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Champaign County
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Genealogy and History

Champaign County
Abandoned Cemeteries

["Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois"
Chicago: Munsell Pub. Co., 1905]


There are in many different localities and neighborhoods of Champaign County, chiefly within or near the timber groves where were made the earliest homes of the white people, lone graves of those who died soon after coming to this country, and abandoned cemeteries or burying grounds, where lie the bodies of some of the earliest settlers and their children who yielded up their lives to the severities of the climate or to the hardships and privations incidental to the life of the pioneer. In most cases no stone or monument, and not even a mound, marks the grave from the surrounding ground.

"No name to bid us know
Who rests below,
No word of death nor birth;
Only the grasses wave
Over a mound of earth,
Over a nameless grave."

Isolation of homes made the burial of the fallen ones more convenient near the bereaved homes in lone graves, while in many cases, a considerable number found resting places near together, the ground being subsequently abandoned as a place of interment for a regularly platted cemetery in the neighborhood. For a time these places of early interment may have been well cared for and stones erected; but now in most cases the stones have fallen and all signs of the care of surviving friends have passed, and -- more than this -- that neglect which allows the ground to become covered with a growth of brush and trees has existed so long that the ground, once hallowed as the resting place of fallen friends, has lapsed into bare pasture land, with here and there a sunken grave; or the plow and the harrow may have reclaimed the ground for the uses of agriculture. The sight of these places awakens a feeling of sadness when it is thought and known that, beneath this pasture sod, or beneath these furrows and growing crops, lie the bones of those who reclaimed this waste and made it a habitable place for us, and whose names the early records of the county bear as active agents in its public affairs. But few of these forgotten and unknown places can, or need be named, but, involving, as they do, much interest pertaining to the early history of Champaign County, they may well be briefly referred to here.

Thomas Rowland, who came before 1828 and located in Section 1, Urbana, while perspiring freely from running after his stock in August, 1833, is said to have plunged into the creek running with full banks, in consequence of which he contracted a cold and died, probably of pneumonia- within a short time. Few, if any, interments had before then been made in or around the Big Grove, aside from that of Isham Cook, whose death and burial is elsewhere mentioned. Mr. Rowland was buried upon his own land on the south bank of the creek. The location of the grave remained unmarked, but was long protected by a fence. It is now an unknown and unmarked spot within a pasture.

The burial of Isham Cook, near his cabin on the west half of the southwest quarter of Section 5, Urbana, in 1830, as elsewhere related, was followed years afterwards by the interment there of his widow and other members of the family. A growth of small trees and brush for many years marked the resting place of this pioneer family, but this has disappeared and soon all knowledge of the place will have passed away.

The old cemetery at Urbana, bordering upon University Avenue, was never a platted cemetery, but burials were promiscuously made there early in the 'thirties, the ground then being a dense thicket of small timber and brush. This use of the ground continued for forty years, and many hundreds of the young and old of the village of Urbana and adjacent country, including many who were prominent in society, found their last resting place there. Monuments and stones were set up only to be removed with the remaining dust of such bodies as were removed to other places of interment, when the authorities of Urbana, moved by sanitary considerations, prohibited the further use of the ground as a place of burial. Until 1902 the ground, with its few stone monuments yet standing, remained an unsightly waste of weeds and prostrate gravestones - a reproach to the locality. The city authorities then directed the removal of the remains of such as could be identified to other cemeteries, and, where no one appeared to care for others, that the stones be buried over the dust they were intended to mark, and that the space be converted into a public park, which will be its final destiny, except in cases where adjoining lot-owners, without a shadow of right, have extended their fences to include contiguous portions as gardens. As a beautiful park-which it is hoped the ground may become - the forgotten dead who lie there will be more highly honored than they could be in an unsightly, neglected cemetery.

A short distance west of what is known as "Brownfield's Corners," in Somer, in Section 34, is a clump of small trees and brush, within which stand a few old marble slabs, the inscriptions upon which bring to mind pioneer families whose members lie buried there. This is an abandoned pioneer cemetery, known formerly as "Rhinehart's Grave Yard," for the land was once owned by Matthias Rhinehart, and he lies there surrounded by many of his neighbors - all in unmarked and unknown graves. The first burials in the settlement were made here, among them being that of John Brownfield, a soldier of the War of the Revolution. It is said that the number of burials here would equal one hundred.

About a mile north of this point, and upon the south end of the west half of the northwest quarter of Section 27, is another pioneer burying ground, marked with a small growth of timber. Near it was built the little church in which worshiped the early church members who gathered there in 1836. The church has long since disappeared with its early worshipers, many of whom lie there in unmarked graves; but no hostile plow disturbs the soil where they sleep.

To the northeast of the cemetery last named, a hundred rods or more, upon the farm of Henry B. Hill, in Section 23, is another where rest, in neglected but undisturbed graves, some of the early settlers of the neighborhood. Here, as at the others named, a growth of trees protects the graves.

Somer Township has yet another abandoned cemetery where were buried many well known men of the early times. It is known as the "Adkins Grave Yard" and is situated in Section 21, upon land once owned by Lewis Adkins, but which is now owned by T. B. Thornburn. Gravestones are still standing which bear familiar names; but the graves of many known to be buried there are unmarked and their exact locality unknown.

The Salt Fork Settlements, in like manner, established cemeteries which were long since abandoned as places of interment, in favor of platted cemeteries, where order in burials in lots is observed, and where permanency in the use is expected. One of these, located in Section 28, a short distance south of the old village of St. Joseph, has been pointed out to the writer where large numbers of pioneers and their families were interred. Among those named was Mr. Stayton, the father of a numerous family, among whom was David Stayton. These grounds, too, are covered with brush and small timber.

Not far to the east of the last mentioned location, in Section 30, in Ogden, is a cemetery which was commenced upon the land of the pioneer, Isaac Burris, where the owner and some of his neighbors of that early time were laid away. It is said that, before his death, Isaac Burris had resisted with much determination a public demand for the laying out of a road upon the section line just west of his cemetery, and upon death-bed, as a final obstacle in the way of the accomplishment of the public wish, he verbally directed the interment of his body immediately against the section line, in the belief that this would effectually block the enterprise. He died as he expected, and was buried on the section line as he had directed; but the effect was not as he had wished. The road, with diversion from a straight line sufficient to avoid the sacred tomb of the pioneer, was laid out and the travel from many miles to the northward rattles by his last resting place. The Burris cemetery may be called one of the abandoned pioneer grave yards.

Transcribed by K. Torp


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