In June of 1860, after the enactment of the first burial law, a group of citizens met and decided to start a new cemetery in Oskaloosa. They framed the Articles of Corporation and proceeded to purchase land suitable for a cemetery. The Forest Cemetery Association was formed by P. Meyers, J.R. Needham, Rev. J.F. Childs, Wm. Loughridge, and Samuel A. Rice, to name a few. A committee was appointed to view possible sites for the new cemetery and those on that committee were Wesley Moreland, W.S. Edgar, and Wm. C. Rhinehart. Twenty acres were purchased from Wm. S. Dart, lying NE of the city for $50 per acre. The land was surveyed, laid out in lots, fenced and called Forest Cemetery. Rev. J.F. Childs was named as the 1st president. Other men involved were James Seevers, D.W. Loring, James McQuiston, Samuel Ingels, F.W. Glaze, F.E. Smith, W.T. Phillips, M.D. Gilchrist, and many many more.

Lots were sold at auction for no less than 5 cents per square foot. $5.00 was budgeted for expenses, but that $5.00 was soon raised to $6.00. Today we have 60 acres developed with 20 acres in reserve and an annual budget of over $200,000.

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In 1861 the place was described as a cold, desolate spot, filled with hazel brush, weeds, vines, crab apple and plum trees. It was so dense with trees that only an occasional ray of sunshine penetrated the foliage. The first lot was sold to William Gilmore in April 1861 and the 1st burial was Emily Gilmore.

In the beginning, the cemetery’s revenue was derived from loaning money to people for personal and real estate loans. The income was the interest from these loans. At that time, it was not a perpetual care cemetery, so families of the deceased had to pay an annual maintenance fee.

In 1861, they decided to fence the cemetery with a pine board fence. In 1864 they put a 14′ gate at the entrance at North 9th St. It had an arch 2′ wide that extended over the thorough fare with the rules inscribed on it.

The GAR section was started in August 1866 upon the recommendation of J.F. Childs. A cannon sits at the entrance to this section. As described by a gentleman interested in purchasing it, it is a 4.2″ bore (30 pounder) Parrott Rifle, Naval Model 1863.
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Bradley McGowan, from the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, contacted the cemetery and stated that he is refurbishing cannons, following the guidelines of the National Park service, and would like to clean and paint the cannon at Forest Cemetery. The only cost would be for the sand for sandblasting all the old layers of paint. Mr. McGowan came and refurbished the cannon several months later and it was quite an improvement.

In 1873, someone was hired to make improvements and clean up the grounds and remove trees. The transformation was slow. Ornamental shrubs replaced the native buck brush, lots were leveled and new seedlings were started.

Over the years more acres of land have been purchased and developed into lots. The entire cemetery now covers 60 acres and there are 20 more acres in reserve for future development.

In January 1879, the cemetery bought their first horse and wagon and a set of harnesses – before this, they had someone haul the dirt out of the cemetery and gave it away to whomever would haul it, or just left it there in piles.

In 1886 a surveyor re-platted some sections of the cemetery and W.H. Cunningham was elected Superintendent.

In 1887 water came to the cemetery. Rules and regulations were sent to all lot owners on use of the water hydrants.

In 1888 a large fountain was built inside the large oval space of sections 25 & 26. It was donated to the cemetery by P.E.O. Chapter D. The following is an excerpt from the Oskaloosa Herald Family album “Though the records seem to have been lost, the fountain pictured is generally accepted as having been given to Forest Cemetery by the old original P.E.O. Chapter D. The place for a long time was known and spoken of as P.E.O. Circle. Chapter D was first organized in Oskaloosa in 1873.”
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Of course, all the graves were dug by hand and the winter months were especially difficult. In 1890, they decided to build a receiving vault where bodies could be stored in the winter when it was too cold to bury them. The building was 18’x24′ and cost $2,175 with an additional $250 spent for a statue of Gabriel on top. The statue was a metal figure with a 16″ wing spread and a 10″ horn. The vault was located just inside the North 9th St. entrance and to the West. The 2 large vases measured 46″ high and 24″ in diameter with a reservoir capacity of 2 1/2 gallon. The building was 18’x24′ and was to have 12 to 16 compartments. It was reported that one year there were up to 36 bodies stored because of 6 to 8 weeks of below 0 weather. The use of the vault was free to those who had lots in Forest Cemetery and there was a reasonable fee to those who used it and then sent the body away for burial elsewhere. In 1944 it was remodeled at a cost of $1,250. After the wind damaged it in 1950 it was torn down.
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In 1890 St. Mary’s Catholic Church spent $600 to purchase 2 1/2 acres for the St. Mary’s Cemetery which lies on the North side of J Ave.

In 1896 a special section was set aside for indigent soldiers only. By 1905, more space was needed.

In 1904 Forest Cemetery Association contributed $3,000 toward the paving of North 9th St. from C Ave. East to the cemetery grounds.

Also in 1904, James McCauley, an Irish railroad employee, left the cemetery $10,000 in his will to erect a monument for his remains. The chapel was finally started in 1906. It was decided that $10,000 was a little excessive just for a monument, so they built the chapel with an alter, under which his remains were placed with a tablet stating his birth and death information. The chapel was 30’x 90′ with a chipped brick exterior. It was of Gothic architecture with pressed brick interior walls, a tile roof and cement floors, stained windows, a full altar, pulpit furnishings, pews, electric lights and a heating plant. The actual cost was $9,775 with $59.40 spent for a sidewalk in front. The chapel was to be used by the public for funerals, as there were no funeral homes in Oskaloosa at that time. But in the 32 years of its existence, it was used only 7 times, as shortly after it was built funeral homes were started and found to be more convenient and adequate. There was not enough money left from his estate to maintain the chapel and do the necessary repairs, so the board decided to take whatever steps necessary to get the court’s approval to remove the McCauley Chapel.
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In 1913 Forest Cemetery gave a strip of land to the city, now known as J Ave. East, from North 9th St. to North 11th St.

In 1914, a new entrance to the cemetery on North 9th St. was erected. It took 5 railroad cars of barre granite (gray). Some of the blocks weighed more than 5 tons. The entrance was 70′ long and was built into the south-west wall of the McCauley Chapel. It was designed by Frank E. Wetherell and built under the direction of John M. Price, stone mason at a cost of $3,700. This entrance was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 13, 1991. The wrought iron gates were purchased in 1923 and they are still there. The gates are not quite wide enough, as the entrance was widened in 1933 by removing 1 section of the granite to accommodate larger cars.
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In 1914, construction finally began on the mausoleum, originally approved in 1909. It was agreed to let the Iowa Mausoleum Company of Waterloo erect a mausoleum in the cemetery for a price of $750 for the lots. This was for a space of 67’x 85′ immediately north of the sweet pea trellis and about midway between the receiving vault and the north/south road to the east. The appearance of the building and construction had to be approved by W.R. Lacey and John Kalbach. The cost was $40,000 and it was called The Forest Abbey Mausoleum. It was not actually owned by Forest Cemetery, but by an organization of crypt owners (like the lot owners of today) and was finished in 1915. In 1965, due to the disrepair of the mausoleum, all the bodies were removed and buried elsewhere in the cemetery. It cost $2,450 to have it taken down. I have heard numerous stories about the children playing under the mausoleum, even though they weren’t supposed to.
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In the 1920s the cemetery would hire 50 – 60 men to clean up the cemetery each spring. The horse weeds were higher than the horses’ heads. They worked 6 days a week, 10 hour days for 10 cents an hour. They used old 36″ rotary type mowers which were self-propelled. Other men trimmed with push mowers and sickles. The men would all line up beside the McCauley Chapel to wait for their paychecks.
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In 1925, a lake was built as a solution to drainage problems that had plagued the valley through the new addition. Surface waters in the ravine were carried by underground tile to the lake. Water entered the lake over hand molded imitation ledges. The lake was named Lake Cunningham after W.H. Cunningham, who had been superintendent for many years. The ducks, swans, and geese have become quite an attraction over the years.
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In 1925, Forest Cemetery became a Perpetual Care Cemetery. This means that 20% of each lot purchase is set aside in the Perpetual Care fund and CANNOT be spent. The interest that this money earns can be used for the maintenance of the cemetery. We have always relied heavily on this interest to supplement the income generated from the sale of lots and memorials.

The office building was built in 1927 by P.W. Sparks for $1,475. Many people think it is a house and knock when they come to the door. Others think that it must have been a bank because we have a large walk-in vault. The vault is supposed to be completely fire proof to protect all the records.
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In 1934, a very dry year, the lake had filled with silt. It was dug out by hand and hauled out to use for fill dirt in other parts of the cemetery.

In 1938 the cemetery paved the first roads. Only the main roads inside the North 9th Street entrance were paved.

In 1939 the board finally got the court’s approval to remove the McCauley Chapel. Later, the board started taking bids to build a shop and service building using bricks salvaged from the Chapel. The lowest bid was $1,021. They also decided to take bids for an attached double garage, as well as to construct a retaining wall. By November 1939 the equipment building was finished and a board meeting was held there.

In 1941 a public address system with music was installed in the cemetery grounds and outside auditors were hired for the first time to audit the books. Previously it had been done by the board. They decided to give a car to Mr. Riggs, Superintendent, for his use. They also purchased the first electric adding machine.

In 1945 new Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws were written.

In 1946 new development was discussed. The purchase of the necessary dirt moving equipment was authorized and a new cemetery truck was purchased.

In 1947 the cemetery purchased 15 acres east of the present cemetery at $6,750 to be used for development and the first discussions were made about entering the memorial business.

In 1949 the cemetery board contacted landscape engineer, Ray F. Wyrick to make up plans for the “Memorial Gardens” to be located east of the Catholic Cemetery. A new entrance was made into the cemetery at North 11th St. It was made of Tennessee Crab Orchard Stone. They borrowed a total of $10,000 to get the grading and development done. Rules were approved in the new bronze sections (to prevent inferior bronze memorials). There can be only 1 marker per grave space and “no marker can be set to embrace 2 or more grave spaces” (which was later rescinded and today companion markers are used).
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A reflecting pool was built inside the 11th St. entrance surrounded by the Gardens of Consolation, Meditation, Reflection and Benediction. This was quite an attraction, but as it was not maintained, and was felt to be too much of a liability, with kids playing and riding their bikes through it, so it was replaced with a flower bed in 1984.
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In 1954, through the cooperation of the Forest Cemetery Association and the Oskaloosa Chapter of the Service Star Legion, who furnished the finances, a permanent Memorial Day platform was built at the north of the lake. This Cenotaph was to be a war memorial honoring all war dead from all branches of the armed services in our county. It was dedicated Memorial Day, 1954. The inscription on the bronze plaque reads “Dedicated May 30, 1954, in loving memory of our war heroes who served in all branches of the Armed services and who gave their lives in defense of our country and for freedom around the world”.

A flag pole was originally at the main entrance to the cemetery and was later moved. It had 3 gold stars at its top, placed there in honor of the first 3 soldiers from Mahaska County who gave their lives in WWI . They were Harry Anderson, Clifford Evans and Tommy Arkless. The wind whipped the flags and they were torn by the metal stars, so the stars were later removed and a bronze plaque bearing the names of these 3 heroes put at the base of the flag pole. The flag pole has since been removed. The star shaped flower garden which surrounded it is still there as well as the bronze plaque.
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In 1955 the cemetery purchased their first mechanical grave digger and in 1963 they purchased a tractor with loader and backhoe.

In 1957 it was decided that “all caskets over 4′ in length used in earth interments shall be enclosed in a concrete or steel container, or vault”.

In 1958 some lots were sold to the First Christian Reformed Church where they built a church and parking lot.

In 1960 Don Beason began selling monuments and lots for Forest Cemetery.

In 1964 concern was expressed over the condition of the overflow lake at the north end of the cemetery. It was decided to purchase 200′ of 30″ tile and to have the lake completely tiled. They decided to contract out the tiling and accepted a bid for $10.00 per hour for the use of a drag line for the tiling and filling of the lake.

In 1964 the removal of the mausoleum was finally approved by the court, which entailed the removal of 47 bodies. By 1965 all the bodies were removed and buried elsewhere in the cemetery.
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Vandalism at the cemetery was discussed and it was decided that the cemetery should be closed between sunset and sunrise and that signs be made and the gates locked. Today, the cemetery is officially closed from sunset to sunrise, but the gates are no longer locked.

In 1968 27 burial spaces were sold to Albert Holub for a total of $13,500 just south of the space that used to be occupied by the old mausoleum just inside the North 9th St. gates. The space was used to install a grand monument.
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In December of that year, work was started on draining the lakes, dredging the silt and repairing the lake walks and the wings of the spillway from the upper to the lower lake. Cost of the dredging was estimated at $250, the frames for the spillway at $125, plus lumber, and the grounds crew doing the rest of the work. This work was necessary for the preservation of the lakes.

In 1972 the attempt to repair the spillway on the large lake was unsuccessful because after draining the lake, it refilled back up before the work could be accomplished due to several days of rain. However, the small lake was dredged and a new spillway installed. The reflection pool was repaired so that it would again hold water and it was painted. The main feature for Companion #2 was erected after 8 to 10 years of planning at a cost of $2,111.
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In 1973 Plans were implemented for a “New Garden” between the Garden of Benediction and J Avenue East, with a feature in the far SE corner. This later came to be called the Garden of Prayer.
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In 1974 plans were again being made for draining the large lake so that work might be done on repairing the walls, building a new spillway at the north end, removing the 2 islands and the fill that had accumulated keeping the lake polluted, since this had not been accomplished in 1972.

A portion of the roadway at the main cemetery entrance was paved, the survey of the Garden of Prayer was completed and a number of lots were sold in this area, with lot markers installed.

In 1987 the cemetery got the first computer for the office to keep the burial records. The total cost was $13,000. It took quite a while for someone to enter all the burial information on the computer.

In 1989 property was deeded to the Veterans’ Memorial Committee for a memorial at the south end of the lake. Forest Cemetery provided the granite at cost and the Veterans’ committee paid the shipping, foundation and landscape costs. It was dedicated to all Mahaska County Veterans.
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It was suggested that the North 11th Street entrance and around the Garden of Reflection be paved by using excess Perpetual Care funds with matching funds from donations. It was also suggested that a committee be formed by picking people who might be interested in donating from a list of lot owners. These lot owners were contacted and asked if they would be interested in helping with this project.

In 1991 the board decided to go ahead with a paving project on an 8 year program to get the streets all paved, beginning with the North 11th Street entrance – with the first year’s cost being $30,000 to be taken from the Perpetual Care Fund (interest only).

In 1992 the first two phases of the paving project were completed at a total cost of $45,922.

Another new garden was establish and it was called the Garden of Peace. A central focal point was not decided upon at that time.

In 1993 Steve Willman was hired to replace Don Beason as General Manager.

In 1994 a new computer was purchased for the office, since the old one was full and would not take any more data. To update the old one would cost as much or more than buying a new one. The cost for the new computer was $2,020, including a new monitor and back up tape deck.

The wrought iron fence was straightened by the staff and it was painted by a William Penn service group.
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In 1995 Office Assistant, Marilyn Lane, was promoted to General Manager after Mr. Willman submitted his resignation to take another position in South Dakota.

In 1996 Marilyn started a plan to black top the roads, as the original 8 year paving project had never been completed. With the cooperation and help of a lot of people in the community, the roads were completed in 1998 at a total cost of $131,765 plus $2,374 for repair to the curbing.

In October, the north lake was drained so it could be dredged to remove all the silt and rock that has accumulated over the years from the gravel roads. The problem should be solved, as all the roads surrounding the pond were now black-topped. In 1997 the pond was completely excavated thanks to community supporters at no expense to the cemetery, except for the concrete for repairs to the spillway.

In October of 1997 there was a major snow storm after an unusually warm fall. The trees had not dropped their leaves and the heavy snow caused a lot of tree damage with broken limbs and broken trees. There was no electricity or phones for several days. The cemetery has a lot of trees, and suffered considerable damage. It took the grounds crew several weeks to get everything cleaned up.

We now have over 18,000 burials, averaging 120-130 each year. We have 4 full time employees in the winter with an additional 6 to 8 being hired in the summer, including 3 mowers and 3 trimmers.


Brigadier General Samuel A. Rice
Read entire Bible by age 7 – went to law school & became a lawyer in Oskaloosa, then Prosecuting Attorney for Mahaska County. He then went on to become the Attorney General of the state of Iowa. He organized the 33rd Regiment in 1862 and became Brigadier General in 1863. He died in 1864. His regiment, along with the 29th regiment erected a Monument of Vermont marble in his memory. It stands 23′ high and is 5’at the base.

Eugene Cheeseman
Manufactured his coffins and caskets and had the only ambulance and funeral car in the city at the turn of the century.

Adjutant S.H.M. Byers
Wrote “Sherman’s March to the Sea” while in a southern prison. He smuggled it and other letters out of prison in the hollow leg of Lt. Tower, of Ottumwa, when he was sent home.

Lucien Blanchard
He was born in New York – was orphaned – was elected Circuit Judge and became prominent in Republican politics.

Isaac Kalbach
He was born in Pennsylvania and was a cabinet maker. In 1864 he opened a lumber yard. Years later he sold out to his sons, George and John.

Frederick Knight Logan
He was a famous composer and did the piano arrangement of the Missouri Waltz.

William R. Lacey
Was president of the board here at Forest Cemetery for 25 years. He and his brother, John F. Lacey were lawyers and handled a lot of famous cases in Mahaska county.

Maj. John F. Lacey
In addition to being a famous lawyer, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1880. He was one of the first persons to speak for the preservation of America’s natural resources. He was instrumental in the preservation of natural wonders, such as the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Grand Tetons, and other historical sites.

W.E. Kemble
Established a floral business in 1869

F.E.Green & N.J. Bentley
Established Green & Bentley Drug Store

S.T. Slade
Owned the Oskaloosa Paving Brick Company

Henry Cooper
He was once a slave, but took up arms in defense of the union in 1863 and won his freedom & citizenship