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J’ville storyboards tell pioneer history

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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Dirk Siedlecki walks through the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery Wednesday. Siedlecki helped with the installation of 11 storyboards at the cemetery.

Walks in the historic Jacksonville Cemetery by a local woman have led to placement of 11 storyboards that relate the history of individuals and families buried in the plots.

Dee Reynar has lived in Jacksonville for six years, and during visits to the cemetery she would see visitors and hear them talk about what they saw and wonder what happened with a pioneer family or a group of children buried in the cemetery.

“It just made me wonder if we could include some facts or signs that give a little bit to capture that pioneer or that pioneer family. It would be such a gift to the people who choose to visit the cemetery,” said Reynar.

The signs are 11 by 15 inches and sit atop supports that vary in height depending on location within a family plot or adjacent to it. Ten of the 11 boards feature photos. Each contains four to six paragraphs on the decedents.

Some of the sign boards tell stories of a single person, while others take in families. The boards tell of government officials, gold miners who became businessmen, ranchers, school teachers, soldiers and a carpenter.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune One of 11 storyboards that have been installed at the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery. Some of the sign boards tell stories of a single person, while others describe families.

Reynar took her idea to Dirk Siedlecki, president of the Friends of the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery. The Friends liked the idea, and the Cemetery Commission approved the project. A group was formed last June to do the research and writing.

Writers included Carolyn Embry, Dianne Helmer, Joan Hess, Mark Magladry, Dick Meyers, Leslee Parr, Karen Phelps, Michael Sneary and Reynar. Several of them, including Reynar, have written scripts for the Friends’ popular “Meet the Pioneers” event held during fall in the cemetery, with actors in costumes portraying early settlers.

Reynar and a colleague edited the stories, then the whole group read through them again.

Photos came from the Southern Oregon Historical Society. Volunteers in the SOHS Research Library helped find the photos. SOHS discounted the costs for the project.

An anonymous donation for use in the cemetery made to the Jacksonville Boosters Foundation was used to cover expenses for the project. Costs for 11 boards and stands to support them came to about $2,600.

The boards were prepared by Sign Dude of Medford on materials designed to withstand the elements. Stands were made by Bryan Pancheau of Metal Sculpting and Design. Both the boards and the stands replicate the style of similar installations in different sections of the cemetery.

During a break in the inclement weather a couple weeks ago, Siedlecki and Kurt Elliot decided to install a few of the posts with storyboards. The pair found that the ground was soft enough for easy digging and completed the installation in a day.

There are three boards in the Odd Fellows section of the cemetery, four in Masons section and four in the city section. Most are near the traffic circle at the top of the hill, the oldest part of the cemetery.

Both prominence and tragedy are related on the sign boards.

Shortly after building a new home in 1867, John Love died of tuberculosis. Then a year-and-a-half later his wife, Anna Sophia Harris Love and daughter Maggie died in the smallpox epidemic of 1869.

The Plymale family’s most well-known member, one board relates, was Josephine Martin, who married William Plymale in 1863. Josephine campaigned all over Oregon for women’s right to vote and the Christian Temperance Movement, while William remained home to care for the couple’s 12 children.

JNT Miller moved to Jacksonville in 1854 from Portland and took a 312-acre donation land claim, 32 acres of which he set aside for what is now the Jacksonville Cemetery. James farmed his land but also served as both a representative and a senator in the Oregon Legislature. He also started the Democratic Times newspaper in 1872.

More signs may be added in the future.

“When I drafted this idea for presentation to the board, I had suggested it be a beta project, see if we obtain the result we are striving for, did it have the impact or affect on the viewers we hope it would,” said Reynar. “We will wait to see if it’s done the job I thought it would.”

Reynar thinks it will be fascinating to be walking and wondering where the next sign will be.

“When you are walking and, in the moment, you come across something that informs you or enlightens you or expands your understanding, it seems like a gift. I hope we achieved that,” said Reynar.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.