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From the Archives
155-year-old cemetery borders driveway of home
It's one of 18 on private property in Marion County
By Capi Lynn
Statesman Journal, Thursday, July 26, 2007
Section C, pgs 1;4
Photos by Timothy J. Gonzales | Statesman Journal

TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ | STATESMAN JOURNAL: The grave site of Rhoda Walker is shown in the Eoff Cemetery east of Salem. Eoff is one of 18 cemeteries in Marion County that is on private property, and it abuts the driveway of Craig and Nancy Smith. Hidden beneath a canopy of oak and redwood trees and a carpet of ivy and periwinkle, on a hill east of Salem, is a small pioneer cemetery.

Narrow trails wind through the dense growth, guiding the rare visitor to eight grave markers. A few more exist but are nearly impossible to find this time of year.

Eoff Cemetery is one of 18 cemeteries in Marion County -- out of 130 -- located on private property, according to the "Oregon Burial Site Guide."

"This one is a little unique," said Tracey Saucy, a local cemetery researcher. "It's right along their driveway."

But visitors to the home of Craig and Nancy Smith would never guess a 155-year-old cemetery lies next to their circular drive, unless they started ducking under branches and poking around vines.

The Smiths like the camouflaged environment. They are protective of the site and purposely don't groom the area because it might attract unwanted attention.

"It was vandalized a lot when people knew it was here," said Craig Smith, the vice president and chief financial officer at Chemeketa Community College.

TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ | STATESMAN JOURNAL: The grave site of Mary Cooper in the Eoff Cemetery east of Salem in a photograph taken July 19. It is one of 18 cemeteries in Marion County on private property. Unlike some cemeteries that have been razed over the years by development, Eoff Cemetery (pronounced Oaf) may have been preserved because of the subdivision that was constructed around it in the 1970s.

Today, the cemetery is sandwiched between two suburban residences east of Salem off State Street.

Walt Hager of Salem was the developer who once envisioned creating a park-like setting around Eoff Cemetery. But after going round and round with Marion County over taxes on the cemetery property, he eventually sold it to the Smiths.

"I'm glad somebody is looking after it," Hager said.

The Smiths, who have three adult children, appreciate the cemetery's history. There are 31 documented burials, including three Eoff brothers. Most of those interred are farmers, their wives and their children.

"These people were the ones that settled this area," Craig Smith said.

The Eoff brothers -- George, John Leonard and Fleming -- are ancestors of the family that founded Eoff Electric Co. John Leonard's great grandson, Asel Eoff, opened in 1919 a small retail establishment in Salem that grew into what today is a multimillion-dollar wholesale distributor. The Eoff family no longer is involved in the company.

George Eoff originally owned the land where the cemetery was established. The oldest known burial was in 1852. The last known burial, of George's wife, Nancy, was in 1900. The couple share a headstone.

Five Eoff children, ages 3 to 16, are among those interred.

In addition to the Eoffs, other surnames etched on markers include Bodemer, Duncan and Janz.

Every couple of years, someone stops by the Smith home and asks to see the cemetery, perhaps because they grew up in the area or they simply heard about it and are curious. Some have left copies of old news clippings referring to the Eoffs and the cemetery.

The August 1994 news quarterly of the Marion County Historical Society published a profile of the Eoff family history revealing that Asa Eoff, John Leonard's grandson, was an accomplished sheep breeder and that a young Clark Gable used to pick strawberries on the Eoff farm, where the future Hollywood star lived for a short time in one of the shacks.

A story that ran in April 1968 in the "Sunday Oregonian Northwest Magazine" was paired with a photograph of a large wooden cross not far from the headstone shared by George and Nancy Eoff. The cross is nowhere to be found today, and the Smiths don't remember it being there when they moved here in 1985.

A June 1974 article in "The Oregon Statesman" -- about the time Hager was beginning to develop the area -- reported there were 20 stone markers, a dozen more than what was visible during a recent visit.

Saucy and her husband, Paul, visited Eoff Cemetery about a year ago to transcribe it for their Web site,

"It's not a nice, grassy knoll," she said. "But it's not in bad condition. It's kind of charming."

They were unable to locate a couple of markers that have been documented in years past, despite prodding the dense undergrowth with a pole.

One memorialized the Short children, Alvin and Elvin, who died a year apart in the late 1890s, both at the age of 1 day. Their headstone reportedly had faint lettering across the bottom that read: "Sleep Babies Sleep."

Some of the headstones that remain at Eoff Cemetery are etched in detail, down to the number of years, months and days the person lived.

Craig Smith incorporated that into a lesson for his children when they were growing up, reminding them it's not how long you live, but how you live.

Nancy Smith, a fourth-grade teacher, uses the cemetery as an educational tool. She brings her students out every spring, assigning each to choose a tombstone, make a rubbing of the inscription and write an essay about what it might have been like to be that person.

Although the Smiths don't tend to the cemetery, they watch over it appreciate all its history. Craig Smith figures the wild roses and the trees were planted many years ago in remembrance of loved ones.

"We call it God's acre," he said.

Cemetery Lives As Subdivision To Surround It
June 16, 1974
By Janine W. Grant
Staff Writer, The Statesman

Mary P. Cooper has slept in peace 121 years. And it looks as though she can continue to do so, undisturbed by the subdivision which will someday surround her grave. Mary's headstone, dated November 1852, is the oldest of the 20 stone markers in the old Eoff family cemetery located off State Street several blocks east of Howell Prairie Road. The site is picturesque - an oak covered hill with ivy tangled in the trees. But it is owned by a builder, and builders sometimes prefer their hills covered with houses and their trees tangled with clothesline and kite string. However, this builder, Walt Hager, 8095 Darling St. SE, plans to leave the abandoned cemetery intact. "I intend to preserve it as a park," says Hager, who has already built one house nearby and says he will eventually construct more. Hager says he has received calls from several persons concerned about the cemetery's future. "It's quite amusing to me," he says. "Last year when I bought the property I spent three days to research its history and no one showed any interest at all…Now all of a sudden it's like I wanted to paint the Golden Gate Bridge pink. Some of these people have no connection with the cemetery at all; they don't live beside it and they don't have family buried in it."

One of "these people" is Jerry D. Miller, 9905 Edmunson Drive SE, a grocer who perhaps knows as much about the cemetery as anybody in town. Although Miller has no relatives buried in the Eoff Cemetery, he says he has four generations in the nearby Macleay Cemetery and is interested in the history of Salem's gravesites. According to Miller, the Eoff Cemetery is located in Salem pioneer George Eoff's land claim and was the burial site for his family and friends. The first person buried in the cemetery was Mary Cooper, who died the year after Salem became capital of Oregon Territory. The last person to be buried there was Nancy Eoff, who died in August 1900.

Who Were They?
By Elinor Myren
Northwest Magazine, Sunday, April 14, 1968

On a Silverton farm not far from the State Capital is a little-known cemetery that may hold the remains of pioneers that helped build the Oregon country. Ivy grows thickly, covering the ground, and vines hang heavily from large oak trees that shade the moss-covered headstones. Wooden stakes piercing the earth are all that remain of some grave markers, the rest long since eaten away by the weather. Lettering on other wood and stone markers shows signs of time's erosion. But there are headstones on which names and dates can still be read. These give the clues that among the buried are those who helped build Oregon.

One of the headstones is marked George Eoff, who died in 1890. On the other side of the stone there is the name of his wife and the date of her death. According to R.H. Down, in his book "History of the Silverton Country," George and John Eoff were natives of Pulaski County, Kentucky. George filed a claim in Silverton in 1867. His brother settled a year later. The Eoffs were descended from John Eoff, a native of Virginia and said to be one of the early pioneers of Kentucky. Engraved on another weed-choked headstone is the name of F.W. Duncan, who was born in Virginia in 1816 and died Jan. 14, 1881. The inscription at the bottom of the stone reads: "A good citizen, an honest man, and a lover of his country." At the back corner of the cemetery there is a stone with the name "Short" inscribed at the bottom. The top of the stone reads: Alvin Short, died 1893, age 1 day, and Elvin Short, died 1894, age 1 day. Across the bottom is the faint lettering reading: Sleep Babies Sleep. Other stones read: Mary, wife of L.L. Cooper, died 1852. Rhoda, wife of G.H. Walker, died 1892. Carl Janz, father 1831-1884, Anna, mother, 1841-1888. Boedmer is another name that shows up on a headstone. And there are more Eoffs - Elvira Eoff died in 1867 at age 17; Eva Eoff died in 1863 at age 10 and Louisianna Eoff died in 1863 at age 8. Then there are the graves of John Eoff, 1812-1899 and Mary Eoff, 1814-1890. There is the grave of John Kays, 1806-1884.

In his book, Down writes: "In June 1857 a party was organized at the house of John Kays on Howells Prairie to go on a hunting excursion into the Cascade Mountains and in the following July a party went from Salem to Abicaw to fish for trout and remained overnight. They caught about 175 trout." Stone after stone attests that here - in the forgotten graves - are those Down described as "the brave men of 1847," their women and their children. At one time a group of Boy Scouts came to the cemetery to clean it up and spent an afternoon working. But it proved to be more of a job than they were prepared for. The cemetery is situated in the middle of farm and pasture land, about eight miles east of Salem. Although it is but a short distance from the highway, few people know where the cemetery is. No flowers are placed on these graves during Memorial Day. No visitors come here. Some of the graves have sunk, leaving depressions in the earth. A visitor to the cemetery will find it a sad comment on tribute paid to settlers who tamed and developed the valley. Breezes ruffling leaves of the old trees overhead, a visitor might recall words in Downs' book: "The brave men of 1847 are gone. Sunk into the dust are the logs of their lonely cabins that echoed to the baying of the wolf pack and the nocturnal scream of the cougar. With the spirit of the frontier they pressed valiantly to the West, bridging the streams and felling the forests. On the work of their hands laid the cornerstone of the nation."


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