Thomson Pioneer Cemetery at Minnesota’s Jay Cooke State Park

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(Last Updated On: October 17, 2018)

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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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.

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.

M Henderson

Can someone that wants to be buried there or ashes spred over the cemetery still do so

[…] Cooke State Park also has a number of historic sites, including the Pioneer Cemetery, the Grand Portage Trail (used by early fur traders), and the River Inn and other historic […]

Brandie

The cemetery is my favorite spot in Jay Cooke! I have had some interesting experiences there as well. We brought our new puppy out there in 2011/2012, and as he pooped in the cemetery I had a bad feeling about it. My puppy was sick for a week afterwards…..bad juju. Also more recently, this fall, I went out there with a friend after dark. As we got up there, we could feel something just out of control. Like we were being watched. It seemed extra dark and just heavy…you could feel that we were unwanted there. Also, there has been… Read more »

Carrie

Hi, I found your page after finding what I believe is my husband’s ancestor buried in this cemetery on Find A Grave, Maritta Leach. I believe the year of death is incorrect but that it’s her. My husband’s ancestor Mari(e)tta (Merchant) Leach was born in NY between 1815 and 1821 (depending on census). She was enumerated with her husband Winfield Scott Leach in 1850 in NY, 1860 in WI, 1870 in Princeton, MN, 1880 in Minneapolis, MN. In 1880 was with their daughter, son-in-law and kids. In 1885 I found Winfield with his daughter and grandkids in Thomson, Carlton, MN.… Read more »

Emilie Walker

Interesting cemetery. Sad that it’s not more cared for or more noted about this place. Would not have stopped here except for note in park Interetive Center. Glad we did stop. Will have to look more about the area.