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.)


 A Brief History of the Old Cemetery (a.k.a. Channing Street Cemetery) in Elgin, Illinois

by E. Smith

    If you travel up the Fox River from Aurora, IL toward what is now Elgin, IL, you would pass by the Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve—formerly called the Black Hawk Forest Preserve. Hidden amidst the trees near the river, off the hiking path, sits a bolder with an engraving marking the graves of two unknown soldiers. This may seem strange, however, in June 1832 this area was used as a resting spot for Gen. Winfield Scott’s troops who were marching northwest to assist the US Army in fighting Chief Black Hawk and his confederacy. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for these two men it was not the war that killed them, but cholera. Should you travel further in a northwesterly direction toward Burlington, IL, off modern County Road 22 and east of IL-47, there is a lone grave marking the final resting place of a young man known only as “soldier boy.” His name, like the two in the Duerr Forest, is lost to time. Of what little is known, he, too, was part of the Army in 1832. So, how are these two sites related to the cemetery at this history is about? The story of these burial sites provide the background for how the City of Elgin came to be founded just three years after the Black Hawk War.

    The Fox River Valley saw US troops on two occasions before it became an area of permanent settlement for Ango-Americans. The first time was during the War of 1812 and then the second time during the Black Hawk War, as described above. Those who survived the wars returned to their families back east with stories of fertile soil and beautiful land (bare in mind, the City of Chicago was not incorporated until 1837, and, even then, it was still primarily cornfields for a while yet). In 1834, Hezekiah Gifford retuned home to New York and brought these tales to his brother, James. Packing up themselves and their families, the Gifford brothers headed west to the Prairie State. Between the Chicago settlement and their destination, the brothers met Mr. Joseph Kimball—a different Kimball from the Grave History that can be found here—who had scouted out the area more recently than Hezekiah, who would join the party. The group made their way to the Fox River Valley and began constructing a settlement; naming it for the hymn tune “Elgin” (which, itself, is named for the town in Scotland—the Gifford brothers were Scottish Calvinists).

    Around 1844, James Gifford, bequeathed a section of his land to be used as a cemetery for the town he founded. Gifford himself earned the most expensive funeral held at his cemetery when he died in 1850. Of course, Mr. Gifford was not the first to die in Elgin; the credit for first death does to Mrs. Mary Ann Kimball, the wife of one of the Kimball Clan—whose numbers in Elgin were steadily increasing. Mrs. Kimball, however, died in 1837, before the Old Cemetery was established. She, along with the few who died before 1844, was interred in the settlement’s initial burial ground; which was located at the northeast corner of Gifford’s land (today, it is a private property at the corner of Division and Chapel Streets near the heart of Elgin). With the new cemetery in 1844, the town’s carpenters were able to expand their businesses—especially Mr. Abel Walker who not only built the coffins and first city hearse, but also became the first cemetery sexton.

    The initial plot given by Gifford was five acres of land which is primarily Channing Park today. Of course, like any other city cemetery, as the number of living residents increased, the number of deceased residents did as well. By 1889 the cemetery exceeded the original five acres and even began surpassing the additional twelve it had acquired. That same year, a new municipal cemetery, Bluff City Cemetery, was opened. Many of the inhabitants of the Old Cemetery were exhumed and reinterred in the new, larger cemetery; that does not mean that the burials ceased, though.

    The last recorded burial in the Old Cemetery was in 1906; however, in just four years the cemetery resembled more of a weed-infested marsh. No longer a place of reverence to the pioneers of Eglin, the land was now pockmarked by sunken graves left unrepaired, and broken, worn grave markers peeking out of the weeds like fieldstones. With only 29 of the previous 3,500-4,000 graves remaining, debates continued about what the fate of the Old Cemetery on Channing Street would be. As we saw with Christ Church in Winnetka, when James Gifford set aside the land, specific provisions were included in the deed about land usage. Here, the deed stipulated that if the land were to ever from its intended usage, the plot would return to the Gifford family. Unlike in Christ Church were the deed was amended in court, it was the City Council in 1945 which proclaimed the Old Cemetery vacated and the city to be the owner of the land title (the Council did, at least, cover the removal of the bodies to Bluff City).

    Channing Memorial Elementary School was built on the northwest corner of Channing Park in 1968—the same year the Elgin Area Historical Society erected the boulder marking the cemetery that can be seen today. With plans to expand the school, a team of archaeologists exhumed the “last eight bodies” from the Old Cemetery in 1999. The school expansion fell through and, though the plans were resurrected in the early 2000s, the southwest corner of Channing Park was determined to remain as a memorial to those who had been laid to rest there over a century ago. All said, the school kids and park visitors still find the occasional headstone, coffin, and bone fragments in the Old Cemetery to this day… 


Sources Used:

  • Elgin: An American History by E.C. Alft (Elgin: Elgin History, 1985)
  • Elgin: Days Gone By by E.C. Alft (Carpentersville: Crossroads Communications Carpentersville, 2000)
  • “Elgin Cemetery Undergoes A Bare-bones Dig” by Dimitria DeFotis, found in the Chicago Tribune (24 Mar. 1999)
  • City of Elgin Heritage Commission
  • Elgin History Museum
  • Elgin Genealogical Society
  • D.S.G.I. Cemetery Project, Kane County entry
  • Illinois Saving Graves by Foxie Hagerty [“Kane County, Channing” Forum Comments, 2000-2008] 


Photograph Descriptions:

Top Left: Closer view of the memorial plaque and boulder at Channing Street.

Above: The main entrance to Bluff City Cemetery, Elgin, IL

Left: A boulder marking the pathway to the grave of the unknown soldiers in the Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve

Graveyard of the Lady Elgin Unknown


Graveyard of the Lady Elgin Unknown, Highland Park, IL (est. pre-1860)

Photograph from The Chicago Sunday Tribune, 26 March 1899 (p. C1)

Moederkerk Stellenbosch grafkelder & gedenkmure


Moederkerk Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa (est. 1801)

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)