Helena”s Odd Fellows Cemetery

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Odd Fellows Cemetery 4Standing quietly next to Forestvale Cemetery is Helena’s Odd Fellows Cemetery, formed in 1895 when several local lodges banded together to create a cemetery for its members.  Most visitors to Forestvale probably think of this cemetery as just an extension of Forestvale but it is very much its own place, with ornamental plantings and an understated arc-plan to its arrangement of graves.

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MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Odd Fellows Cemetery 2Compared to Forestvale, there are only a handful of aesthetically imposing grave markers, although I found the sole piece of cemetery furniture, the stone bench above, to be a compelling reminder of the reflective and commemorative purpose of the cemetery.

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Odd Fellows CemeteryOne large stone monument, erected in the 1927 by the Rebekah lodges (for female members) of the town, marks the burial lot for IOOF members who died in Helena’s Odd Fellows Home, a building that is not extant.  The memorial is a reminder of the types of social services that fraternal lodges provided their members, and how fraternal lodges shaped so much of Helena’s social and civic life in the late 19th and early twentieth century.  Helena’s Odd Fellows Cemetery is a significant yet overlooked contributor to the town’s and county’s historic built environment.

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Helena’s Resurrection Cemetery (1908)

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Dominated by the monumental Cruse family mausoleum, Resurrection Cemetery has been a Montana Avenue landmark for over 100 years.  It is not the first Catholic cemetery in Helena–the original one was nearer the yards of the Northern Pacific Railroad and was closed c. 1906-1908, when Resurrection Cemetery was under development.  The first cemetery became abandoned and many markers and crypts were not removed until the late 1940s and 1950s.  Then in the 1970s, the city finished the process and turned the cemetery into Robinson Park, where a small interpretive marker still tells the story of the first Catholic cemetery.

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Resurrection is a beautifully planned cemetery, with separate sections, and standardized markers, for priests and for the sisters, as shown above.  Their understated tablet stones mark their service to God and add few embellishments.  Not so for the merchant and political elite buried in the historic half of Resurrection Cemetery.  “Statement” grave markers abound, such as the Greek Revival temple-styled mausoleum for the Larsen family, shown below.

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An elaborate cross marks the family plot of Martin Maginnis, an influential and significant merchant and politician from the early decades of the state’s history (but who is largely forgotten today).  Nearby is the family plot for one of Maginnis’ allies in central Montana and later in Helena, T. C. Power.

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Joseph K. Toole, a two-time Governor of Montana, is also buried with a large but not ornate stone marker, shown below. Former senator Thomas Walsh is nearby but what is

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most interesting about the Walsh family plot is the striking Arts and Crafts design for his

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daughter Elinor Walsh, who died as a young woman.  I have not yet encountered a marker similar to hers in all of Montana.

IMG_4387Another compelling marker with statuary is that of another young woman rendered in marble, a memorial to James and Catherine Ryan.

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Thomas Cruse, who struck it rich with the Drumlummon mine at Marysville, had no qualms about proclaiming his significance and the grandest cemetery memorial in Montana bears his name.  Cruse already had put up at least one-third of the funding for the magnificent High Gothic-styled St. Helena Cathedral in downtown Helena.  At Resurrection, Cruse (who died in late 1914) was laid to rest in a majestic classical-style family mausoleum where his wife and his daughter were also interred (both proceeded Cruse in death).  The Cruse mausoleum is the centerpiece of Resurrection’s design.

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But the monuments for the rich and famous at Resurrection are the exceptions, not the rule.  In the historic half of the cemetery, most markers are rectangular tablet types.  The cemetery also has a separate veterans section.  IMG_4373

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Forestvale: Helena’s Victorian Cemetery

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Helena’s Benton Avenue Cemetery (1870)

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Nestled in the shadows of Mount Helena, across the street from Carroll College, with its boundaries made up of 1950s and 1960s suburban housing, and the historic main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad is Benton Avenue Cemetery, which dates to 1870.  The preservation effort here over a generation has met with several successes.  The cemetery was reclaimed, documented, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 18But my visit on Memorial Day 2018 left me with the feeling that the cemetery is an under-appreciated historic property.  There are no signs of true neglect, but it was so quiet on Memorial Day that I did think the place had become an almost forgotten historic asset–an afterthought in today’s busy world.  I hope not–because this cemetery has many jewels to explore and appreciate.  Perhaps the most striking–certainly most rare to see–are the cast iron baskets–or bassinets, see below, that surround two children’s graves.

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These are remarkable yet sad artistic creations–I have not seen anything comparable in my research in historic cemeteries in either the west, the midwest, or the south.  The Benton Avenue Cemetery has an amazing array of cast-iron fencing that define family

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MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 12plots–certainly the ironwork was a status symbol in the late 19th century and there is no one statement.  Families adorned their graves with fences much as they surrounded their houses in the nearby neighborhoods.

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There are numerous hollowed cast-iron grave markers too.  Almost everytime I share this late 19th century style marker with a viewer, they say, well they must be rare, what an odd thing.  But these markers were wildly popular in the railroad era.  You could

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order the marker with whatever designs or inscriptions you wish and they would soon be delivered.  Finding family groups of these hollow metal markers is rare, however, so the grouping for the Toole family at Benton Avenue deserves a close look.

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Veterans of the U.S. Army, several dating to service in the Civil War, are buried at Benton Avenue.  Other graves are just marked by slowly fading wood tablets.

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Ornamental planting abounds, and added beautiful color on Memorial Day.  My favorite grave marker is both early and unique.  Cast-iron is a material once crucial for all sorts of items in a household: pots, pans, tools, fire backs.  But a cast-iron grave marker–made of a single rectangular tablet with name and designs? That’s something special.

MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 28Benton Avenue Cemetery is worth a new consideration for its many different forms, materials, and designs.  When I lived in Helena some thirty-five years ago, I gave it scant attention–it deserves so much more.

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Helena’s Historic Cemeteries: Home of Peace Cemetery (1867)

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As discussed at several places in this blog, I have given careful consideration to the historic cemeteries of Montana in the fieldwork of 2012-2016.  When the initial survey for the state historic preservation plan took place in 1984 to 1985, cemeteries rarely registered with anyone–the professionals were not looking that way nor were communities.  That is no longer the case in historic preservation–cemeteries are an increasing area of interest.

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Home of Peace was established in 1867 and the cast iron fence around its boundaries dates to that time.  The earliest identified grave marker is 1873 but the Hebrew Benevolent Society (or Association), which established the cemetery originally, believes that Home of Peace includes burials from the 1860s.  The beautiful arched gateway to the cemetery dates c. 1910, the same time that the cottonwoods were planted and most of the existing ornamental plants in the cemetery were added.  Most of the burials are arranged in family groups, outlined by low stone or concrete walls.  Some are individuals, or couples.  A few are non-Jewish since at one time the association, which still owns the cemetery, allowed for their burials.

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IMG_4309The date of most markers are from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.  Mostly made of granite and sandstone, with some marble as well, the grave markers reflect Victorian styles and Classical influences.  Herman Gans’ marker from 1901, seen below, is a mixture of both.

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The cemetery contains several veterans markers in the standardized tablet design provided by the War Department and later the Veterans Administration. The grouping in the forefront, below, identifies two veterans from the Spanish-American War of 1898.

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In the mid-1970s the association transferred some of its land for the construction of Capitol High School, which now almost surrounds the cemetery, which had once stood faraway from the center of Helena’s population.

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IMG_4312The looming presence of the school grounds is a worry for future preservation of the cemetery–could it be possibly overlooked, ignored, and abandoned?   One online resource about the cemetery remarks that there are more Jews buried in the cemetery than live in Helena today.  But this sacred place is a powerful reminder of the contributions of the Jewish community to Helena’s growth and permanence.  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the cemetery should be valued as one of the city’s oldest and most significant historic properties.

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To those who built a state, and made history

Sad news came out of the state capitol last week when budget cuts gave the Montana Historical Society no choice but to announce that its uber talented staff just don’t have the funding to travel to the hundreds of important places across the state, to gather stories, preserve historic buildings, conserve invaluable documents and photographs, and to celebrate with communities both large and small the history, traditions, and people that made Montana the special place it is.

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It’s unfortunate when a state steps back from its past and thinks its future is better without it.  When I look for those who built the state, the deep past is where I start, and the leaps forward in how Montana’s tribes are documenting and interpreting their history to their terms and needs, one of the most important developments in Montana’s heritage development over the last 30 plus years.

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Then there are the properties that link the peoples of Montana and their sense of themselves and their past–cemeteries large and small across the state, where veterans are commemorated and families celebrated.

IMG_7537Fort Kipp Cemetery, above, is one of those place, nestled on the river bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.  On a larger scale but still intimate, personal, and compelling is the city cemetery of Red Lodge, hundreds of miles away. Here surrounded by the mountains

are graves from the early Finnish residents who came to work at the coal mines and build a community. Some are of a traditional design, immediately translated from the old country.  Others–like the cast iron family marker shown above–are as mainstream as American industry could make it at the turn of the twentieth century:  a prefabricated marker cast somewhere back east but with Finnish lettering, speaking to those who also came over in c.1900 to build a new land.

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The Finnish imprint on the landscape of Carbon County has been eclipsed by generations of growth since the early 1900s, but as the 2016 Road Show of the Montana Preservation Alliance demonstrated, buildings large and small are still part of the landscape.  With a few acres of land outside of Red Lodge, Finnish settlers and their descendants have maintained a place of community–the Kavela–which remains vibrant some 100 years later.  At this place of ethnic identity and celebration, you almost feel like an intruder–that you have stepped inside a sacred circle as an outsider.  But families go out of their way to make you feel welcome, through fellowship, good food, and stories of past and present.  The Kavela naturally features one of the most traditional Finnish community buildings–the sauna, built of concrete in the 1920s.  Speak of tradition, ethnic pride, and assimilation–a concrete sauna might say it all.

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Indeed what you can find in the Finnish landscape of Carbon County is repeated countless times across Big Sky Country, just in different languages and with different forms.  It is why you get off the interstates and travel the backroads, the dirt roads, for

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the markers of the nations that built our nation can be almost anywhere. It might be of the many ethnicities who mined the copper of Butte, or the African American railroad

workers and other average citizens who established permanent institutions such as the Bethel Union AME Church in Great Falls, pictured below.

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Stonemasons from Croatia are credited with many of the architecturally striking stone buildings in Lewistown, shown below, whereas if you stop and explore the state capital

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of Helena, you can see where  Irish Americans banded together to fund some of the state’s most iconic structures, from the majestic Catholic Cathedral that overlooks the city and the commanding statue of General Thomas Meagher in front of the State Capitol.

From the Meagher statue it is only a few steps to the east to the doors of the Montana Historical Society.  Its operating hours are fewer but you will find an institution not just of the past but of the future for like the land itself, the society, its collections, and dedicated staff are the keepers of the things and words that remain from those who built the state.  The idea that Montana can stride into the 21st century without the Montana Historical Society is folly, defined.

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Livingston’s Mountain View Cemetery

img_3013On the northwestern outskirts of Livingston is Mountain View Cemetery, another of the historic properties that certainly existed when I carried out the 1984-1985 fieldwork for the Montana state historic preservation plan, but since it was a cemetery, we as a field gave it, or any cemetery for that matter, little consideration thirty years ago.

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As soon as you get past the 1966 entrance gates, you find a cemetery that is certainly historic–established as the town was beginning in the 1880s and still used by community over 125 years later.  Mountain View is also aesthetically interesting in its overall plan, with its intricate pattern of curvilinear drives and well-ordered arrangement of graves, then several of the grave markers themselves are impressive Victorian statements, of grief, of family, and of pride of accomplishment.

The section set aside for Union veterans of the Civil War was the most interesting historic feature to me.  As explored in other posts over the last three years, Montana has many reminders of the Civil War era within its built environment. Clearly in the early decades of the cemetery, this section with its separate flag pole and government-issued grave markers was very similar to what a national cemetery might be.  The generation that established the cemetery also wished to remember and signal out for praise the veterans of the great war that had just consumed the nation.

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Within this section of Mountain View are also grave markers that are not government issued slabs of marble but that are more expressed of the sense of loss felt by the family. Below is the granite pulpit, with a bible resting on top, for Frank Baker, who died in 1896 but, as the marker notes, was a veteran of Company I of the 49th New York Infantry.

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The David K. Buchanan marker, of the stone masonry type associated with the Woodmen of the World in other Yellowstone Valley cemeteries, dates to 1907, and records the calvary career of this Union veteran from Pennsylvania in the “civel war.” (original spelling)

Mountain View has several impressive examples of these Woodmen of the World grave markers that have a floral tree motif, with limbs sawn off to suggest how the body of society was lessened by the individual’s death.

Of particular interest is the marker for the Rickard family where the two trees, one for each spouse and one child , are linked together, symbolizing a family tightly intertwined in death as they were in life.

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The George Gannon grave marker is a variation on the Woodmen trees, where a logs carved in stone serve as a base for an open book that tells his story.  Victorian era cemeteries are often very expressive, and the Mountain View Cemetery in Livingston has many other

 

interesting grave markers scattered throughout its grounds. The cemetery, with its beautiful setting, well-kept grounds, and expressive memorials, give night to the historic people of Livingston in a way that streetscapes and historic houses rarely capture.

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