Effort helps restore connection with early settlers

by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - Gwen Hawkins, 8, explores the Cherryville Cemetery site Friday. Volunteers continue to work toward restoring the historic site. Right, loose grave markers rest against a tree Friday at Cherryville Cemetery.Joyce Yam was looking for goats, the type you can rent to clean up an overgrown lot.

The goats, Yam reasoned, could be deployed to Cherryville Cemetery, where they would apply their reputation for eating basically anything and everything, thereby clearing the overgrowth from the site.

Short of the goat herd, Yam and her fellow volunteers for the second year invite community members to help them on April 20 as they clear brush, branches and debris from the historic site on Cherryville Road.

With two-thirds of the cemetery estimated left to be uncovered and restored, the task is not only large, but quite interesting.

To this end, Yam is relentless. Hence, the goats.

“If we could get a bunch of goats up there, they could really clean it up good,” she said.

Notwithstanding the goats, more than 40 people came out to help last year, and the result is a relatively clear patch of cemetery — a tangible document of the community that settled Cherryville in the late 1800s.

For Yam, the project is partly about making a sort of contact with distant relatives.

“Some of my ancestors came over on the Oregon Trail and settled in Cherryville,” she said. “It was a pull for me going up there, and I just could not stand how horrible it had become, with the turned-up grave stones and all the overgrowth and everything.”

Yam said communities like Cherryville would get together and care for their cemeteries, that maintaining the memorial space was a collective effort.

“I just thought it could use some love and care,” she said.

With help from volunteers, as well as Sandy Historical Society member Kay Wright and historic preservationist Sally Donovan, Yam’s efforts are gradually making a difference.

Still, she admits there is much left to do, and that the scope of the project came as a surprise to her.

“When I first went in there and saw how overgrown it had become, I really had no idea how large it was,” Yam said, “and I thought, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to clean this up and restore it.’”

Volunteers not only get the satisfaction of working on a project that improves a community, they also get to participate in a form of archaeological activity that brings wonder and connection to the past.

The graves uncovered stand like miniature novels, yet to be read. In one part of the site, two little headstones sit side by side, both marking the graves of infants.

Another headstone marks the final stop for a cavalry officer, buried in 1894.

More than simple markers, the graves stand as the final punctuation for genuine lives lived, and each grave also marks the site of a gathering of friends and loved ones. With so much left to be uncovered, the potential discoveries are fascinating.

Surely, such wonder would be lost on the goats, but probably not on volunteers.

To participate in the cleanup, send an email to Joyce Yam at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call her at 503-747-5500.

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