to the cemetery that will help you find your way.

The Hill-Dunn Cemetery is at the edge of Emigrant Lake off Highway 66 outside Ashland. Parking is limited, so carpools and bikes are strongly recommended. Go slow and careful as you make your way because the access road is full of potholes. For more information, call Ed Gibson at 541-482-0078.

— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer in Ashland, Oregon and can be reached at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.