Pleasant Ridge Cemetery

Pleasant Ridge Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Skagit County, Washington, is located two and one half miles east of the town of La Conner, on a promontory of land in the Skagit River delta known as Pleasant Ridge.

This steep island of rock and trees lies in a northwest/southeast direction and is three and three-quarter miles long and one and one-quarter mile wide. It was once surrounded by saltwater marshes. Today Pleasant Ridge is surrounded by rich farmland on three sides and by the North Fork of the Skagit River on the south end.

Pleasant Ridge Cemetery is located on high ground on the north end of this promontory at 17666 Valentine Road.  The first portion of the cemetery to be used is closest to Valentine Road inside the welcoming archway. It contains the graves of many of Skagit County’s earliest pioneers.

The Pleasant Ridge Cemetery has been managed and controlled by Skagit County Cemetery District 1 since 1956. There are approximately 2,500 people buried in the cemetery, over 200 of them are military veterans. The cemetery district provides lawn and monument care and the purchase of burial sites. They have also held an annual Memorial Day service at the cemetery since before 1892 when it was known as Decoration Day.

Four additions of property have been made to the original cemetery site until reaching the size of six and one quarter acres today. An attractive mausoleum and memorial area was added on the east side of the cemetery in 2007. Contact information for Cemetery District 1 commissioners is located on a sign near the archway.

There is generous parking on a graveled verge and six graveled driveways through the cemetery. Rows are marked A through L reading east to west. The cemetery is never closed but open to all. There are several historical monuments and headstones dating from 1875.

History of Pleasant Ridge Cemetery

John A. Cornelius and his wife, Bessie, settled near the north end of Pleasant Ridge in 1868. Cornelius had previously lived on Whidbey Island and was a government surveyor. It was on land owned by Cornelius that Pleasant Ridge Cemetery was established in 1875 when his young son, Charles, died of diphtheria. David Culver, a teacher from La Conner, and Samuel Summers, a farmer from Fir Island, were buried there soon after.

Nothing was easily accomplished in those days before roads and bridges. When Samuel Summers died in 1876 his neighbors sent a boy of fifteen to fetch Reverend B.N.L. Davis from up the Skagit River near Burlington. Another party was dispatched by rowboat to La Conner to register his death at the territorial courthouse and purchase a casket. Still others dug the grave in the new cemetery. The burial party arrived by boat, up Sullivan Slough, carrying the casket a quarter mile up the steep hill to Mr. Summers’ final resting place.

John A. Cornelius died on February 15, 1880, leaving his wife, Bessie, and three children. He was fortyyears old.  Joseph O. Rudene had come to Pleasant Ridge from Iowa in May 1876 at age 26. Rudene and Cornelius were friends and when Cornelius died, leaving his wife and children without support, Rudene married Bessie in 1882. Rudene then owned the cemetery land and sold 40’ x 40’ plots which were maintained by individual families.

Skagit County pioneers buried at Pleasant Ridge Cemetery include John S. Conner and Louisa A. Conner who founded the town of La Conner in 1869. La Conner soon became the outlet for the produce of the Skagit delta and the market center where goods and services from the rest of the world could be obtained.

Other pioneers buried at the cemetery include three Civil War veterans, Joseph Franklin Dwelley, Richard H. Ball, and Samuel Thomas Valentine. The families of George and James Gaches who operated a mercantile store and crop brokerage in La Conner from 1873, are also buried there.

In 1956 the citizens of Skagit County formed cemetery districts with Pleasant Ridge named as District 1. Arthur Olson of Pleasant Ridge was named as the first caretaker. Currently maintenance of all types is contracted.

History of the Community of Pleasant Ridge

Pleasant Ridge offered home sites out of the danger of flooding to the single men and families who came to the Skagit and Swinomish flats to build dikes and clear the land for farming. It is thought that Samuel Calhoun who came from the sawmill at Utsalady on Camano Island by Indian canoe, and Michael Sullivan from Nova Scotia, were the first to begin the arduous diking project, perhaps as early as 1863.

Early settlers on Pleasant Ridge include: John and Bessie Cornelius from Whidbey Island, 1868; Harvey Wallace and his wife in 1871; James Williamson; Mrs. David Leamer and sons Albert and Milton, 1868; Isaac Dunlap from California in 1871; Charles Elde from Sweden; Charles Chilberg from Sweden; John H. Chilberg from Sweden; Nels Christianson from Denmark; Charles Nelson; Joseph Sharfenberg from Iowa in 1875; James O’Laughlin in 1872; Samuel T. Valentine from Indiana in 1882.

As areas of farm land were diked, barley, oats and hay crops were planted on both sides of Pleasant Ridge; in Beaver Marsh to the east and Dodge Valley on the west. All of the farmers were pleased with the yield from the most fertile land any of them had seen.

In 1871 Michael Sullivan sold the crop of barley he had raised on forty acres of diked land for $1,600.00 at the river bank (Sullivan Slough).  The story went clear to Pennsylvania.

As time went on two churches were established on Pleasant Ridge. Joseph Rudene donated land east of the cemetery for the Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church which was dedicated in 1889.

The Bethsaida Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church was built on the ridge facing east in 1890. J. H. Chilberg donated the land. The parsonage building which was located next to the church still stands today. A young people’s hall was added in 1905.

The first school on Pleasant Ridge was held in the home of Albert Leamer and the teacher was fifteen year old Ida Leamer. She held the first teacher’s certificate issued in Skagit County. In the early years classes were held in homes and later in rough cabins.

In 1883, Skagit County separated from Whatcom County and school districts were developed. The largest Pleasant Ridge school was built in 1891 and served the community for 38 years. The first teacher in the new structure was Mary E. Chilberg. The building still stands today.

A teacher’s cottage was located across Valentine Road from the school and was used to house the teacher from the Rexville School at the south end of Pleasant Ridge as well as the Pleasant Ridge School.

Community social life was simple consisting of meetings and entertainments centered around the two churches and the school building. There were spelling bees, debating clubs, dances, potluck dinners, Christmas pageants and parties, and a small orchestra.

People who lived on Pleasant Ridge commonly traveled on foot or horseback along many trails through thick woods of Douglas fir trees and underbrush to visit neighbors and attend social functions. Children making their way to school often encountered deer and black bears. Some of these paths are still in evidence today.

Going to town normally meant traveling by horse and wagon two and half miles into La Conner. There a farmer could visit Polson Hardware, J & G Gaches Mercantile and crop brokerage, Abner McKean’s blacksmith shop, Joseph Dwelley’s furniture store or stop by Dr. Mckey’s pharmacy. A visit to the Washington Territorial District Court Clerk, James Gilliland, at the court house in La Conner, is where the farmer filed his homestead papers. He could pick up a weekly newspaper at the Puget Sound Mail office and collect his own mail from the post office.

Perhaps he was meeting relatives expected to arrive on the weekly sternwheeler from Seattle. Most importantly he could exchange crop and family information with other farmers from Whitney, north of La Conner, and Dodge Valley, bringing news of the wider world home to his family and neighbors.

Today there is still a neighborhood of homes at Pleasant Ridge near the cemetery. But the height of social activity at Pleasant Ridge was 1875 to 1930, before the paved roads that allowed access by automobile to Mount Vernon and beyond.


References Consulted

Chechacos All: The Pioneering of Skagit, Skagit County Historical Society, Mount Vernon WA, 1973.

Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, Washington, Interstate Publishing, Chicago IL, 1906.

Pleasant Ridge Cemetery records.

Pleasant Ridge: A Historic Rural Neighborhood by Sue Ann Hackett, a portion of thesis in partial fulfillment of Masters of History degree, Western Washington University, June 1992.

Puget Sound Mail, 1879-1884, Washington Secretary of State Office, Newspaper archive at: www.sos.wa.gov/history/newspapers.

Skagit Settlers: Trials and Triumphs, 1890-1920. Skagit County Historical Society, Mount Vernon WA, 1975.

Compiled by Janna Gage

May 23, 2010