Euro-Americans settle in the Coos Bay Region

In 1853, Euro-Americans finally established a permanent settlement along the Oregon Coast in the region now known as “Coos Bay,” roughly 110 miles north of the Oregon-California border. The unique layout of the bay, and the potentially treacherous bar, precluded the region’s discovery until several chance encounters during 1852. With glowing initial reports, a joint-stock company -- the Coos Bay Commercial Company -- quickly formed and made plans for settlement. By autumn of 1853, over fifty Euro-Americans had settled on the bay in a small community named “Empire City,” recently enriched with the arrival of the first Euro-American women and children to the area.

Burials in Empire City

As "Empire City," the first Euro-American settlement in the area, expanded in the 1850s, burials were conducted on the bluffs overlooking the bay, in what is now commonly known as the “Empire Pioneer Cemetery.” An original survey map designates 652 plots. SOME CEMETERY RECORDS of COOS and CURRY COUNTIES OREGON lists 57 burials in the cemetery. It is likely that many more interments occurred -- precise records were not kept. By 1900, the cemetery had been abandoned. Headstones, including some made from wood, quickly deteriorated in the salt-laden environment, and the cemetery is now completely overgrown. Many natives were also buried in the vicinity. Ownership of the cemetery was transferred from the City of Coos Bay to the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Siuslaw, and Lower Umpqua. 

As the communities of Empire, Marshfield, and North Bend expanded, the residents needed a new place to bury the dead. Logistically, a new community cemetery would need to be located in the flourishing town of Marshfield -- the only one of the three settlements where future development and expansion was not limited by bounding by the bay or another community. In addition, Marshfield, now part of the City of Coos Bay, had undeveloped hillsides above the areas of downtown fill and the high water table that were appropriate for burials

Burials in Marshfield

Logistically, a new community cemetery would need to be located in the flourishing town of Marshfield -- the only one of the three settlements not bounded by either the bay or another community. In addition, Marshfield had undeveloped hillsides appropriate for burials -- above the areas of downtown fill and the high water table. Early Marshfield burials took place near what is now Highland Avenue and 4th Street -- currently the location of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Originally, area residents believed that the estimated seven or eight bodies were disinterred in the 1870s when the private “Marshfield Academy” was constructed at the site. In October of 1895, as the site was graded for the new, public “Central School,” several more remains were discovered at the site. 

Although documentation is limited, a hillside, now commonly called Telegraph Hill, served as a burial ground for Chinese and Euro-Americans. As was the prevailing custom, the bodies of the Chinese were later disinterred, and the bones were shipped back to China. As late as the 1940s, evidence of the Chinese burials remained in the porcelain sherds that littered the site. 

Also on the hillside, formerly referred to as "Knob Hill," was a cemetery on property originally ceded to the city of Marshfield by the Southern Oregon Company for that purpose. There is no documentation of the period of use or specific burials. Newspaper articles suggest 200 to 300 burials and a tract that encompassed three to four acres. A newspaper article dated June 23, 1909, indicated "City Council Wants to Convert Old Burial Ground into a Park." A survey of local cemeteries conducted by the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association (Y.W.M.I.A.) of Coos Bay dated April 21, 1965, mentioned only that all the remains were removed and reburied at other cemeteries with the possible exception of William Archer -- a notation that family members wished to have included. 

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows establish Cemetery

On July 14, 1888, the wealthy community landowner C. H. Merchant sold a piece of hillside property to the newly established Odd Fellows Cemetery Association for the sum of $350. The cemetery was officially dedicated as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) Cemetery in 1891 -- a community burying ground for citizens of Empire, Marshfield, and North Bend. During its primary period of use, from the late 1880’s until 1930, over 2000 people were buried in the cemetery. During this period, most burials were hand-recorded in a set of two logbooks kept by the I.O.O.F. Cemetery Association’s secretary. On January 4, 1909, the I.O.O.F. Cemetery Association sold four acres adjoining the cemetery to Coos Bay School District 9, for $12,000. On this site, the school district began construction of the city’s first high school, the building later known as “East Branch,” that has since been demolished. The site continued to be developed by the school district and currently contains the central high school building, science/math building, two gymnasiums, and an auditorium.

As the area’s population continued to grow, the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery proved to be insufficient in size. In 1914, the I.O.O.F. lodge dedicated a new cemetery located on the outskirts of the city. Sunset Memorial Park replaced the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery as the area’s primary burying ground. Some bodies were exhumed from the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery and moved to Sunset Memorial Park most likely so that family members could be buried together. On November 8, 1921, the I.O.O.F. Cemetery Association deeded all of the unsold gravesites and driveways of the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery to the City of Marshfield. Then, in 1944, the City of Coos Bay acquired the cemetery by virtue of a Marshall’s deed.

By the 1930’s, the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery had fallen into disrepair, and some remains were moved from it to the new Sunset Cemetery (now known as Sunset Memorial Park). At this time, burials are limited to cremains interred on family-owned plots.

A brochure may be downloaded on the Downloadable Files page.

Coos County members of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) - seated in front -
gather with others around the Soldier-Sailor Monument
in the cemetery as part of the 1926 Memorial Day ceremony.

from the left:
C. H. Marshall, W. R. Simpson, Alonzo McDougal, J. H. Stover, S. B. Cathcart, John Porter, E. W. Schrock, Mrs. Frances McLeod (secretary)
Others include Howard Savage & his wife, Mr. C. O. Gosney, Mr. C. H. Walters, Mrs. Cruickschank at extreme right

Photo # 988-P135 courtesy of the Coos Historical & Maritime Museum


The headstone of Clara and Joseph Bailey went missing near the end of January, 2017. Clara was the young daughter off Stephen S. & Jennie D. Bailey drowned in January, 1881. Joseph died as an infant. They were the great grand children of Joseph Lane, namesake of Lane County.
In April 2018, a citizen reported the missing headstone to the Park Police in ... SAN FRANCISCO! 

The headstone has been returned to its place in the cemetery