Cemetery Histories

Cemeteries, Gravyards, Churchyards, Boneyards, God's Acres, Marble Gardens, and so on...

Graveyards go by many a name--after all, not all of them even have gravestones!  So what is in a name, really?  Why is this burial ground where it is and what it is?  Where did it come from?  Who started it?  These are the types of questions we will be focusing on here when looking into...

The Cemetery Histories

Taking a step back from our individual and family Grave Histories, let us better understand the context where our interred are.  Whether it is those random gravestones by the side of the street or a delicately designed columbarium and garden, these spaces themselves have stories too.  There is so much history to add to...

Our Beloved Dead

If you had any worry that we have drifted away from the individual Grave Histories, don't worry, you can still find them here!

Christ Church Churchyard

Christ Church Churchyard, Winnetka, IL (est. 1836)

A Brief History of Christ Church Churchyard (1836 – Today)

by E. Smith

     Evidence suggests that, what is today Christ Church Churchyard, has been used as a burial ground for close to 200 years. The first known burials which occurred on this site were those of Erastus and Lucia Patterson, father and daughter, who, along with Erastus’ wife, Zeruah, were the first white inhabitants of the area in 1836 (just 18 years after Illinois received statehood). Mrs. Zeruah Patterson chose this location on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan to bury her late husband and daughter who both passed shortly after arriving. She, too, was interred there after she passed around 1850. Another early settler in Winnetka, Mrs. Stanbury, was also interred in the burial ground.

     In 1845, Mrs. Patterson, who had been the first woman to run a (quite successful) business in the area, the Patterson Tavern, sold the land which eventually was purchased by Mr. John Garland. John and Susannah Garland were also early settlers to Winnetka and were also quite wealthy, owning large tracts of land that would be added into the village’s territory over the course of the 19th century.

     Mrs. Susannah Garland passed in 1855 and was interred in the burial ground. In 1869, John Garland built the first church on the site, dedicating it to Susannah’s memory. Seven years later, Mr. Garland, along with his fourth wife, Juliette, bequeathed the church (which became Christ Church) and the burial ground to the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago; the cemetery being consecrated on September 21, 1876. When the Garlands transferred land ownership, though, Mr. Garland made certain to retain burial rights for his family and their descendants for the next 1,400 years. Though Mr. Garland passed in January 1890, the Garland Family plot is the only portion of the churchyard to contain traditional grave markers.

     The church itself went through numerous rebuilds since it was received by the Diocese; including a dedication of the new entryway in 1905 by Mr. and Mrs. Hoyt in memory of their daughter, Mrs. Emilie Hoyt Fox, and 3 grandchildren who all perished in the tragic Iroquois Theater Fire in 1903.

    In 1922, a friendly suit was brought against the late Mr. Garland’s provision of familial burial rights by Bishop George Craig Stewart. The purpose of the suit was to obtain permission for a portion of the land to be used for interring urns containing cremated remains of non-Garland family. The provision was revoked by Circuit Judge Joseph Burke with the consent of the Garland family. The columbarium was designed by Ralph Root (who also designed the columbarium at Winnetka Congregational Church) with the intent of preserving the original design of the open space the churchyard now occupies.  That space, north of Christ Church, had been designed by renowned “landscape designer,” Ossian Cole Simonds (who also designed the landscaping for Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, IL).  With O.C. Simonds' original layout maintained and interwoven with Root's design, the columbarium was started and completed in 1922.

     Since that time, many members of the congregation and community have had their ashes interred here. The descendants of the Garland family also continue to use their family plot. For a period of time in the 19th century there appears to have been a community burial ground on the site. This was further evidenced after a 1991 construction project on Sheridan Road, to the west of the known burial locations, exposed two older graves. Just how many interments and who they were will likely never be known; however, this place is sacred to the memory of all those interred here, whether we remember their names or not. 

Sources Used:

  • Undated news clippings (circa 1922) held in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago Archives
  • Church on the Hill, Winnetka Illinois: The Story of 100 Years, 1905 – 2005” by Robert Bradner (Winnetka: Christ Church, 2005)
  • The Winnetka Historical Society Archives (accessed in person and online)
  • “Impressive Rites Mark Dedication at Christ Church” found in Winnetka Talk (Sept. 24, 1934), pp. 62
  • Village of Winnetka section maps (1854 – 1960)  

Church of the Holy Comforter Columbarium

Church of the Holy Comforter Columbarium, Kenilworth, IL (est. 1926)

A Brief History of the Columbarium in the Cloister at the Church of the Holy Comforter

by E. Smith

     What is a great way to get people to come to your church? Why, by having someone famous there of course! In 1925, that was exactly the thought behind 29-year-old Rector Leland Danforth’s decision to build the cloister we see today. While typically this would imply the famous person is alive, for Fr. Danforth, he had another plan.

     To briefly depart on that cliffhanger, we should get a better understanding of the Church of the Holy Comforter’s relatively young history at that time and that of its environs.  Kenilworth, a small village in the “North Shore” region of Chicago’s suburbs, began as a land tract between the Village of Winnetka (incorporated in 1869) and the Village of Wilmette (incorporated in 1872 from the site of Antoine Ouilmette’s Reservation; it was not until 1924 when the present Wilmette came to be after the village merged with the Village of Gross Point). To receive incorporation, there must be a certain population in the village between 300-450 residents. Bear in mind, a lot of the area was still open farmland, although, with incorporation, more people started to arrive. Kenilworth itself did not have the same type of settler history as its neighbors; instead, its story is more akin to that of the Town of Pullman to south of Chicago. In 1889 a tract of 223.6 acres was bought by Mr. Joseph Sears (yes, that Joseph Sears) on which to build the ideal village. Arguably he succeeded and in 1896 Kenilworth was incorporated with a population of 300 residents.

      The Church of the Holy Comforter began at the turn of the 20th century as a local, Episcopal congregation meeting in homes and lead by the rector from Christ Church in Winnetka (which we discussed in the first cemetery history), Rev. Henry G. Moore. In a 1901 report from Rev. Moore to the Diocesan Convention he wrote of his positive “informal mission” to minister to a handful of Episcopalian families in Kenilworth. One year later, the official mission to Kenilworth, by the name of Holy Comforter, was created. The present structure of the church was started in October 1903 and dedicated in February 1904; the cloister being added along with the rectory in 1926.

     By 1923 the church had a congregation of 89 parishioners and a rather young and enthusiastic new rector, who was ready to grow this still young congregation. (As an aside, Fr. Danforth’s story is reminiscent of that of Rt. Rev. Monsgr. Michael Klasen, who’s Grave History can be found here. Fr. Danforth deserves and will receive his own as well.) Now, back to where we began in 1926; let us rescue the cliffhanger and make some sense of it. Fr. Danforth had recently attended the funeral and interment for the late President Woodrow Wilson at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC, and, boy, did that bring in visitors! Naturally, the logical conclusion is to find someone famous who can be exhumed and reinterred with memorable pomp at the church. Fortunately, the father-in-law of William C. Englar, the church’s Senior Warden, fit the bill of being both famous[ish] and [relatively] recently expired!

      Eugene Field (who will get his own Grave History, so his story will be brief here), dubbed the “Children’s Poet” had passed in 1895 and was interred—without pomp or even much renown—at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. On March 7, 1926, Field’s body was reinterred in the center of the cloister at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Kenilworth; this time with a lot of pomp and renown. This move did, in fact, prove to be just what the church needed, as Fr. Danforth reported later that year that “the project was greater than we at first anticipated, in that it has not only been a wonderful tribute to the Children’s Poet, but has also made out church a place of national fame, having brought during the summer months somewhere between forty and fifty visitors to this grave each week, not a few of them being from outside the state.” Eugene’s wife, Julia Comstock Field, was also interred with her husband upon her passing in 1936.

     The congregation continued to grow and when Fr. Danforth passed in 1958, his ashes were interred in the columbarium set up in the cloister he built. The columbarium is still very much an active final resting place for the church’s parishioners (with several niches still available!). The cloister may be seen from Warwick Rd in Kenilworth, but can only be accessed by going through the church. Fortunately, the church staff are extremely nice, welcoming, and friendly, so you will not find yourself to be out of luck should you chose to visit the Children’s Poet or the innovative Fr. Leland Danforth.  

Sources Used:

  • The Church of the Holy Comforter: An Illustrated Centenary History, 1902-2002 by Stephen C. Crawford (Kenilworth: Church of the Holy Comforter, 2002)
  • The Winnetka Historical Society Archives (accessed in person and online)
  • The Kenilworth Historical Society Archives (accessed online)
  • The Wilmette Historical Society (accessed in person and online)
  • The Church of the Holy Comforter staff and grounds
  • Area section maps accessed at the historical societies (1854 – 1960)
  • The Village of Winnetka website  

Old City Cemetery (Channing Street Cemetery)

Old City Cemetery (Channing Street Cemetery), Elgin, IL (est. 1844c.)

Calvary Cemetery

Calvary Cemetery, Evanston, IL (est. 1859)

Old Helena Cemetery

Old Helena Cemetery, Town of Wyoming, Iowa Co., Wisconsin (est. 1850c.)

Rawlings Cemetery

Rawlings Cemetery, Parke Co., Indiana (est. 1830c.)

Wunder's Cemetery

Wunder's Cemetery, Chicago, IL (est. 1859)

St. Joseph Cemetery

St. Joseph Cemetery, Wilmette, IL (est. 1843)

Illinois State Training School Cemetery

Illinois State Training School Cemetery (a.k.a. Geneva Girls' School Cemetery), Geneva, IL (est. 1894)

Graceland Cemetery

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, IL (est. 1860)