Lewis and Elizabeth Van Vleet

Possibly a wedding picture of Lewis Van Vleet and Elizabeth Coffey

On Dec. 10, 1855 Joel Coffey died and was buried on the land now known as Fern Prairie Cemetery. Two months later Coffey’s daughter Elizabeth Angeline married the neighboring Pioneer Lewis VanVleet. This burial area was later to be known as the Fern Prairie Cemetery. In a new Fern Prairie History book put out by Della M. Howe and Jane A. Woodworth there is mention of an earlier burial of a Native American called Homan. We do not have a reference for this other then it was mentioned in the Camas Post Record (year?). The cemetery was the resting place of Van Vleet’s and Coffey’s until it was donated to the local community by the Van Vleet’s.

In our search for old death certificates and obits of people buried in Fern Prairie Cemetery we have come upon a few documents that called the cemetery by other names, be it by error or just different names used by locals. We have come across the name Oak Farm Cemetery (the Van Vleet land was called The Oaks or Oak Farm.) and on occasion we have seen it mistakenly called Camas cemetery.

May of 1926 a small parcel of land adjoining the cemetery was purchased from D. F. Webberley and his wife Ella. Then on May 6, 1946 another section was purchased. It also adjoined the cemetery and was obtained from C. F. Webberley and his wife.

In 1953 the Cemetery members decided to become a district. Shortly thereafter, they became Clark County Cemetery District #1. The name Fern Prairie Cemetery has continued to be used by most people. At that time three commissioners were elected and those commissioners selected a secretary. It has been operating in this manner since that time.

Later land was donated by Mr. Charles Gates and two acres were purchased on December 31, 1989.

Dr. Louisa Van Vleet Wright

Dr. Louisa Van Vleet Wright-The first woman doctor in Clark County WA

A jewel in the cemetery is Louisa Van Vleet Wright who was born October 30, 1862. She was nicknamed Lutie. She was the first woman doctor in Clark County and possibly Washington Territory. She was the only doctor in town for years and delivered many babies in and around Camas, Washougal and even as far away as Yacolt and Mount Norway. At her untimely death she was buried in Fern Prairie Cemetery.

She began her practice in Montana. After a year in Montana she came back to Clark County and continued her practice. She was married and had children and juggled her time between homemaker, child raising and medical practice. Louisa grew up with an interest in nursing. She taught school in Grass Valley and other schools to earn the money to further her education. She went to the University of Oregon Medical College and then transferred to Ann Harbor, Michigan. She received her first degree in 1885 at twenty-three years old.

Fern Prairie Columbarium . Picture taken shortly after it was built.

Fern Prairie Columbarium . Picture taken shortly after it was built.

The cemetery now owns 6 ½ acres. A new section has been added for upright monuments. During the fall of 2004, a columbarium was installed with surrounding area to be used as an ash garden. The columbarium is located under five big oak trees. A lovely setting. This area is called The Oaks.

The cemetery is continuing to grow. We are always searching for old records. The Yacolt burn destroyed the original cemetery records when it burned the Methodist Church in Fern Prairie. The search for old records goes on. Most old graves are now accounted for other then six to 10 unknown graves.

Many pioneers are buried in the cemetery. Fern Prairie is an unirrigated Pioneer cemetery with new sections. Recent improvements are: an office, water, 12-month toilet and newly asphalted roads.