“The country was wild and overgrown with brush and timber, but with a courage and zeal worth of the cause they began the task of making a home and farm in the heart of the forest.”
– Charles Henry Carey, History of Oregon: Volume III, p. 199
John Odell, his wife Sarah Holman Odell, their family of six sons and four daughters, as well as several other close family friends ventured forth on the Oregon Trail from their home in Indiana on the 10th of March 1851. In additional to all of their wordly possessions, they brought with them their devotion to the Methodist religion. The group arrived in the Willamette Valley on September 26, 1851. The Odells settled on a Donation Land Claim of 320 acres in the Webfoot area near Dayton, Oregon on October 3, 1851.
John Odell sectioned off a small portion of his land to provide the community with a Methodist chapel, the first church in the Dayton area. A small wooden chapel was built in 1857. John and Sarah Odell transferred ownership of the the cemetery and chapel to the Methodist church in 1859.
Ebenezer Chapel was a place of worship, a community meeting place, and it held the first Sunday School for the area. A cemetery soon grew up around the chapel, and a variety of local early pioneers from the area were buried there. The earliest headstone belongs to Samuel Angel, John Odell’s nephew, who arrived in Oregon in 1849.
Eventually the center of the community changed, and the congregation moved south to Hopewell and north to Dayton. The original chapel tragically burned to the ground. John Odell died in 1869 and his wife Sarah in 1887, and both were buried in the cemetery. As a tribute to his parents, their son W.H. Odell later rebuilt the chapel in their honor, this time out of concrete to prevent it from being destroyed in the future.
W.H. Odell was a prominent Oregonian who held multiple prominent positions including: Surveyor General of the State of Oregon, President of Willamette University, Deputy United States Surveyor, and Postmaster General for the State of Oregon. He also served as an elector for the state of Oregon in the Presidential Election of 1876, discovered Odell Lake, and even owned Salem’s Statesman Journal newspaper for a period of time.
— Some Dayton Chapters in the Oregon Story, Clytie Hall Frink, Dayton Reading Club, 1953, p. 34-35
The number of graves in the cemetery is a subject for debate. Many of the graves were unmarked. Many other graves had headstones at some point but the headstones have since been destroyed or stolen. There are counts of as many as 105 people buried at the cemetery. A DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) survey from 1934 lists 48 known burials (45 with headstones, 3 without), and 56 unmarked additional burials. The DAR report from 1940 states that 67 people were buried in the Odell cemetery – 49 with headstones and 17 without headstones. The last burial was in 1941.
The chapel was decommissioned by the Methodist church prior to 1916. The interior of the chapel was removed to nearby Hopewell Church. The Methodist church largely abandonded the cemetery and chapel, though they did retain the deed and ownership of the land. The original Odell Donation Land claim that bordered the cemetery changed hands a few times. Unfortunately, during a sale in 1916, an error was made by Yamhill County that accidentally included the land from the cemetery as part of the transaction. The error went unnoticed for over 90 years.
After the chapel passed to new hands, the chapel and cemetery fell into disrepair. At one point over the years the chapel was reportedly used to house farm animals. Ivy and Poison Oak overtook the graves. Vandals covered the walls of the chapel with graffiti. Many of the headstones were knocked over, stolen, or broken. The cemetery was all but forgotten.
In 2005, the Methodist Church signed the deed of the Odell Pioneer Cemetery & Ebenezer Chapel in order to return the ownership and care to the Odell Family. Yamhill County acknowledged that an error was made when the Odell Cemetery was accidentally included during the 1916 sale of the surrounding land. Unfortunately, the error went unnoticed for so long that the county was unwilling to pursue a correction without the permission of the current owner of the John Odell Donation Land Claim. Sadly, the owner at the time was adamantly opposed to returning the cemetery to the Odell Family. The property has recently again changed hands, and we are hopeful that the new owner will help resolve the error that was made over 100 years ago, and return the cemetery to the care of the Odell Family.
The Odell Family holds an annual clean-up of the cemetery. The chapel is deteriorating rapidly, but until the ownership debate is settled there is little that can be done by the Odell Family to restore it. Due to frequent acts of vandalism, theft, and desecration of the chapel and graves, the property is under surveillance and is monitored by the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office.
Please check back as we continue to update this website with more information!