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April 7, 2017

Overgrown Lives

A unique walking path through an old cemetery provides beautiful scenery

Story by Doug Barker Photos by Marcy Merrill

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Are you the type who wants to get off the main road and find those spots only the locals know about? We’ve got one for you: the Johns River Cemetery at Markham along the southern shore of Grays Harbor.

Markham is a cluster of houses around the Ocean Spray Cranberry plant on Highway 105 about midway between Aberdeen and Westport.

The cemetery is mostly grown over, the final resting place of some of the pioneer stock of the late 1800s.

There is a parking area that requires a state Parks Discovery Pass and you’ll have to hike about 1.6 miles from there. The cemetery is on the north side of Johns River, across the river from the cranberry plant.

The trail is pleasant and you’ll likely see herons and signs of beaver, but the signage isn’t good. There’s a fork in the trail at one point and the only marker is a piece of wood with a crudely painted, but bright orange, arrow. Follow it.

The cemetery is no longer tended, but here and there the headstones are visible in the underbrush. Daryl Graham, who lives in the area and has taken an interest in its history, says there are probably 20 or fewer headstones, but probably 50 or more graves, many with wooden markers long since gone.

M4M_6515Several headstones belong to members of the Fry family. An internet search of genealogy sites indicates that young men in the family came there from Illinois in the middle of the 1800s and their letters home made it sound good enough that others followed.

Graham says the original town of Markham had a couple of cedar shingle mills in the early 1900s and there were thriving logging camps nearby. When the highway came through in 1912, it seemed to scatter the people who lived there, he said.

The headstones suggest stories bearing witness to the severity of life in those days: a child who lived from July to November in 1904, a woman dead at the age of 43 in 1914, a boy of 7, a young woman of 26.

But some, like Jacob Phillips, had long lives, born in 1819 when James Monroe was president.  He lived through 18 presidents before he died in 1900.

If you’re in the neighborhood, we’re sure he wouldn’t object to a drop in.

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Find your way

Here are the directions someone has posted on the internet at findagrave.com: “The old logging road meanders through a beautiful stretch of land that takes you through bits of alder trees that filled in rather quickly once given the chance and on down next to wetlands. Often times you will see, or hear, a fair amount of wildlife in here … you move into an evergreen forest and visions of trees from many years past. Your path will take you up from the wetlands and you will walk along the plateau where it’s shaded, cool and calm. It’s very serene and beautiful in here. The road dips back down to the water and goes up again. Somewhere after you’ve climbed up a bit, there will be a slight fork in the road, go to your right.”

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History, Places