Glimpse | A Grave Situation

Claire Jeffries, photos by Mary Mihajlov |

During World War I, families who hadn't heard from their loved ones in awhile assumed they were dead. In Eau Claire, many families moved away. When these soldiers returned from the war, their families were gone, and so, many would work at the "poor farm," a farm that sustained the asylum nearby. In exchange for their labor, the men would get free room and board. And when they died, they were buried in the "paupers' cemetery," on Mesa Ridge Drive on the northwest side of Eau Claire. This story is one of the reasons why Betty Holmes got involved in the rejuvenation of the Paupers' Cemetery, now renamed the Eau Claire County Old Orchard Cemetery.

So far, the area has been cleared of underbrush, dead trees, and shrubbery covering the graveyard, thanks to the help of Eau Claire County Parks, Recreation and Forestry. But, the area still needs work. Holmes would like to put up a decorative fence, flowers, and an entrance. "This is sacred ground," said Holmes, and she wants it to look that way.

Holmes took on this project to "have something else to think about." She was in the process of retiring when she was forced to move for the construction of the North Crossing. "With all the stress in moving, I needed something to relieve the stress." And so, she took on the Paupers' Cemetery. "It's hard to explain. It just felt like these people were lost and needed to be found."