Kane County History: Restored Headstones at West Side Cemetery Tell Geneva's Story

Kane County History: Restored Headstones at West Side Cemetery Tell Geneva’s Story

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s post is contributed by Terry Emma, director of the Geneva History Museum. All photos are courtesy of the Geneva History Museum.

The town of Geneva was founded in 1835 and was platted in the spring of 1837 and Block 3 on the north side of Stevens Street was reserved for burials, now known as West Side Cemetery.

Herrington headstone “before.”

The first to record of a burial at West Side Cemetery is Daniel the infant son of Hendrick Miller, who came from Plainfield in the summer of 1837.

In 1839, James Herrington, who helped organize the city of Geneva, was buried in a large plot which was set aside for his numerous family members.

Many of the burials took place prior to the creation of a cemetery plat made by surveyor Andrew Pingree in1854. The plat was recorded in 1856, and 300 lots of six people per lot were sold for $5 each.

The Cemetery Quilt

In 1849, Geneva women were determined to build a chain link fence around the cemetery to resolve the issue of live stock wandering and fertilizing the graves.

The women made an album quilt to raffle off to pay for the installation of a fence around the cemetery. The Geneva History Museum has this quilt in our collection.

It is signed by many similar names in Geneva’s history including Herrington, Conant, Patten, Dodson, Plato, Scott, Danford, and Alexander.

Cemetery Restoration

Most of the old headstones in this cemetery are made from limestone and marble, because those materials were readily available. It was easy to carve, but unfortunately weathers away easily.

Granite and metal or bronze plaques are used for today’s stones. Many of these older stones are no longer legible and some have fallen over and are covered by soil and grass.

Herrington headstone “after.”

Geneva History Museum Educator Heidi Howlett attended a class in southern Illinois with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to learn the proper methods for cleaning and resetting headstones.

Earlier this year, Heidi started a restoration project in West Side Cemetery and trains volunteers to assist with cleaning up the cemetery. She works with the city of Geneva Public Works Department that provides plot maps, records, and assistance with moving some of the heavier fallen stones.

Over the past several months more than 180 stones have been reset or cleaned. This project is funded independently by private donors and not from the Geneva History Museum annual budget.

To learn more about Geneva’s cemeteries and this restoration project, join Heidi for several upcoming programs. Register for “Cemetery Restoration” either via Zoom or in-person at the Geneva History Museum at noon Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Two cemetery walks take place on Saturday, Oct. 16: the “Oak Hill Cemetery Walk” at 11 a.m. and the “West Side Cemetery Walk” at 2 p.m.

Advance registration is required. Attendees are asked to meet at the respective cemetery for each program.

Registration is available online at GenevaHistoryMuseum.org or by calling 630-232-4951.

Cemetery Restoration in Pictures

Read The Kane County History Series!

Sign Up To KCC E-Newsletter