Thomson Pioneer Cemetery at Minnesota’s Jay Cooke State Park

Clues to the past at Thomson Pioneer Cemetery

There are lots of reasons for me to love Jay Cooke State Park: beautiful fall foliage (or spring flowers), weird geology, rushing cascades, easy-to-reach scenic overlooks, and historic buildings. But there is one thing that probably makes Jay Cooke unique among Minnesota’s state parks . . .  a cemetery.

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

There isn’t much information on the Thomson Pioneer Cemetery or the people buried there. Few gravestones remain and, of those that do, most have been damaged over time through a combination of natural forces and human neglect (or outright vandalism). It’s also likely that many early graves had simple wood or metal markers that have long since vanished due to the erosive effects of time.

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

Walking through the cemetery one discovers a few standing grave markers, broken and moss-covered markers, stray bits of marble and granite, and unmarked shallow pits that surely must have been the site of old burials.

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

The earliest remaining grave marker is that of Maritta Leach, who died in 1862 at the age of 70. I’d love to know more about her, as at the time of her death, the town of Thomson had yet to be founded (that would happen about 1869) and Carlton County itself had only been established five years earlier. It’s hard to imagine how difficult life must have been here, yet she lived a long life. I wonder how she ended up in this place and what stories she could tell us.

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

The next documented grave here is that of John Moody, a 20-year-old man who was buried in 1875.

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

By the time of his death, Thomson was the seat of government for Carlton County and the village must have seemed like an up-and-coming place. Presumably the population continued to grow and the remaining grave stones in the cemetery include those of children, indicating families lived in the area.

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

Despite years of squabbling with the nearby city of Carlton over which town was most worthy to serve as the county seat, Thomson held that honor  until 1889. That was the year when the county auditor’s safe – containing the county records – was went missing in the dark of night and remained missing until Carlton was named the new county seat.

That seems to have pretty much marked the end of Thomson’s growth (today the population stands at 160), a change in status that appears to be reflected in the pioneer cemetery. Of the gravestones that remain today, the most recent are from the early 1890s. Of those, the last one erected memorializes John A. King, who served in the Civil War as a young man.

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

Thomson Cemetery, Jay Cooke State Park - www.explorationvacation.net

These few bits of stone are all that remains here of those who passed this way generations before us.  Their lives must have been very different from ours, yet they were also people very like us . . . people hoping the memory of those they loved and lost would continue on.

The Thomson Pioneer Cemetery is located in Jay Cooke State Park, south of Duluth, Minnesota. A park pass is required to visit the cemetery.

FindaGrave.com has a page on the Thomson Cemetery, with a few pictures basic information on some of the people buried there. Note that some of the information appears duplicative.

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7 thoughts on “Thomson Pioneer Cemetery at Minnesota’s Jay Cooke State Park”

  1. What a beautiful spot for a cemetery. It would be interesting to learn more about the persons buried there. I enjoyed the historical context you provided to their lives.

    1. Yes, Donna, it would be interesting to know more about them, but it seems like there isn’t much info available. The only personal info I found in my quick search was on the civil war soldier and a note about one of the women buried there that said she was Swedish and died of consumption, but didn’t seem to have any more info 🙁 It makes me want to know more.

  2. That looks like a beautiful old cemetery, and you took some lovely photos! Semi-abandoned cemeteries like that are some of my favourite ones…there’s a similar one in Ohio hidden in the middle of a forest, and I used to love going there and reading all the gravestones.

    1. The last burial there appears to have been in the 1920s. I don’t think they have a map of where all the graves are located, so doubt they would allow a burial. (Because there is no way to know whether it would disturb an existing burial until you started digging.) Spreading ashes is generally allowed on public land (and water) in Minnesota, although the rules can vary by jurisdiction. Anyone interested in spreading ashes anywhere in the park who wants to be sure they are following the rules should contact the park for more info.

Your turn!