The before and after photos tell the story of the Chester Cemetery in the aftermath of the Dixie Fire. Efforts are underway by the Almanor Foundation to raise funds and assist in the restoration. Photos submitted

Almanor Foundation to aid in restoring the Chester Cemetery after Dixie Fire

By Katherine Sansone

Special to Plumas News

 

Many locals experienced the horror as the Dixie Fire approached the outskirts of Chester in 2021. The community was thankful that the town was saved but it was not completely spared. The communities beloved cemetery met Dixie’s path of destruction. Lost was the caretaker’s building and over 40 trees that surrounded the cemetery, which is part of the splendor of this small yet cherished place in Chester.

“This came way too close, but the cemetery district is most grateful that it was only our building and trees. We were lucky there was no damage to graves where our loved ones are laid to rest,” says Wes Scott, district manager.

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After the removal of the trees costing the district $50,000 and the teardown of what remained of the office, the work has begun to restore the cemetery where 1,700 people have been buried. To rebuild, the district is working with the Almanor Foundation is to be a funding partner for the restoration.

“This is why we are here,” says Susan Bryner, executive director. “We were blindsided in 2018 when overwhelmed with evacuees from Paradise. Then we underwent COVID and had no plan of action for those in need.” The community was unprepared and like other rural areas, does not appear on the radar of state or federal government when assistance is needed. “With the establishment of the foundation in 2021, we have shown we can be there for our community and when in crisis, as was shown with the Dixie Fire,” she further explains.

By the cemetery district partnering with the foundation, they can begin the process of rebuilding while the foundation oversees funding, managing the money, and distributing it as needed. “Our responsibility to those who are buried here, their families and those who have purchased plots is to ensure we are here in their time of need. Raising money? Not what we do,” says Scott. By turning this fundraising over to TAF, the district has been able to begin the planning of rebuilding and reseeding knowing money will be there for this much needed task.

The Chester Cemetery District serves the communities of Chester and Prattville. The need for a cemetery arose from Men’s Fellowship of the United Methodist Church in 1956. Soon a petition by the local populace was circulating supporting the proposal of a cemetery in Chester to be placed on the ballot. It was passed by the citizens and a board was established in 1957.

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Collins Pine Company donated five acres of land near the junction of California State Highways 36 and 89. A road was built to access to the soon-to-be cemetery, land was cleared, and a fence was installed. By the end of 1959, Chester Cemetery was a reality.

The cemetery continued to evolve with an irrigation system installed. In 1962 a special area dedicated to “Veterans of Foreign Wars” was added, which included a memorial plaque and flagpole. Each year on Memorial Day there is a celebration and commemorative celebration held with veteran’s recognized for their service with a flag and cross placed at each plot.

In the summer of 1963, a women’s club established a memorial park surrounding the caretaker’s building. In 1990 the American Legion Auxiliary took over the care and restoration of the memorial park. There are special sections for Catholics and Masons and one section designated exclusively for infants.

There are no raised headstones; only markers that are flush with the lawn. This allows an easily maintained lawn area, which adds to the beauty of the grounds. The cemetery, developed in sections, was originally designed for about 2,600 plots, which has been expanded to hold 2734. Currently, there are 1700 grave sites.

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“This is a quote from Andrea Gibson ‘forests may be gorgeous but there is nothing more alive than a tree that learns how to grow in a cemetery.’ We cannot agree more,” adds Scott.

For those interested in supporting the rebuild efforts of Chester Cemetery, please visit https://almanorfoundation.org/our-funds/