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.  

Onward with Orting WA



Entrance to Garfield Hall copyright by Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott


Portico at the entrance to Garfield Hall
copyright Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

As I wrote my last post, I was wondering about the fate of Garfield Hall.  When I was there in 2008 there was talk of razing the building due to the cost of renovation.  I contacted the Washington Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs and found that the plan is for renovation, however,when that might happen is uncertain; funding has not yet been found for the project.

Among the residents who passed their last days at the Soldier’s Home were: Joseph Marion Gale, who passed away at the age of 77 in 1913.  Mr. Gale, born in Illinois, was a teacher, a newspaper editor and a soldier in two Indian wars and the civil war.   And Isaac Newton Hall, the last living soldier from the Grand Army of the Republic, who passed away in Oct. of 1940, as well as Medal of Honor winner, Sgt. William H. Sickles.

William Sickles        Photograph credit:  Home of Hero’

William H. Sickles was  born Oct, 7, 1844, at Danube, New York, son of George and Eliza Sickles, and brother of Gertrude.  William joined the service at Columbia County, Wisconsin at the age of 16.

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, while a member of Company B of the 7th Wisconsin Infantry,  he was awarded the Medal of honor after he,  “With a comrade,” Corporal Albert O’Connor , ”attempted capture of a stand of Confederate colors and detachment of 9 Confederates, actually taking prisoner 3 members of the detachment, dispersing the remainder, and recapturing a Union officer who was a prisoner in hands of the detachment, “ at Gravelly Run, VA, March 31 1864. Sgt. Sickles and Corporal O’Connor, also a Medal of Honor recipient, both ended their lives at the Orting Soldier’s home. 

Although I have been unable to determine exactly when, Sgt. Sickles married Jennie E. Craley and they had two sons: Lewis, born in 1869, and Claude, born in 1877.   Jennie died in 1932, Sgt. Sickles outlived his compatriot, Corporal O’Connor,  by ten years, dying September 26, 1938 at age 93.  He was the last remaining Medal of Honor winner of the civil war.  Corporal O’Conner died April 3rd, 1928 and both remain in the Orting Cemetery.

More examples of my photography are available at my Flickr photostream.

Sgt. William H. Sickles copyright Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

An Outing in Orting WA

Orting – According to the 2011 census, population 8,632.  This little town lies at the base of Mt. Rainier, directly in the path of the lahar that would occur should that venerable mountain decide to erupt.  Yet it has rested there since Frederick E. Eldredge’s town plat was officially incorporated as a town on April 22, 1889.  Discounting the fact that it belonged to the Indians prior to 1854, the land was first owned, by way of donation land claims, by Daniel Varner, Henry and Margaret Whitesell, Thomas Headley, Daniel Lane. George Gunson bought Varner’s claim in 1861.  By 1880 the land had been abandoned and was claimed by Fred Eldredge.

Soldiers home for blog

Orting Soldiers Home, Garfield Hall portico.
Copyright-Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott 2008

There is little left of historical Orting, but there is the Soldier’s Home .  It has served its original purpose for 122 years as of June 25th.  The assumption might be that the home was of Federal origin, but not so.  It was created under Washington State Constitution to provide for Civil War vet’s who had found their way west in search of the opportunities that were so well publicized, truthfully or not.  The provision, “The legislature shall provide by law for the maintenance of a soldiers’ home for honorably discharged Union soldiers, sailors, marines, and members of the state militia, disabled while in the line of duty and who are bona-fide residents of the State,” created the Home which is run by the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs today.  It has been home to vet’s from the Mexican War, Indian War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, both World Wars, Korean War and Viet Nam.  If it isn’t already, I sure it will be providing a home and care for vet’s for our conflicts in the Arab countries as well.

Entrance to the old building,  2008

Old Glory at the Soldier’s Home
Copyright-Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott 2008