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The tombstone stories

Two Garden Home women prepare to lead a tour of Crescent Grove Cemetery Saturday, April 9
by: Jaime Valdez Virginia Vanture (left) and Elaine Shreve visit Crescent Grove Cemetery in Tigard, where they will lead a tour April 9 in the latest in a series of events held under the Garden Home History Project.

Elaine Shreve and Virginia Vanture are real-life history detectives.

In less than two years, these two residents of Garden Home, along with a number of other folks interested in preserving the history of this unincorporated community more or less bordered by the communities of Metzger, Beaverton, Multnomah, Progress and, perhaps, Raleigh Hills, have been rounding up oral histories, photographs and anything in writing about their neighborhood for something called the Garden Home History Project.

They've got a first-rate website (gardenhomehistory.com) and a growing list of community events that have been organized to take advantage of people's hunger for knowledge of the past - especially the history of the place we call home.

It is in that spirit that Shreve and Vanture will conduct the Crescent Grove Cemetery Tour on Saturday, April 9, beginning at 1 p.m. down near the mausoleum - which is just across the fence from the JCPenney parking lot at Washington Square.

'Just about the right number'

Actually, this is the second such cemetery tour. They already did one, last October, which drew 30-some people without a lot of advance publicity.

And the real treat, say the history-loving ladies, was the number of folks who came to the tour with actual background and stories to share. Ruth Croft, who used to be the manager of the cemetery, showed up, as did some old-timers from Garden Home, like Mildren Stevens, who lived in the area until the 1970s.

That turnout was just right, said Shreve.

'It was a real good number and just about the right number to shepherd around.'

'What we did last time was pick out some people we thought would be of interest,' said Vanture, adding that the plan this time is to mix it up a bit, utilizing information they've gleaned from the local history by Virginia Mapes: 'Garden Home: The Way it Was.'

'We'll start our tour at the Mary Scherner Smith tombstone,' said Shreve, but then the name-dropping of who's buried at Crescent Grove - some of them familiar names, thanks to roads and buildings bearing their names - begins in earnest.

Certain to be mentioned will be the Fannos, Denneys, Tigards and Greenburgs, but names even more exciting to the folks behind the Garden Home History Project these days include the Nichols family; Christian Jager; Ole Oleson, whose dairy farming family owned large pieces of land on both sides of the road now bearing his name; the Gertsch family; and Elizabeth McKay Tucker (wife of Kenneth Tucker), who died in 1881 and is buried at Crescent Grove.

'Elizabeth and her husband owned a big chunk of what we think of as Garden Home,' said Vanture.

The first grave was a baby

But, perhaps no one buried there is more significant than Ruth Davies, who died in 1852, six weeks after being born. Her grave was the first, and it was followed just about a month later by her mother, Mary Ann Davis.

'They needed a cemetery, and that was really the start of the cemetery,' said Vanture, making sure to emphasize they'd gotten much of this information from the book 'Traces of the Past' by Jill MacWilliam and Virginia Mapes.

Of recent interest to Shreves and Vanture has been the Nichols family, which took in a German immigrant named Chris Jager, who went on to operate a general store and offer his upstairs to the community for use as a school room and meeting space.

'Early shopkeepers had a great impact on the community,' said Vanture. 'Garden Home has always had a small general store, and the latest one, of course, is Lamb's (Thriftway).'

Mrs. Nichols, Vanture added, 'outlived her husband, but she would come and sit on the porch, and she had a parrot.'

That's the sort of details that get these history detectives' eyes to light up.

'So Chris Jager and the Nichols family are going to be one of our stops on the tour,' said Vanture.

There's a pattern here

It's not unusual, when in the company of Shreve and Vanture, to see one or both of them become history teachers right before your eyes - but not the dull, date-spouting kind you may remember from elementary school. They get excited, and pretty soon you're feeling that way, too.

There's a pattern here that's seen in countless Oregon settlements, said Vanture, shifting down the mood and tone enough to signal that she's got something important in mind. First, she explained, the land was logged, and then dairy farmers came in and established farms on the newly cleared pasture land.

'After the dairy farms started to come in, there were summer homes, and we started having more people move in.' And all this led to the development of communities, the arrival of stores, churches and schools. Then, because transportation was key to how our communities developed and grew, came trains to connect the outlying areas around Portland. In fact, she said, the Garden Home train station was located where the Old Market Pub now sits.

And that station was a bit of a hub in itself, added Shreve. 'One track went south to Tigard, and the other track went west to Beaverton and Hillsboro.'

'We get pretty excited'

Neither Shreve or Vanture has longtime historical connections to the Garden Home area. Shreve has lived in the area since 1966, and Vanture grew up in North Portland.

'I've always been interested in history, wherever we were,' said Vanture, a sentiment echoed by her cohort.

'I've always loved history,' said Shreve. 'It's so important that we get these things documented before this is lost.' She paused a moment, then added, 'We treasure the things that we know about.'

'When we first started this project, I said it would really help if we knew what the boundaries of Garden Home are,' said Vanture, conceding now with a chuckle how foolish that might seem when you're referring to an area without any real boundaries.

That was never really settled, she said, because they ultimately just kind of decided that 'if you think you live in Garden Home, you do.'

It is a labor of love, after all - one that prompts them to put in 15 to 20 hours each on the history project - and that doesn't count the hours contributed by webmaster Stan Houseman, who in real life is local real estate broker.

'We're trying to portray the early history of Garden Home through the stories of the people who are buried at the cemetery,' Vanture summarized of their work.

'We feel like we know all these people,' said Shreve, referring to the names on the tombstones at Crescent Grove.

'Another byproduct of all the for me is that we've met so many wonderful people,' said Vanture.

Reminded of their exuberance for their subject matter, she confessed, 'Yeah, we get pretty excited about this, don't we?'