The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Cemetery was platted in 1896 in the north Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. Surrounded by a grassy field, maple and oak trees, and hedge fencing – the cemetery is intimate and secluded. The cemetery is maintained by the Seattle Parks Department and the Friends of the Gar Cemetery Park (FGAR).
The GAR is home to the 526 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers and their wives. The buried include both Army and Navy veterans representing almost 25 states though the majority are Union Military Units. At the conclusion of the Civil War, many of the veterans traveled west with the hopes of a prosperous new life in what is now Washington state. In 1989, Washington’s Centennial year, the land was lush and fertile – brimming with adventure and opportunity. With the boom of the fishing and lumber industries, Seattle became a busy seaport on the Puget Sound offering bountiful business enterprises in a beautiful landscape. Many descendants of the Civil War veterans buried in the GAR cemetery still live in the area.
At the center and oldest part of the cemetery is a pylon monument, placed by the Woman’s Relief Corps. The face of the monument reads, “In memory of our Heroes 1861-1865”. On the three remaining sides of the monument are rectangles engraved with crossed swords, cannons and muskets. The flag pole was originally installed next to the pylon but was moved in later years to the eastern side of the cemetery.
The original transcription of gravestone names was completed in 1979 by Helen Chase Keliehor, the president of the Children of the American Revolution (CAR) group of Washington. Keliehor worked with young members of the CAR to collect and record GAR cemetery data and is the presiding Regent of the Elizabeth Bixby Chapter of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) in Seattle, Washington.
Cemetery mapping was undertaken in April, 1989 by Eileen E. Boyce Stich and Joan E. Zorn Strand, members of Elizabeth Bixby Chapter of the NSDAR in Seattle, Washington. The map lists the graves by row and number and shows the location of the graves of all but 18 people listed in the 1979 transcription. In the years between 1979 mid 1989, 18 gravestones have been discovered to be missing. There are also six veteran’s graves marked “Unknown”.
It is possible that there are other Veterans buried in the cemetery whose gravestones were missing before 1979, but the remaining stones show varying amounts of deterioration and are difficult to read. The Elizabeth Bixby Chapter of the NSDAR felt it was most important to have a published record of information from the cemetery for present and future generations as well as to honor the Civil War veterans buried in this Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery.
- 1895David and Huldah Kaufman donate land on Capitol Hill to Five Seattle G.A.R. Posts to establish the cemetery.
- 1896G.A.R. cemetery platted.
- 1922G.A.R. hires Lake View Cemetery to maintain cemetery. Transfer of Kaufman Interests (Turf Investment Company) to city and Stevens G.A.R.
- 1924Parks Proposes to provide Park Layout Plan.
- 1929Plan approved to lower 219 headstones.
- 1938Plan to Improve Howe - Relocate to Save Dogwoods.
- 1939$8,000 WPA request for Fence (like Woodland Park at Aurora).
- 1942Sixty Third Coast Artillery Requests Searchlight, Power Plan, Quarters request.
- 1952Maintenance concerns.
- 1955Because of ownership confusion, Parks asks Council Support for private maintenance.
- 1960Neighbors' Complaints about Park Maintenance of North Hedge.Lakeview Cemetery inquires transferring maintenance to Federal Government - Veterans Administration was only authorized to maintain cemeteries in connection with its own installations. The Department of the Army, Quartermaster General's Office replied that they could not provide funds for maintenance, but by a 1948 law they could furnish appropriate headstones for the unmarked graves of Civil War Veterans.
- 1969Parks recommends removal of North Hedge, replacement with hedge 30 yards back.
- 1976City confirmation that Cemetery Proper Ownership lies with Stevens G.A.R.
- 1996 - 1997Park is designated as potential off leash dog run - veterans groups and local neighbor protest, park must be adopted if not a dog run.
- 1997 - 2002Friends of G.A.R. (F.G.A.R.) formed - volunteers adopt park. Volunteer groups plant hundreds of daffodils, formalize headstone rows, clean out and thin hedges, begin staffing a daily flag raising.F.G.A.R. applies for Department of Neighborhood's Small and Simple Grant to Explore Options for Long Term Preservation of G.A.R. Cemetery Park.
Around 1895, five Grand Army of the Republic posts in Seattle established the cemetery for the “heroes of Civil War” and maintained it until 1922. Afterwards, they hired the neighboring Lakeview Cemetery Association, Inc. to take care of the property at their expense. However, the financial burdens were too costly for the diminishing community of old veterans so they presented their problem to the Seattle City Council.
The City Council acquired the property surrounding the gravesites, since the gravesites were deeded to the GAR. Stevens Post No. 1, and turned it over to the Park Department. The scattered gravesites were relocated to a central grouping, the upright headstones were imbedded in concrete flush with the lawn, a sprinkler system was installed, and trees and the hedge fencing were planted. Still, maintenance remained a substantial problem. Spending city funds on property not legally owned by the city presented legal complications and held maintenance efforts at a minimum.
An attempt was made in 1939 to create a W.P.A. Improvement project to service the building and perimeter fence, but it was unsuccessful. During World War II, the Coast Artillery was permitted to emplace a searchlight with a power plant and crew quarters in the park. This resulted in period of abuse where people dumped garbage, played ball games over headstones, and damaged the surrounding flora and fauna.
The existing police and maintenance crews were ineffective, so the trustees of the Stevens Post of the GAR attempted to resolve the problem by hiring a firm (Martin Pick Co.) to assist in maintenance, but in 1955 again sought help from the City Council. The request was tabled for study, including an attempt to transfer maintenance and control to the Federal Cemetery system, but the request was lost in red tape. In 1960 there was an attempt to remove either the gravesites or the maintenance to the Fort Lawton facility. No action was taken.
The Lakeview Cemetery Association, Inc. corresponded with Senator Warren G. Magnuson about this matter and he contacted both the Veterans Administration and Department of the Army. The Veterans Administration was only authorized to maintain cemeteries in connection with its own installations. The Department of the Army Quartermaster General’s Office could not provide funds for maintenance, but by a 1948 law they could furnish appropriate headstones for the unmarked graves of Civil War Veterans. This correspondence was in 1960.