"On Dec. 1, members of the Union Point Cemetery Association and their supporters will gather for the association's 71st annual dinner. The fundraising dinner helps to maintain six acres about a mile east of Banks where the deceased have been laid to rest since before 1870, the year William Mills formally gave land from his Donation Land Claim for a cemetery.But Union Point Cemetery is not only a place to remember pioneers. It is a living, growing cemetery. According to Bill Schlegel, who serves on the Board of Trustees and as Treasurer of the Union Point Cemetery Association, the association has prepared a new acre of land, recently donated by the Ernest and Florence Behrman family. The Behrmans, who still farm on three sides of the cemetery, had previously given another acre to what was then a four-acre cemetery.
At least 2,100 graves dot the Union Point hilltop, overlooking industries important to Banks' past and future. By the cemetery's oldest graves on the west side, the rumble of trains and the whir of industrial saws can be heard over the farmland that sits between the cemetery and Banks Lumber.
To the south, families go about their lives in a newer housing development and golfers play at Quail Valley Golf Course. Old trees stand alone or in small groves, keeping sentry over those laid to rest in the neatly kept cemetery. According to Washington County records, one of the old trees is said to have the original entryway chain embedded in its trunk.
The cemetery association prides itself on the fact they've maintained the resting place so well since the association's establishment in 1892. Pencil-written minutes from the association's first meeting state the intention to "conduct and maintain Union Point," said Schlegel, who counts four generations of family buried there. He believes it's one of the best maintained pioneer cemeteries in the state, which Schlegel attributes to a highly active board.
The oldest marker the association has identified belongs to George Wilkes, who died in 1857. Not much is known about this Wilkes, although he is most likely a relative of Peyton Wilkes, who donated the land on which the city of Banks is founded.
At least 15 members of the Wilkes family are buried in the cemetery, including Jabez Wilkes, a carpenter and son of George, who in his day made most of the caskets used at the cemetery. Each coffin was custom fit, with a velvet-covered exterior, and a simple bleached muslin interior lining.
At that time, folks referred to it as the Wilkes Cemetery. Settlers who arrived during the 1840s also called it Greenville Cemetery, referring to the closest residential area at the time. Greenville was a meeting place for trappers and early settlers two miles south of what would become Banks.
According to the Banks Historical Society, brothers John L. and Robert Banks, who lent their name to the nascent city and helped develop the little town when the railroad came through, also purchased the farmland surrounding the cemetery from the Wilkeses. John L. improved the land and consequently the cemetery, leaving a lush landscape irrigated by Scoggins Dam. Interestingly, John L. Banks was buried at Yamhill-Carlton Pioneer Memorial Cemetery, rather than Union Point, although his son, Robert, is buried there.
Many prominent area families have been buried at Union Point. Family names like Ireland, Schlegel, Benefiel, Northrup, Carsterns, Hartwick, Prickeitt and Harrison have woven their way through Banks' area history. Either their progeny still live nearby -- some still living on family land -- or their names grace roads and landmarks. Other grave markers belong to newer settlers, attracted to the area throughout the last century.
Like other pioneer cemeteries, Union Point is a monument to individual achievement and family connections. But for folks like Schlegel and members of the cemetery association, who have done the work raising money and maintaining the cemetery since 1892, the cemetery is a testament to the communal past and promised future of Banks."