Three years ago Morgan residents Jim and Cleo Watt found themselves proprietors of something few people ever own –a cemetery.
This special cemetery nestled into the hills in Porterville is one containing the graves of some of the earliest pioneer settlers in Morgan County, with graves dating as far back as the mid-1800s.
Set on a low hill, the Porterville Cemetery has a panoramic view of the valley in all directions. With lilacs, wild grasses, sagebrush and roses surrounding the land during the summer months and being dusted with snow in winter, the cemetery offers a year-round picturesque environment for not only the deceased but all those who come to find peaceful solace.
Originally the two-acre site was owned by one of the first pioneers to the Morgan Valley, Henry Florence. After joining the LDS church in England, he was disowned by his family at age 18. Florence sailed to the United States and crossed the plains with a handcart company.
After arriving in Utah he found employment on a farm. After marrying his wife Sarah Jane Taylor, Florence began looking for property to start his own farm.
In 1866 he was able to purchase some acreage from the Union Pacific Railroad. Part of this land included the hilltop where several burials had already been made. With the ground already being hallowed, Florence continued to allow burials and acted as sexton.
In 1911 Florence deeded the land to the LDS Porterville Ward and the cemetery grew. Although they had relinquished ownership, the family continued to take care of the land. Henry’s son William kept the burial records for 15 years; his son Fred took over for the next 27 years’ and finally grandson Arthur took his turn running the cemetery.
In 1974 the LDS church decided to divest their interest in cemeteries, after which there was a space of 21 years with no ownership recorded. During this time, Wallace and Vera Carter, who owned the dry farm land surrounding the cemetery, decided to obtain copies of the cemetery notebooks. This vested interest, along with the desire to keep the records belonging to their ancestors, would serve them well with what would soon come.
It wasn’t until late 1995 that the Morgan County Recorder decided that the property should revert back to the original acreage. Grandson Wallace Carter would then become the owner, but he had died earlier that year and had ironically been buried in that same cemetery he would soon inherit.
Wallace’s wife Vera, then in her 80s, took to caring for the land. Vera wanted to keep the grounds as close to the way the pioneers came across them. Because of this, it is a dry cemetery, meaning only those things that naturally grow without any extra water are contained therein. Only the wild grasses and sage dot the land, with dry farms surrounding.
For several years Vera kept meticulous record of the cemetery’s happenings, documenting the yearly service given by the young men and women of the Morgan 5th and 6th LDS wards. Each year these youth, along with their leaders, gather to clean the grounds prior to Memorial Day.
Years ago Vera worried about a broken fence and the problems the cemetery could face if animals got in. She applied for a grant hoping to be able to get the funds to fix the fence, but the request was denied.
After seeing an article on Vera’s cemetery in the newspaper, Duane Roylance of the Roylance Fence Company approached Vera and then graciously donated the fence that now stands protecting the grounds.
Another improvement made during Vera’s watch was a brick monument marking the entrance to the cemetery.
In 2011 when Vera passed away, the grounds were given to her daughter, Cleo Watt, and her husband Jim.
Throughout the years Vera owned the grounds her son-in-law Jim was always quick to step in and help. After Vera’s passing it was only natural that Jim and Cleo take over ownership of the cemetery. For several years now the Watts have continued the practices set by Vera in providing a no-cost grave site to those with pioneer heritage and Porterville ties.
Cleo, having many of her loved ones buried in the cemetery, finds that it is a “little more personal” taking care of the land as they continue the legacy left by Vera.
This pioneer cemetery where many come to look at graves searching for genealogical information is a continued reminder of the importance of family and our responsibility to them.
In Vera’s own words before she passed she explains, “Each generation accepts its community heritage as a heaven given right; starts where the parents left off; meets its challenges; looks to new horizons and builds anew…but they rarely look back. Let us, by looking back at the sacrifices of each generation, to give us the bounties we have today, preserve and respect what they gave us…then meet our different pioneering challenges with the same fortitude and determination, that we may deserve the thanks and gratitude of coming generations.”