Allen Family Chapel Grove Essex Hebrew Moline Reynolds Schoening Family
Andalusia Chippiannock Fairfield Homeland Mt. Moriah Riverside (Old) Weiss
Baker Coal Valley Freeland Homestead Mt. Pleasant Riverside William Carr
Bethesda Confederate Frels Illinois City National (Arsenal) R.I. County Home Woods
Beulah Church Cordova Friedens Illinois City Methodist Oak Grove Rock River View Yost
Bowlesburg Edwards Greenview Memorial Imanuel Lutheran Old Catholic Rosehill Zion Lutheran
Buffalo Prairie DeVinney Hampton Jesse Dailey Rapids City Rose Lawn Zuma
Byron Dickson   R.I. Memorial Pleasant Point St. Johns Catholic Sortore
Calvary Dunlap Hauberg Moline Memorial Port Byron St. Marys Catholic Old RapidsCity
Carbon Cliff Edgington Hazlitt Mills Resthaven Schaefer Family Valhalla

 

Preserving the past: His mission is to save pioneer cemeteries

 

 

MERCER COUNTY -- The truck bounces hard into a field. There is no road, no lane, just a few property markers and fence posts that mark what he says is the Eggleston Cemetery's boundary. The brush and a mix of corn and beans easily comes to the top of the truck's door. Broken tombstones the color of old bone sit in a small pile. The grave they are supposed to mark dates to the 1800s. Orin Rockhold, 72, steps over them carefully and points to nicks and tracks carved into one of the tombstones.

"These marks were caused by the plow or the planter," he says. "They just dug them up and threw them here. This guy, he's buried somewhere around here. This isn't right. This is tax-exempt land, it's the township's, and this guy's farming two-thirds of it."
And, Mr. Rockhold says, the farmer knows it.

Mr. Rockhold talked with the farmer about the cemetery and came out and put metal stakes up around the boundary before the fields were planted. When Mr. Rockhold came out after planting, and the stakes were gone, he says. Someone had pulled them up.

"It's just not right," Mr. Rockhold says. "But it's not just here -- this problem is everywhere."

Mr. Rockhold is working with Preemption Township to get the area cleaned and fenced in. He says it's going well, the county board wants to do the right thing and he has hopes this cemetery won't be farmland next year.

Mr. Rockhold has helped locate and clean up several pioneer cemeteries in the area. His research points to several more.
"I see it as a moral issue more than anything," he says as we head to another cemetery. "These people, these cemeteries, they are the very beginnings of our county. It's their efforts, their work that make this land available to us. Without them, I don't know what this area becomes."

He works with a cemetery in Reynolds as a sexton of sorts. He's retired from Deere & Co., where he worked as a pattern maker. Reynolds Cemetery looks nice; the biggest problem he's had there are vandals. They pushed over a tombstone that marked the grave of the daughter of a Revolutionary War soldier and broke another that marked the grave of a baby "known only to God," according to the tombstone, from 1964. "What possesses someone to do something like that?" he asks. He'd like to catch them and has even considered putting up cameras.

We pull into Hazelett Cemetery in Edgington Township. The area is fenced; the grass is cut. It wasn't always like this, Mr. Rockhold says. At one point, corn was planted right through the cemetery and had cut off any access to it. He credits another volunteer, Chris Stark, with much of the work.

"Chris was real aggressive with it," he says. "I think he even paid for the survey out of his own pocket."

Mr. Rockhold points out that these cemeteries mark more than the final resting place of people. They also mark the final resting place of towns and villages that history has forgotten.

"This was a big community; there was a post office here," Mr. Rockhold says. "When the railroad went toward Reynolds, it just went away." We drive on to Sortore Cemetery, where the work isn't quite finished and catch up with Mr. Stark, who is using an auger to dig holes for footings to reset stones that have fallen. It's hard work for a man alone.

Mr. Stark is a mechanic by trade. He helped restore the Dunlap Cemetery, outside of Edgington. When the Edgington Presbyterian Church took it over, it hired him to keep it maintained. He uses the money he makes to further the restoration work at other cemeteries.

Mr. Stark says he figures he's still going to get a talking to when he gets to the Pearly Gates, but it isn't going to be for neglecting his elders' final resting places.

The two men point out one tombstone that marks the grave of Charity Sortore. Old iron crafted by a blacksmith holds broken pieces together. It's not the first time someone thought enough of her to fix her marker. Her family said when she was a child, she heard George Washington's cannons on her fathers farm out east.

 

 

We've started a tombstone project at Illinois Ancestors http://www.illinoisancestors.org/cemphotos/main.php

This website is designed to allow researchers to add their photos automatically! If you'd like to share your photos with fellow researchers, please contact me at winicaudell@yahoo.com We'll either set up an account for you so that you can add your own photos online or if you prefer you can send me the pictures and I'll put them on for you.