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Thanks to EWU student, Medical Lake, Jerue cemeteries are now listed on state heritage register

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

A college project got the Medical Lake Cemetery on Thorpe Road and the adjacent Jerue Cemetery added to the Washington Heritage Register last week.

The register lists historically important sites and buildings across the state. The nomination was completed by Eastern Washington University graduate student Angel Rios.

Rios, who is studying history, took a historic preservation class last year. Students were instructed to prepare a report on a historical site and Rios decided she wanted to work on a project that might be able to make it onto the historic register.

The history of Medical Lake Cemetery is shrouded in some areas and not much is known about Jerue Cemetery, which is thought to have been used by Jerue Funeral Home and doesn’t appear to have had a formal name. Many burials at the site date from 1925 to 1930. The most recent burial was in 2010, but the cemetery has been mostly inactive since the 1990s.

Rios’ report used many historical sources to pull together information about the locations. She also interviewed several fifth-generation Medical Lake residents to see what they knew about the sites and what they may have learned from their parents and grandparents.

Medical Lake Cemetery, which is well-maintained, is still active. The earliest gravestone dates from 1864 and the cemetery holds the final resting spot of 1,107 people. Many military veterans are buried there, including some from the Civil War, likely because of its location near Fairchild Air Force Base, Rios wrote in her report.

The cemetery is not on a busy road and it’s quite peaceful there, Rios said. “It seems like a very sweet place,” she said.

Jerue Cemetery was in private hands for many years until the Medical Lake Cemetery Association acquired it. Little information is available on the specifics, Rios wrote.

No fence marks its boundaries and it is not maintained. “It’s pretty overgrown,” said Rios. “A lot of the headstones that are there now have fallen.”

Records vary on the number of people buried in the cemetery. Many graves are only marked with small metal plaques that list the person’s name, dates of birth and death and the Jerue Funeral Home name. Other burial sites aren’t marked at all.

Rios attended last week’s meeting of the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and spoke briefly in support of putting the cemeteries on the historic register. “It was a little nerve-wracking,” she said.

Many other people were there to speak in favor of other sites around the state. Rios said some became extremely emotional. “It was beautiful,” she said.

The council approved 17 applications for inclusion on the state historic register, including the Ferry County Courthouse in Republic, Boundary Dam in Metaline and Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Cusick. All also have been recommended for inclusion on the National Historic Register, but that decision is not up to the state, said state architectural historian Michael Houser.

“It’s not a competition, it’s really just based on the merits of the application,” Houser said.

The council typically meets three times a year and approves between 30 and 40 properties for inclusion on the state register, Houser said.

The work Rios put in on the project has whetted her appetite for more. Before the experience, the retired Air Force veteran had planned to work with a historical society, perhaps one that had a museum. Now she wants to do more historic preservation work.

“I think I’d like to do that too,” she said.

History is just as important as science and math, Rios said.

“Sometimes it gets forgotten, but it’s important to know where we come from if we’re going to go somewhere worthwhile,” she said.

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