Kirkland’s rich history comes to life in the annual cemetery tour

May 17, 2024, 11:55 AM | Updated: May 19, 2024, 10:20 pm

Image:Matt McCauley, vice president of Kirkland Heritage Society, will lead the annual history tour...

Matt McCauley, vice president of Kirkland Heritage Society, will lead the annual history tour of Kirkland Cemetery on Saturday, May 18, 2024 at 10 a.m. (Photo: Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

Kirkland may be home to a gaggle of high tech companies these days, but the lakeside community traces its origins to the steel industry, and a failed effort to create a model town and business in the late 19th century.

The bustling Eastside city’s mostly hidden origin story will come up a lot during this year’s annual history tour of Kirkland Cemetery, presented by the non-profit Kirkland Heritage Society. It takes place Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. Kirkland Cemetery is located in the Rose Hill neighborhood at 12036 NE 80th St., just off the NE 85th Street exit from Interstate 405, and across the street from Lake Washington High School.

Tour leader Matt McCauley joined “Seattle’s Morning News” live from Kirkland Cemetery Friday to preview the tour. He has been researching and writing about Kirkland history for most of his life, and began leading annual cemetery tours more than a decade ago.

“It is probably the oldest park in the city of Kirkland,” McCauley told KIRO Newsradio. “It was platted with the original town plat in 1888, and interment started around 1890. So it has been kind of at the heart of Kirkland since the very beginning” when Peter Kirk and other investors were in the early phases of their ultimately failed plan to manufacture steel rails in Kirkland.

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With more than 130 years of history among the graves and grave markers, McCauley says he can’t cover everything in a single tour.

“But what we’ve done is sort of boiled it down to some of the earlier residents that either played an important role in the founding and creation of Kirkland, or have just kind of an interesting story associated with their life,” McCauley said. “And every year, we sort of mix it up a little bit and bring in some folks we haven’t talked about before, just to sort of give it a little bit of variety so people have a reason to come every year.”

Where the gladly accepted donations from the Kirkland cemetery will go

No advance registration is required, and the tour is free. But McCauley says that Kirkland Heritage Society gladly accepts donations, which are put to good use right there in Kirkland Cemetery.

“We use the donations exclusively to buy markers for unmarked graves here in the cemetery,” McCauley said. “There were periods of time, like during the Great Depression, where people didn’t have very much money, and often they would own the burial plot, but they didn’t have enough for a stone, or there’s a lot of reasons this happened,” he explained.

“But we’ve just kind of methodically tried to go through and place simple marker stone markers on the unmarked graves,” McCauley continued. He says that the City of Kirkland “donates the labor to actually place them here, so we really appreciate that.”

One insider tip: there’s no parking in the cemetery, but there is street parking on 120th Avenue NE and 122nd Avenue NE, plus Lake Washington High School is right across the street and likely a good bet for finding a spot on Saturday morning.

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Once the two-hour tour ends, McCauley says he’ll stay behind to answer specific questions or help track down specific graves.

“I hang around afterwards to answer questions,” McCauley explained. “A lot of times, people may have relatives who are interred here, but they’re not exactly sure maybe where they are or things like that. So I usually do another hour or so after that just talking one on one with people.”

Special thanks to Jason Filan and Derek Paschich of Kirkland Parks and Community Services for providing early access to Kirkland Cemetery for our live broadcast.

You can hear Feliks Banel every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien. Read more from Feliks here and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks. You can also follow Feliks on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Kirkland’s rich history comes to life in the annual cemetery tour