The Story of the Soldier’s Home Cemetery Orting WA

Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

In my last Orting post I referred to some of the residents of the Orting Soldier’s Home Cemetery, but the cemetery itself has a story to be told; it wasn’t always such a place of peace and refuge. In their 1987 book, Orting Valley Yesterday and Today: Including McMillin and Alderton, authors Mardel Robins, Alice Rushton and Louise Koehler, (writing under the name of Ms. Adventures), presented the saga of the cemetery itself.

Originally, the cemetery was located in the area now used as the baseball field; a nice, flat, area which might appear a perfect location for a cemetery.  Unfortunately, the water table is about two feet below the surface in that spot, which meant that our departed honored military personnel were effectively receiving an aqua-burial.  Many found this to be unacceptable – so much so that residents were choosing to be buried elsewhere.  In the early 1900’s this led to an attempt to move the Home.  Fortunately, two Orting businessmen—J. C. Taylor and James O’Farrell—came to the rescue and arranged to move the burial ground to a new location and in 1905 Paul Koehler became the first person to be buried there.

Mr. O’Farrell bought the land and made the necessary improvements to make it a perfect location.  He effectively became Orting’s first undertaker and owned and maintained the cemetery for the next twenty years.  After twenty years he left Orting and leased the land to a person, or persons, unidentified, who failed to maintain the property and even managed to lose all of the records.  According to Ms. Adventures, “…in a few years, the record states the cemetery was in worse condition than when [O’Farrell] had bought it.”

The town of Orting bought the property in 1937 and began the arduous project of restoring it.  Again, as per Ms. Adventures, “According to Margaret Groff, the Town Clerk of that time, ‘the whole thing was a mess.’”  Because the records were missing, they had no way to verify who had purchased plots or who was buried where.  A map was eventually made by, “two town employees who literally crawled all over the grounds, measuring and getting names from tombstones.”  If you go there today, you will see a well-kept, peaceful resting place.

Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

Hidden and almost lost to view under the growth of trees and vines, mere feet from south side of Orting-Kapowsin Hwy. is an old stone stairway leading up into the cemetery, forgotten it seems, since a newer drive in entrance was built.

Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

Directly across the Orting-Kapowsin Hwy. there is still productive farmland, but it seems to be being devoured by housing developments. How long can it hold out? Time will tell, but my belief is that the developments will win in the end.

Orting, like many other small cities, is bound by Urban Growth Boundaries set as a condition of Pierce County’s 1990 comprehensive plan for growth management, RCW title 36.chapter 70A. As a result, the only expansion of commercial properties within the city must come at the expense of farmland, and much of the productive farmland in the Orting Valley is already under houses and asphalt – with more about to be paved over.

You can see more of my photography at Flickr.

Shifting gears for a moment, I have been looking for blogs and websites about the towns I spotlight to provide a broader perspective and perhaps some fun stuff; when I find them, I’ll post a link.  I recently ran across a blog called Orting Valley Flyers, which is a model airplane group in the area.  

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