PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Much of Oregon’s hidden history is buried at Southeast Portland’s Lone Fir Cemetery where hundreds of Chinese immigrants who helped build Portland’s infrastructure were buried.
But their contributions and their memories will soon be acknowledged.
Thousands of Chinese immigrants came to Oregon in the mid-to-late 1800s. They helped build the state — from railroads to roads to businesses.
“They were allowed to come here and work, build much of what we take for granted, and then they had to go home,” said John Laursen with the Lone Fir Cemetery Foundation.
More than 1,000 of the laborers who died on Oregon soil were buried at Portland’s Lone Fir Cemetery. Hundreds who were not returned to China remained in a 1.25-acre plot of the cemetery at the present-day intersection of SE 20th Avenue and SE Morrison known as Block 14.
Multnomah County built the Morrison Building on Block 14 in 1952. The site was excavated after the building was demolished in 2004, uncovering remains and artifacts. Block 14 remained unmarked and unrecognized as anti-Chinese sentiment prevailed.
Metro owns the cemetery and is committing $4 million to build a cultural heritage and healing garden as a memorial to those Chinese workers.
“For me, it brings a sense of hope, a sense of peace and honor to their spirits, and honors their sacrifices and their accomplishments,” said Marcus Lee with the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.
The site will also pay homage to another group of forgotten Portlanders: the patients of Dr. James Hawthorne.
Hawthorne ran Oregon’s first insane asylum a few blocks away which also cared for poor people, unwed mothers and the homeless — many of whom were also buried at or near Block 14.
Metro plans a separate but adjacent memorial at the site to remember marginalized people connected in death.
“It’s not a pretty story in many ways and it’s important to have that history out in the open where we can see it,” said Laursen.
The project now has funding and a manager to oversee the process.
“We’ve been at this for almost 20 years,” said Lee. “It will be a little bit longer but hopefully I’m still here to see it completed.”
Lone Fir Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Dr. Hawthorne — for whom Hawthorne Boulevard is named — is also buried there.