Forestvale: Helena’s Victorian Cemetery

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 51

Its castellated Gothic gate standing silently a few blocks off of Montana Avenue south of downtown Helena, Forestvale Cemetery was established, at the end of a trolley line, in 1890.  Montana has just become a state and Helena would soon enough become the permanent state capitol.  The cemetery is the final resting place for town and state founders, pioneers, and the hundreds of workers, merchants, ranchers, and mechanics who shaped Helena’s history for over 100 years.

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery

As the interpretive marker at the entrance cemetery notes, the cemetery came into public ownership in 1991 and has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  It “was designated as a ‘Rural Park,’ a place to walk through Montana history.”

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 24

I would agree fully with that assertion.  When I moved to Montana in 1981 my first abode was the Chessman Flats, a Victorian row house converted to apartments next to the Original Governor’s Mansion.  I soon sought out Chessman’s final resting place, a sizable family plot shown above.  I also discovered the graves of many famous late 19th century Montanans who I was just learning about.  Samuel Hauser, the banker and early territorial governor, is buried here in another family plot.

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 27

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 28

The Fergus family was another name I recalled, especially with the proud designation of “Pioneers 1862”.  Several markers, like that for the Ecler family below,  note the final resting place of that first generation of settlers in the Big Sky Country.  Nor is Hauser the

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 10

only governor to be buried here.  Tim Babcock, a late 20th century governor, is buried with a marker that outlines the state of Montana, a fitting tribute.

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 31

The Nicolas family plot is one of the view, compared to the many at Benton Avenue Cemetery, to be outlined by a low metal fence.  But Forestvale also has a handful of the distinctive hollowed press metal grave markers, like the flamboyant combination of classical and Victorian motifs of the Leslie family marker.

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 18

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 5

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 8

The pressed metal markers for the Leslies are just the beginning of the Victorian funerary art represented at Forestvale.  As shown below there is the Richardsonian Romanesque grave house memorial for the Brown family and the cut-off limbs monument for Mary Love Stoakes, who died in 1889.

Beautiful statuary is reflected in the grave marker for Lillian Stoakes Cullen, who died in 1897.

 

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 21

But as is obvious in the background of the photographs above, the great majority of the grave markers at Forestvale are much more restrained, rectangular slabs of rock, respectful but minus the Victorian flourish.

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 4

At the rear of the cemetery markers are missing, or are small and unadorned.  In the far corner is a later memorial to at least 22 children who died at the Montana Children’s Home and Hospital from 1917 to 1932.

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 36

The cemetery’s interpretive marker noted that at Forestvale “There was never any prejudice as to creed or color.” That is not true, outside the north fence of the cemetery is a grave yard for Chinese residents of Helena.  This section is not well kept, and judging from the number of depressions, the number of people buried here could be sizable.

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 41

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 44

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 42

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Forestvale Cemetery 45

A summer 2018 story in the Helena Independent Record told of a new local effort to identify the number of graves in this section and to begin a process to right a wrong.  Certainly the present condition is unacceptable, and hopefully steps will finally take place to place the “Chinese section” into the publicly owned and maintained cemetery.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s