of Burying Grounds in Racine
Mound Cemetery Used by Indians
Beautiful Grounds are Estimated To Have Been Used as Cemetery for
Past Thousand Years
Leach) from Racine Journal News, May 28, 1921
There are few
persons in Racine, or any other American community, who have reached
the age of discretion, but are interested in the cemeteries; or
in that particular cemetery where lie the mortal remains of one
or more loved ones gone. The affection bestowed on them in life,
finds expression, now that they are dead, in keeping green and bright
the bit of earth where their forms were sorrowfully laid away and
the living insist that all the surroundings of the burial place
of their dead be kept in respectable harmony with the sentiment
that actuates them. In this sketch is is proposed to present, not
exhaustively, but in outline only, a view of the provision that
Racine has made for the care of its dead, form the beginning of
its history, and of some places with which it had nothing to do.
If we begin
at the beginning, mention must first be made of the Indian mounds,
the presence of which within its limits furnished the name for our
oldest, largest and most beautiful cememtery. These mounds are pre-historic
burial grounds, and any authentic information concerning them is
of such great interest to Racine people, that we think it worth
while to quote a paragraph or two from an article on these very
mounds by William Barry, in volume 3, page 188, Wisconsin historical
collections, printed in 1857.
Mr. Barry says:
"At Racine there are a number of very interesting remains,
chiefly on the high grounds near Root river, from one to two miles
from the lake. Here are numerous circular burial mounds,
a boy of 11,
in 1838, and that he knew nothing about it Mr. Hood said that it
was not there Chatham (now Lake avenue) streets, except what Mr.
Sage told him. The story is credible, for neither Mr. Hood nor Mr.
Sage was given to fairy tales.
No doubt some
settlers died and were buried in Racine before any provision had
been made for a public burial ground, though probably they were
very few, for pioneers are rugged fold, and the hazards of life
on the west shore of Lake Michigan from 1834 to 1842 weere not such
as would add in any degree to the normal death rate of such people
The first official
action toward securing a cemetery was the appointment by the village
board on April 21, 1842, of Alanson Filer and Sidney A. Sage as
committee to report a site for such ground. On Aug. 5, 1842 the
report of the committee, recommending the selection of block 38,
school section, was adopted. This block comprised the land between
Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets, from College avenue to Villa
street, or two city blocks as they are now laid out. The Winslow
school is on this land.
Vilas was directed to make a plat of the new cemetery, making the
lots 16 feet by 20 feet and David Smoke was engaged to clear the
land. A fence was built around, and it was in use until 1852, when
Mound cemetery was established as the official city burial ground.
The first sexton
was Richard Jones, who in common with other early sextons, received
no regular compensation, but was allowed to charge $1.50 each for
digging and filling grave. The rate for that work has increased
measurably since those days.
On March 1,
1848, at one of the first meetings of the common council after Racine
became a city, a resolution was adopted establishing block 48, school
section, as a common cemetery. I think it was never so used, though
the resolution was not rescinded by the council. That block was
between Fifteenth and Sixteenth streets, and College avenue and
Wisconsin street, which was about a mile out of town at that time.
On Dec. 31,
1851, the city council adopted a resolution authorizing the mayor
to deed to the trustees of the Female seminary, the north half of
the old cemetery property, provided that $8,000 for the erection
of buildings thereon be raised. There were other conditions which
altogether appear to have made the offer unacceptable.
The new cemetery
on Barnstable street (College avenue) had been in use but a few
year when it was realized that it was a badly located, and that
one of the first duties of the new city government, organized in
1848, was to select a new site for a city burial ground. Committees
were appointed and much talk indulged in, but it was not until 1851
that the Mound cemetery site was determined on. Naturally this was
not satisfactory to everybody, and while the work of locating and
establishing Mound cemetery was proceeding, a company was organized
to establish a private cemetery. This was called the Evergreen cemetery,
and it secured a beautiful tract of land of 25 acres, on the lake
shore just south of Racine college.
The land was
purchased from Lorenzo Janes, by Isaac Taylor, John W. Cary and
others, on March 18, 1851, for $2500, by whom it was transferred
the same day to the Evergreen cemetery for a consideration of $1.
A tract from the north half of this land about 900 feet long east
and west, with 450 feet frontage, and a width of about 650 feet
on the west end, was platted at once into nine irregularly shaped
blocks, divided by gracefully curved driveways, containing 1291
was incorporated March 3, 1869, and given legislative authority
to vacate any street, alley or lot, and to sell all or parts of
land owned by it. It had already sold, on Nov. 15, 1853, nine acres
to John W. Cary, for $450, and on May 16, deeded the south two-thirds
of the land it then owned to Daniel Bull, in consideration of his
agreement to put in lake shore protection over all, and to dis-inter
from the south two-thirds, all bodies found there, and re-inter
them in the north one-third.
At the time
the Evergreen cemetery company was organized, in 1851, Main street
ran east of their land, and there were 100 to 200 feet of land east
of Main street. The continuation of Main street was the highway
to Kenosha. In 1871 the encroachment of the lake on the bank at
this point had extended so far as to make it unsafe for vehicles
to travel on it, and on Nov. 18 of that year the company deeded
to Mt. Pleasant enough land on the west line of their property for
a highway around it. When this highway was completed, travel on
the Main street front of the cemetery was discontinued. Since 1871,
more than 600 feet of the land of the cemetery has been washed into
the lake, an average of 12 feet per year. For the last year or two
there has been no encroachment, and it is hoped that steps may be
taken shortly to prevent further waste of the valuable land in that
was dedicated June 12, 1851, almost 70 year ago, when the following
program was presented:
Remarks - By
member of committee.
Reading of Scriptures - Rev. Mr. McNeil.
Prayer - Rev. Timothy Hopkins.
Singing - Prepared for the occasion.
Address - Rev. Mr. Rollinson.
Singing - Ode.
Dedicatory prayer - Rev. Mr. Humphrey.
Singing - The Orphan's Prayer.
Benediction - Rev. Mr. McNeil.
was president of the Cemetery company, and associated with him were
Nelson Pendleton, S. C. Tuckerman, Roswell Park, A. G. Hartshorn,
Daniel Ullman, and numerous other men prominent in business and
social circles in the city. The rules of Evergreen cemetery, of
which there were seven, were evidently compiled with much care,
and with the idea of placing the control in the hands of the trustees,
as was eminently proper. Use of lots for any purpose than burials;
selling of grave room by lot owners; disinterment, or cutting down
trees without permission was prohibited; right to erect proper monuments,
and to build walls around lots, under restrictions, was allowed.
The trustees had the right to cut down harmful trees, etc., and
to remove monuments, effigies, structures or inscriptions considered
by them offensive.
In its heyday
the cemetery was a delightful spot. Rows of stately and beautiful
evergreen trees practically surrounded it, and many were scattered
throughout its grounds, which, with the flowering shrubbery set
out along the drives, made it peculiarly attractive. I visited the
location this week. To say that not a vestige of it remains, while
not absolutely accurate, is so near the truth that it does no violence
to the fact. It was once a beautiful place for the dead; it is now
a dead place - neglected, unbeautiful, desolute. There are three
slotted bases for slab grave stones, scattered among the wild, ragged
shrubbery; those, and a few deep depressions, here and there that
speak graphically of violated graves, are all that remain to suggest
its once honorable estate.
In 1909, by
special legislative enactment, Racine was given power to acquire
the old Evergreen cemetery grounds for park purposes. For several
months the proposal was before the city council, which hesitated
to act because of the expense involved in lake shore protection
should the land be taken over. The report of the committee having
the matter in charge, recommending "no action," was adopted
in 1913. It appears that the extension of the rubble-mound breakwater
a few hundred feet would make the ownership of the land by the city
desirable at this time. A squatter built a house on the ground a
few years ago, and living there now. No one, apparently, has authority
to dispossess him, and unless the city takes it over, he will probably
continue indefinitely in undisputed possession of "No Man's
Forty to fifty
years ago, Evergreen cemetery was quite a resort on Sundays and
holidays. The lake view was fine at that point, and the grounds
of the cemetery and the college, and surroundings all about were
very attractive. I venture to say that there are hundreds of people
in Racine today who visited that spot more or less regularly, who
can remember how in those days, after a sever northeaster, coffins
might not infrequently be seen protruding from the bank, having
been uncovered by the washing away of the earth. It was just as
gruesome as it sounds to read it.
Monument to Hoy
Knapp was the founder of Racine, the first settler within the present
limits of the city was Joseph (Antoine) Ouilmette, a Frenchman,
who came from Grosse Pointe in 1834, and with his Indian wife and
children, settled on and made claim to a large tract of land just
west of the river, extending from a point a little north of where
Kinzie Avenue bridge is now located, south to Cedar Bend. James
Kinzie came into possession of much of the land in this section
before many years, and his name was later given the avenue which
built and operated two mills here; one on the east side - a saw
mill, and another - a grist mill, on the west side. I remember seeing,
when a boy, the ruins of the latter on the bank of the river, and
little north of Kinzie Avenue bridge. It is related by old settlers
that in the very early days there was a small colony of Mormons
which for some months occupied the bottom land west of the river,
and just sound of the bridge; now a part of Washington park.
In his reminiscences
in Wisconsin Historical Collections, John H. Fonda states that when
he came to Chicago in 1825, the principal inhabitants were Gordon
H. Hubbard and Antoine Ouilmette. He states also that Ouilmette's
wife was a Potawatomie Indian, and that in the treaty of 1863 provision
was made for his children, he having died in
before the deal was consummated the city surveyor was directed to
make a survey and plat of the cemetery. This plat was unsatisfactory
to many people, and on the city's securing possession, and appropriating
$500 for improvements, a committee of citizens, composed of Dr.
P. R. Hoy, Z. M. Humphrey, Dr. S. W. Wilson, Dr. Elias Smith, Rev.
A. C. Barry and John Dickson, drew up and submitted a plan as a
substitute to that of the surveyor, and it was adopted by the council.
Dr. Hoy was made chairman of the cemetery committee, and it was
due mainly to his foresight, good taste and good sense that the
Indian mounds have been preserved, and that our cemetery was and
is in many respects a model burial ground.
with the Hoy plan, the cemetery was divided into eight blocks, with
1768 lots; the price of the lots was fixed at $5.00 each for residents,
and $7.00 for non-residents, the right of choice being given to
the highest bidders, and the proceeds of the sale to be devoted
to payment for the land. The cemetery was dedicated, with appropriate
ceremonies, on June 3, 1852.
On Nov. 1,
1852, a resolution was adopted by the council forbidding any more
burials in the city limits, and directing removal of all bodies
already there. A time limit was set for this task, and it was ordered
that when that limit was reached, any remaining should be removed
by the city at a cost of $2.50 for adults, and $1.50 for children.
This time was extended twice, and finally on March 20, 1854, the
sexton was ordered to remove forthwith all that remained. In 1855,
the Third ward - now Winslow school - was built on the old cemetery
grounds on College avenue, and there are many people living today
who were pupils there in 1856 and later, who will never forget the
fact that coffins and skeletons were quite frequently unearthed
in the block, when excavations were made there for buildings, or
other purposes; evidence that the work of removal was not completed
as contemplated and ordered.
is a burial ground of exceptional beauty and attractiveness. When
purchased by the city in 1852, it had a natural endowment in trees
and shrubbery that was the foundation of the wealth of verdure that
gives it the charm it possesses today. It was laid out originally
with good taste and foresight; the first committee, headed by Dr.
Philo R. Hoy, began immediately to set out trees, many of them evergreens,
which were placed around the Indian mounds to insure their protection.
These arbor vitae, set out nearly seventy years ago, are now almost
all dead, and should be replaced by other similar trees.
There is a
great variety of trees on the ground, maple predominating in the
number of specimens. There are many fine single specimens among
them, one of which is a magnificent elm, gigantic in proportions
and perfect in symmetry, standing proudly alone near the north center
of the cemetery. A burr
of Audubon Societies, in a leaflet sent out several months since,
urged that all cemeteries be made bird sanctuaries. With the great
and growing interest in birds and bird study in Racine, the idea
should find instant favor here.
The city cemeteries
are in charge of a board of cemetery commissioners, composed at
this time of the following: H. F. Mueller, president; H. R. Ticknow,
secretary; O. C. Peterson, E. L. Tompach and Charles Gere. Louis
F. Mohr is superintendent; 22 men are employed in the summer, and
ten in the winter. It is believed that there will be general agreement
with the statement that the burial grounds have never had more intelligent
supervision and painstaking care than under the present administration.
The early records
of the cemeteries were badly kept, when kept at all. In numerous
instances lots were bought for which deeds were not issued or recorded.
In many cases lots were sold and used though never paid for. In
those days the sexton was oven the only city official interested,
and sometimes he was incompetent or worse.
a list of names of sextons with dates of their incumbency:
of City Cemeteries
- City Cemetery - April, 1845.
J. B. Fairchild - City Cemetery - October, 1846.
Charles Steward - City Cemetery - April, 1847
Owen Roberts - Mound Cemetery - April 1851.
James Cook -- City Cemetery -
Owen Roberts - City Cemetery - April, 1851.
Charles Steward - Mound Cemetery - May 2, 1853.
Owen Roberts - Mound Cemetery - April, 1854.
John Marshall - Mound Cemetery - January, 1858.
Owen Roberts - Mound Cemetery - April, 1858.
John H. Roberts - Mound Cemetery - April, 1873.
J. Decker - Mound Cemetery - April, 1876.
Alvin Raymond - Mound Cemetery - April, 1877.
Levi H. Yance - Mound Cemetery - Sept. 1877.
John DeBorsche - Mound Cemetery - April, 1880.
L. H. Yance - Mound Cemetery - April, 1881.
Jacob Herzog -- Mound Cemetery April, 1884.
L. H. Yance -- Mound Cemetery - April, 1885.
W. F. Billings -- Mound Cemetery - April, 1891.
E. G. H. Wendt -- Mound Cemetery - April, 1893.
Samuel Gates -- Mound Cemetery - April, 1899.
W. F. Billings -- Mound Cemetery - Nov. 1900.
Andrew Johnson -- Mound Cemetery - April, 1901.
H. J. Doolin -- Mound Cemetery - April, 1905.
Louis F. Mohr -- Mound Cemetery - April, 1907.
of a mile northwest of Mound Cemetery on Osborne boulevard, lies
Graceland. It covers 51 acres, purchased Nov. 29, 1910, from Charlotte
M. Scribner, for $21,750. In 1912 Hare & Hare, landscape architects,
of Kansas City, Mo., were engaged at the cost of $560 to plat the
land, laying it out in blocks.