Kane County History: Elgin Preserves Nature, Honors Past at Bluff City Cemetery

Kane County History: Elgin Preserves Nature, Honors Past at Bluff City Cemetery

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Elgin History Museum Media Coordinator Trish LaFleur.

When the Bluff City Cemetery was being constructed in 1889, the city council went for a site visit to check the progress.

From an article in the Elgin Advocate newspaper dated June 29, the council noted:

“There are prominent hills, pretty ravines, lofty rounded hillocks fully exposed to the bright sunshine, and others covered with trees; there are cool, shady glens and away to the east is a wide stretch of rolling prairie, with a few patches of sturdy oaks here and there. There is no more beautiful spot near Elgin, and from this vantage ground, bedecked with nature’s lavishness, a fine view of the surrounding country can be obtained.”

As they traveled toward the southern part of the plat near the creek to look at the spring, the beauty of what they found was described:

“The water is clear as crystal, free from impurity, nearly ice cold and bubbles out of the ground in a bountiful supply. A little creek also waters this low land and it is the present intention to make this part of the cemetery the lake.”

What they were describing is now known as Bluff Spring Fen.

In Elgin’s earliest days, the Fen was used for grazing cattle. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the acreage would be mined for gravel, an undertaking that left the land scarred and mutilated.

The years ahead would be filled with misuse as the area became a Mecca for dirt bike enthusiasts. Others used the fen for dumping everything from tires to roofing shingles and junk cars.

In the mid 1970s, a bit of salvation for the land occurred. In an effort to identify the last of Illinois’ remaining prairies, woodlands and wetlands, biologists canvassed the state to assemble the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory.

The list included the Bluff Spring Fen. In 1980, a group of volunteers coming from various groups and organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, Elgin Community College, Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and others, began the Herculean task of restoring the land.

The junk was removed and controlled burns were held to rid the land of invasive brush. After lobbying and educating governmental officials, funds became available for additional work, including replacing berms on hillsides and undoing various damage caused by dirt bikes.

In 1987, the land took a giant step forward when it was named an Illinois Nature Preserve. This distinction afforded the highest level of protection state statutes allow.

Today the preserve is under active management, so at least twice a month, teams of volunteers remove invasive species, collect seeds and plant.

Over the past 30 years, these dedicated volunteers have transformed this once desolate dumping ground into a world-class natural area that radiates the same beauty and majesty as it did in 1889.

Sources: Elgin Advocate Newspaper dated June 29, 1889, Forest Preserves of Cook County website, Daily Herald article “Once faded landscape thrives again” by Jerry Turnquist dated October 1, 2000.

34TH Annual Bluff City Cemetery Walk

Not only is Bluff City Cemetery’s 108-acres of well maintained grounds a beautiful and peaceful setting for visitors to remember loved ones, it’s a great place to learn about the history of Elgin residents.

On Sept. 25 and Sept. 26, the 34th Annual Cemetery Walk will feature the accomplishments, family life and contributions to Elgin of six individuals and one vignette on Elgin Women of WWII.

Featured Character: Daniel Broadnax Sr.

Dedicated family man and entrepreneur, Broadnax was the proprietor of a shoe repair shop on Dundee Avenue for 39 years. Broadnax will be portrayed by one of his descendants, Rage Ledbetter.

Architect: Ralph Elliott Abell

Many of the buildings he designed have been occupied for more than a century and remain a familiar part of Elgin’s history.

Merchant: William Grosvenor Hubbard

Came to Elgin in 1843 to manage a dry goods store and became one of Elgin’s most important pioneer merchants.

Humanitarian: Eliza Ann Hadwen Lovell

Lovell took care of many impoverished children in the neighborhood, even offering her own home to care and provide for them.

Farmer & Businessman: Henry Sherman

He donated land and a building for the first hospital in Elgin in 1888. This would be named Sherman Hospital. Henry was also a wise investor and was one of “The Four Immortals” who helped establish the Elgin National Watch Factory.

Attorney: John West Ranstead

Attended Elgin Academy and served as a judge in Elgin for 19 years. The Ranstead building was erected at Spring and DuPage streets in 1892.

Ranstead had his law office on the second floor. This building is now home to Al’s Café.

Elgin Women in WWII

Hear the many ways Elgin women contributed to the war effort – from assisting the U.S. Navy to working here at home at the Elgin National Watch Factory and Woodruff & Edwards Foundry.

2 Days And a New Evening Performance

This year, the Bluff City Cemetery Walk will have timed entry tickets rather than an open all-day ticket.

Timed entry will accommodate more visitors per day with less wait time during the tour and allow control over the amount of people that attend at one time.

On Saturday, for the first time ever, the walk is being offered as an evening performance at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. This setting will allow guests to enjoy the performance and soak in the beauty of historic Bluff City Cemetery as the sun goes down. Sunday performances will start at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

A guide leads visitors on a 70-minute tour that showcases gravesites of six former residents and one vignette, portrayed by actors in period costumes.

PLEASE NOTE: This year’s route is very uneven and has some steep grades. Please consider the virtual version of the walk if this type of terrain does not fit your needs.

For those who can’t join in person, there will be a virtual version of the event released on Oct. 3, 2021.

Preserving Elgin History

Volunteers at the Elgin History Museum organize this much anticipated event that attracts hundreds of people each year.

The purpose of this event is to provide insight into Elgin’s unique history, enjoy the beauty of the Bluff City Cemetery grounds and educate people about the importance of preserving cemeteries.


Tickets can be purchased with credit card online at


Advance ticket sales only – no tickets sold at the gate. $15 per ticket. Please call the Elgin History Museum at 847-742-4248 if you need assistance purchasing tickets.

The Museum will continue to monitor the guidelines set forth by the CDC and state of Illinois in regards to the COVID pandemic and any updates will be noted on the Museum’s website and social media.

Bluff City Cemetery is located at 945 Bluff City Boulevard, Elgin, IL.

Read The Kane County History Series!

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