Honoring the past in Dillon
Ryan Summerlin May 15, 2013
The Dillon Cemetery lies just over two miles down the road from the town center. It sits on the upswell of a hill, with taller hills behind. Wandering between the stands of pine, looking down amongst the twisted limbs of windswept sagebrush, one might observe a small metal marker. These markers, inconspicuous between larger gravestones, are the only indication that a grave site lies below.
There are 2,253 plots total at the Dillon Cemetery, 690 of which are in use. Of those, 64 remain unmarked by any headstone.
This situation is one that the Dillon Cemetery Advisory Committee is hoping to rectify. At the transfer from the old site to the current one in 1962, 134 graves did not have headstones. Since its inception, the committee has hosted various fundraisers to fund the purchase and installation of headstones for those graves. At this time, 70 sites have received headstones, which leaves just 64 remaining to be purchased.
Previously, fundraising took the form of tours. Committee members researched the history behind the cemetery and the graves and led people around the burial ground, pointing out the graves and relating the stories behind them.
This year, the committee is hosting an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet Sunday at the Summit County Elks Lodge in Silverthorne. All proceeds from the ticket sales will go toward the headstones.
“Everybody deserves a gravestone,” said Dick Brenner, chairman of the Cemetery Advisory Committee.
In fact, the breakfast at the Elks Lodge offers a neat circle to the headstone fundraiser, as it was the Elks who provided the first ever donation. The Cemetery Advisory Committee formed in 2004, at which time it created the headstone fund sub-committee. Just a short while later at the Memorial Day ceremony in 2005, the Summit County Elks presented the committee with its first donation.
A cemetery with character
The original Dillon cemetery was established in 1885 on 53.5 acres in the Blue River Valley, near the junction between Ten Mile Creek and the Snake River. Due to the construction of the Dillon Reservoir, in 1962 the cemetery was moved to its current hilltop location, where it looks out at a scenic view of stretching water and towering mountains.
Although 134 gravesites were unmarked or left with broken headstones, historical information has been retained for almost all of them. Many of the new headstones will be able to display both name and date of death. Only a handful have just one or the other.
The headstones are square, with rounded tops. They’re a light, chalky white color, with names and date of death carved in simple script. In the top right corner of each is a “D” carved into a circle, representing the town of Dillon.
“They’re simple and elegant,” said Cemetery Advisory Committee vice chair David Pierce. “So they fit very well in that cemetery.”
The natural setting of the cemetery is a draw to residents and visitors alike. Brenner, who lives in Lakewood and has vacationed in Summit County for more than 40 years, said that he and his wife have already chosen their plots. They were pleased, he said, to be able to choose the Dillon Cemetery over a more tame city cemetery.
Pierce agrees that the cemetery’s scenery and layout is part of its charm.
“If you go to a city, they have perfectly manicured lawns, every headstone, for the most part, is identical and they just have very little character,” he said. “These mountain cemeteries are very unique, they have a lot of character.”
A part of history
The people buried in Dillon Cemetery’s unmarked graves may not have been famous by name, but they had a part in shaping the area’s history, Pierce and Brenner said. Many of them were workers, such as miners and railroad workers, as well as people who came to Colorado from places all over the world.
“They were among the founders of Dillon and Summit County,” Pierce said. “Also, I believe that everyone should be represented. Each person who dies was a living person and has a story and I believe that everyone who has ever lived has something to teach us. I think that is one reason why headstones are very important — they tell us a bit about that person, which honors them and it honors us because it gives us an opportunity to learn about their lives.”
Pierce emphasized that the importance of cemeteries, in addition to historical relevance, also reaches to individuals both personally and as a community.
“Cemeteries are an integral part of communities and we need to be involved in the communities that we live in. That’s more important than anything, than statewide involvement, national or even global. It’s local,” Pierce said. “By honoring our local heritage and making people aware of it, we help to build a strong community and that reflects outward to the world and it makes a model for other communities to do the same.”