Kane County History: Geneva Is The Place For Graveyards And Ghosts!

Kane County History: Geneva Is The Place For Graveyards And Ghosts!

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series written by representatives of Kane County historical societies and history museums. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum.

Geneva has two cemeteries, one on each side of the Fox River.

West Side Cemetery, at 301 Stevens St., has more than 1,000 people buried on the grounds. Oak Hill Cemetery, at 799 Bennett Street, being the larger of the two, has more than 4,500 people interred.

Both cemeteries are owned by the city of Geneva and maintained by the city’s Public Works Department.

West Side Cemetery was the first burial ground in Geneva. Deeds conveying the property to the “Trustees of the burying Ground for the use of the Town of Geneva” were dated 1852, although burials on the land had taken place much earlier.

Early settlers’ family names appear in this cemetery, such as Alexander, Brown, Conant, Chambers, Danford, and Herrington.

A testament to this venerable and historic cemetery is the tombstone of Caleb Alexander, which is nearly unrecognizable today as two trees have nearly engulf and destroyed the stone. Thankfully, in the 1950s, the stone’s inscription was transcribed before its destruction.

It reads:

  • Caleb Alexander
  • Son of Joseph T. and Melinda Buckingham
  • Born at Boston, Mass. Oct. 8, 1811
  • Entered Harvard College 1831
  • Called to the Suffolk Bar in Mass., 1837
  • Moved to Geneva, Ill., Sep. 1837
  • Died Chicago, Jan. 13, 1841
  • Stone is erected by his kindred in their affectionate remembrance, Jan. 1854

One of Geneva History Museum’s oldest artifacts relating to West Side Cemetery is a quilt made in 1849.

1849 West Side Cemetery Raffle Quilt from the Geneva History Museum’s Collection.

As the story goes, local women used their needlework skills to make the quilt, each block made and monogrammed by a different seamstress, and auctioned it to raise funds for an iron fence to keep the livestock out of the cemetery.

It is uncertain when the iron fence was installed and later removed, but the chain and post fence that exists today was installed in 1985 along with the flag pole.

The East Side Cemetery, known as Oak Hill Cemetery, was laid out on 10 acres purchased from Ebenezer Danford in 1875 for $2,000. A few interesting facts regarding this cemetery:

In 1912, the Aurora Mausoleum Association asked for a piece of land 50 by 110 feet in the cemetery to build a mausoleum with chapel that would hold 200 burial compartments.

Many of the alderman were not in favor of granting the plat of land, however, so they agreed that construction may begin if 100 crypts were sold in advance. Despite their graphic advertisements denouncing earth burials as “unsanitary, horrifying …,” they were unsuccessful in selling the crypts and the project was never completed.

In 1938, the Works Progress Administration granted the city $15,000 for improvements to the cemetery. This included grading, leveling, filling, drain work and resetting stones.

Cemetery Tours And Ghost Walks!

You can explore one or both cemeteries this October with Geneva History Museum Educator Heidi Howlet as she shares the meanings of markings on tombstones and stories of prominent residents. West Side Cemetery tours are at 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6. Oak Hill Cemetery tours are at 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20.

Then, on Saturday, Oct. 27, the Geneva History Museum takes the ghosts out of the graveyards with their Annual Ghost Walks, where you can hear ghostly tales shared through guided tours of the historic district.

For instance, some of the merchants at 220 South Third St. will tell you it is haunted. Before shops occupied this space, it was home to C. B. Wells and then Geneva’s first hospital, Colonial Hospital.

Dr. Raymond Scott called this Greek Revival structure home and then in 1908 transformed it into a 10-room hospital to care for Geneva citizens. For the next 17 years, Dr. Scott and his staff welcomed babies, tended to the sick and gave comfort to the dying within the walls of this building.

Dr. Scott was a gifted physician, but talented as he was, he could not save all of his patients, and there is speculation that some lingered.

The spirits that call Colonial Hospital home are not bad, but their manifestations are usually small pranks such as items falling off shelves, radio station changing on its own, bells ringing when no one is at the door and the back door slamming.

Could these spirits be patients that passed on years ago, or Dr. Scott himself tending to his building?

Ghost Walks start at the Museum and are given at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Please register in advance for these events at GenevaHistoryMuseum.org or by calling 630-232-4951. Each event is $10/person or $5/museum member.

Advertisement from an August 1912 edition of The Geneva Republican.

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