Tale of two cemeteries

Wilson Bridge, Memory Memorial Among County’s Oldest, Newest Graveyards

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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Memory Memorial Park and Wilson Bridge Cemetery could easily be called the odd couple of Clark County graveyards.

The two, lined up beside one another at the corner of Northeast 72nd Avenue and 144th Street are about as different as the old TV show’s Felix and Oscar.

Memory, called a “freedom of choice” cemetery because it allows upright stones and a variety of burial types, was built in the 1960s and is one of the county’s newest graveyards.

Wilson Bridge, built in the 1870s, is the final resting place for pioneers and is one of the Clark County’s oldest.

Strolling across both gives an abrupt sense of each site’s personality. Modern gardens and new stones — including one that appears to be decorated with a solar-powered lamp — mark Vancouver’s present, but a quick step up a small slope and you find yourself staring at old obelisks and mossy markers erected in the early 1900s.

“They’re pretty different, but there’s still a lot of confusion between the two cemeteries,” said Bruce Fuerstenberg, who owns Memory Memorial.

Memory was once called Wilson Memorial Cemetery, but the name was changed because of issues with having two cemeteries named “Wilson” located side by side, he said.

And both of them have members of the Wilson family buried in them.

“We’ve talked about amalgamating the two together,” said Denton Harlan, who manages Wilson Bridge. “But we’ve only just started talking about it.”

Harlan owns Layne’s Funeral Home and has several family members buried at Wilson Bridge, a cemetery that’s run by a small group of volunteers.

“My grandparents, my dad, lots of other relatives are buried

out there,” Harlan said. “I have property there too.”

After more than 40 years running a small-town funeral business, it can sometimes be emotional to visit the site, the 66-year-old said.

“It’s a little bit different to walk through there,” Harlan said. “I remember going there as a kid. Old neighbors and friends are there — it’s thought provoking.”

Wilson Bridge, like many of the region’s older cemeteries, was built during the homesteading days and started out as a family plot, he said.

The graveyard grew along with the city, and at one point it was taken over by the old Manor Evangelical Church, which used to be right next to it, Harlan said.

At some point, the church moved, and the cemetery was taken over by family members with relatives buried there.

The records are somewhat spotty, but the history of Wilson Bridge fascinates him, he added.

“What’s interesting is there are aisles that are 42 inches wide at Wilson Bridge,” Harlan said, adding that modern pathways between graves are larger. “That’s because it was the width of the old horse-drawn caisson (hearse-carrying) carriages.”

In the past, graves were dug with shovels instead of modern-day backhoes. And because wooden caskets would collapse in on themselves over time, diggers usually erected a small mound of dirt on top of the grave so the ground would be flat after the soil caved in.

“Now we put concrete to prevent the cave-ins, but back then they didn’t,” Harlan said, adding that the collapses caused some damage to the ground around older stones at the site.

Most of the folks buried in Wilson Bridge — at least in the older part near the road — were crop or dairy farmers.

“It was an agrarian community with very little industry,” Harlan said. “It was a lot of farmers with prune orchards or apples.”

One of the site’s main pioneers was Wilburn Scott Wood, who lived from 1861 to 1931. Wood was an auctioneer and furniture dealer who moved to the area in 1882 with his homesteading parents, James and Rebecca.

Wood ran a furniture store that moved several times and ended up downtown at the corner of Ninth and Washington streets. He also “gained fame as one of the best known auctioneers in the Northwest,” according to his obituary in the Vancouver Evening Columbian on March 2, 1931.

Several members of the Wood family, including Wilburn Scott Wood’s parents, are buried at Wilson Bridge.

Other prominent Clark County homesteading pioneers with plots at Wilson Bridge include the Lindsay, Homar and Joy families, Harlan said.

As for Memory, well, there aren’t any pioneers buried there, Fuerstenberg said.

“We have a few family members from people buried at Wilson Bridge or people that wanted to be close to Wilson Bridge,” he said. “People can still be buried in either cemetery, but many people like Memory Memorial because they have more options.”

Memory has an ash scatter garden, mausoleum, family plots and no restrictions on types of grave markers.

“A lot of other sites require all flat stones, or all bronze markers, but we don’t,” Fuerstenberg said.

Memory’s residents generally lived in more modern times than those at Wilson Bridge, but you can still see some of the region’s history in the newer cemetery. Those buried there include retired farmers and carpenters, well drillers, a former telephone operator and a woman who worked at the Vancouver Shipyards in the blueprint and photography departments during World War II.

Perhaps 100 years from now they, too, will be considered Clark County pioneers.