Cemeteries in Eugene hold so much of our historical beginnings. The Luper cemetery is no exception.
Driving north on River Road, the small cemetery lies off of West Beacon Drive, among farmland and freshly erected homes. This beautiful farmland is what gave the pioneers of Eugene, Oregon the hope that this was the perfect place to settle during the mid-1800s. Most of these pioneers of Eugene are buried in the Luper Cemetery.
History of Luper Cemetery
The early settlers of Eugene came to the Willamette Valley, some traveling along the Applegate Trail from California and others across the states along the Oregon Trail. Others settled in the valley after struggling through the Willamette Pass area. Now the towns along this trail are known as Oakridge, Lowell and Pleasant Hill.
More than fifty families became residents of the valley. As they arrived in the valley, the McClure clan had written by-laws to indicate how the land would be allotted to everyone. The eldest of these weary travelers would choose their land first, ending with the youngest. This wagon train nearly doubled the population of settlers in the southern Willamette region. These same settlers are listed in the Luper Cemetery records.
The pioneers created small communities through the area within the boundary lines of what is now known as Benton, Linn, Lane and Douglas Counties. Cities were incorporated into the mix, such as Eugene. A few of the smaller communities were incorporated in time, but the majority of the original farming communities disbanded. Today the communities are known as Alvador, River View, Pleasant Hill and Irving.
Irving was not incorporated as a city. There were never any boundaries set, but today the area is marked with Irving Road. The cemetery picked up the name, Irving, and is often referred to as the Irving cemetery. At some point, the Luper Cemetery was also known as the Baker Cemetery.
As these families traveled together, settled together and helped each other during the formation of these close-knit communities, many of them fell in love and married. Large families also married, lived their lives and were laid to rest in the Luper Cemetery and in surrounding cemeteries in Franklin, Junction City, Richardson Butte, Pleasant Hill, Eugene and other burial sites in the valley.
Family members from farming communities and numerous residents in the Irving community were the first settlers to be buried in the cemetery.
During the past few years, the cemetery has been vandalized several times. The last time I walked through this historical site, the cemetery was overrun with blackberry bushes and there were a heartbreaking number of grave markers that had been smashed into pieces. An old tree stands in the entrance of the cemetery, but it too had suffered damage. The vandals climbed into a space created by limbs that grew to either side of the trunk, leaving a large space where they burned candles, left garbage and used a knife and spray paint to mark satanic symbols into the tree bark.
A group of residents and other volunteers gathered to clean up the cemetery as much as they could. The site remained unharmed for a short time, but the vandals struck again. In 2009, vandals damaged almost every grave marker in the cemetery.
The volunteers worked diligently to repair what they could and replace the grave markers. With some of the markers dating back to the 1850s, it has been difficult to maintain the original state of the cemetery because of the vandalism.
Many of the maintenance and improvement projects at the cemetery calls for research, materials and labor. The small cemetery is one that remains solitary, without visitors and future burials. Because of this, many do not realize the cemetery is in the area, as it lies behind trees and shrubbery. The importance of the upkeep is vital to the history of the Willamette Valley. Friends of the Luper Cemetery have begun a donation drive to maintain the cemetery and the originality that is our history. Donations can be made through www.lupercemetery.com.
Through the great work of staff and volunteers of the cemetery projects, we have the historical records of many buried in the Luper cemetery. These are the stories behind the formation of this valley, this area we call home.