- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Tim Kirsininkas, marketing manager for the St. Charles History Museum. Images are courtesy of the St. Charles History Museum.
When driving on Route 25 through northern St. Charles, motorists might not pay much attention to the two cemeteries on either side of the road, but it is in this plot of land where some of the most influential figures who helped shape the city of St. Charles have been laid to rest.
On the east side of the road is Union Cemetery. In this cemetery, one will see mausoleums bearing the names Norris and Baker, memorializing two of the great family names of the community philanthropists who donated land, buildings, and funds for St. Charles including Colonel Edward J. Baker and Dellora and Lester Norris.
On the west side of the road is one of St. Charles’ oldest burial sites, with many headstones dating back to the Civil War era. This is North Cemetery, which serves as the resting place of some of St. Charles’ earliest residents and community figures.
One of the most distinct sites in the center of the cemetery memorializes Stevens Sanborn Jones, the local attorney who suggested the name St. Charles in the early 1800s. In the surrounding areas, one will see headstones bearing many familiar St. Charles names such as Davis, Anderson, Thompson, Haines, Shelby, and Munhall.
Each of these individuals has had a distinct and lasting impact on the St. Charles community in their own way, and without them, St. Charles as we know it would not exist today.
Through The St. Charles History Museum’s Grave Reminders Cemetery Walks on Sept. 21 and Oct. 18, we aim to bring some of these figures to life and share their stories and how each of their distinct legacies helped to shape the city as we know it today. Below, read a preview of some of the figures that we will be featuring on our walks:
Charles Haines (1844-1914)
Businessman, Mayor, and School Board President
In the earliest days of St. Charles, community children were divided into two separate school systems on each side of the Fox River that developed into a fierce competing rivalry.
Charles Haines is the man who is largely credited with uniting St. Charles schools into a unified school district, ensuring that every child had equal access to a quality education no matter which side of the river they lived on.
Haines donated his estate in the early 1900s to build the original St. Charles Community High School, which stood near the intersection of Main Street and Route 25 until the 1950s. The high school was a beautiful building complete with gables, towers, and skylights that set a high standard for St. Charles community schools to follow in the decades to follow.
Prudence Ward Ferson (1812-1902)
St. Charles’ First Schoolteacher
Prudence Ward Ferson’s family was among the first groups of settlers moving from New England to the Fox River valley. Her father, Calvin Ward, worked together with Ira Minard and Read Ferson to establish St. Charles’ first mill and trading post.
In 1835, she was elected as the town’s first schoolteacher, teaching children out of a fellow settler’s cabin. In 1836, she married fellow settler Dean Ferson, and the couple is credited with being the first couple to be wed in St. Charles.
Emma Lake (1874-1932)
WWI Red Cross Nurse
Emma Lake was an early working woman in St. Charles history. After growing up in St. Charles, from 1900 to 1917, she was the Secretary to the President of the Political Science Academy at Columbia University in New York.
When World War I broke out, she decided that she would not be content with staying behind in the office during the war effort. She enlisted in the Red Cross as a nurse and assisted wounded soldiers and civilians in Paris and Dijon.
Upon her return from the war, she began a career as a Social Worker with the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, a job she held up until her death in 1932.
The St. Charles History Museum invites you to learn about the lives of each of these figures and more at Grave Reminders Cemetery Walks from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, and at a night walk in partnership with the St. Charles Park District from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18.
For more information, visit us www.stcmuseum.org/events or call (630) 584-6967.
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