New owners look to breathe new life into Mountain View Cemetery

Lewis County sells cemetery for $2,001 after foreclosure


Following years of turbulence, which included foreclosure and repeated failed attempts to sell the property, Lewis County has approved the sale of Mountain View Cemetery in Centralia.

For the new owners, the purchase is just the first step to improving the site.

“A lot’s going to happen. It’s going to start quick,” Father Gary Graveline Sr. said Thursday. “And hopefully people will take notice.”

The sale earlier this month is the latest chapter in an 18-month-long saga after Lewis County foreclosed on the property in January 2023 and repossessed it as the owner fell three years behind on property taxes. Established in 1899, the cemetery sits on 28.3 acres at 1113 Caveness Drive in Centralia.

After the foreclosure, the plat was initially put up for auction with a starting bid of $53,481, an offer that produced no takers. In January, the sale’s price was lowered to $36,317.23, the amount of taxes owed on the property, which again did not produce an interested buyer.

Lewis County announced another attempt to sell the property in March, with a May 3 deadline to submit bids. According to the Lewis County Treasurer’s Office, the land sold for $2,001, one dollar more than the minimum asking price. The Lewis County Assessor’s Office values the property at $568,400.

“We’re really excited about the fact that there’s so much support for the cemetery,” Rector Stephen Morrison said. “It’s a very, very nice facility and it could be wonderful. It’s too bad that it was let go like it was.”

According to Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope, the sale price covers the administrative costs the county has paid during ownership. Lewis County, Swope said, received "three really good offers,” though the price wasn’t a determining factor.

“I’m just grateful that we have an entity that will treat the property with the respect that it deserves,” Swope said.

A U.S. Navy veteran, Morrison said he helped restore the Hotel Olympus in Tacoma and a property in Juneau, Alaska, among other projects. According to Graveline, his background includes funeral directing and embalming, and managing cemeteries in both Arizona and Wisconsin.

“We let the county know that we’re not just walking in. We have plans,” Graveline said. “Plans to better the property and keep it alive for generations to come.”

Lewis County will require the group to provide proof of a cemetery authority certificate from the Washington State Department of Licensing before releasing endowment funds associated with the property.

Graveline and Morrison are members of the St. James Anglican Church in Tumwater, though the cemetery will act independently from the church.

“If you get an opportunity like this, to do something that’s a legacy, it’s something we look forward to,” Morrison said. “It seemed to make sense when we saw this chance.”

The improvement plan includes less noticeable items such as repaving cracked roads and repairing a small outstructure near the entrance. The building will be staffed and serve as an office for the cemetery.

Other work will allow the new ownership group to offer expanded services.

Graveline said they plan to install a 100-niche columbarium along the fenceline, and an existing wall crypt on the property will be expanded.

The plans include a “baby land” for families who have lost an infant or young child and a nature walk and urn garden in a wooded area on the property.

“It’ll be a nice, quiet place for people to go to,” Graveline said. “It’ll look beautiful.”

There isn’t a timeline for when improvements could begin though Graveline said, “It will roll quickly.”

As the property sat in limbo, residents established a “Restore Mountain View Cemetery” Facebook page and volunteered efforts to maintain and improve the land. Over the past year, teams of Lewis County residents worked to restore the property.

For the past year, around a dozen volunteers visited the property three or four times per week with weed-whackers, lawnmowers and garbage bags to restore gravesites.

Craig Steepy, of Chehalis, led much of the effort to maintain the property. In an interview Friday morning, Steepy praised Lewis County for the resources and staff time it dedicated to the property.

“It wouldn’t look as good today as it does if it wasn’t for a joint effort between the volunteer group and the county,” Steepy said.

The new ownership group is planning a volunteer appreciation day in June to recognize residents who have maintained the property.

“I’ve never seen an outpouring like that for a cemetery,” Graveline said. “The volunteers have done an amazing job here.”