The Old Macomb Cemetery is in a state of disarray, with broken tombstones scattered on the ground and propped up against trees.
In an effort to improve its appearance he City of Macomb recently passed a resolution of support to renovate the Old Macomb Cemetery located on Wigwam Hollow Road.
To fix this problem, the McDonough County Historical Society (MCHS) has applied for a grant from the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution for $10,000. In order to qualify for this grant, MCHS must match the amount in local donations.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Historical Preservation Commission surveyed the property in December and strongly recommended the renovation. The three-part project includes restoring and beautifying the Old Macomb Cemetery, as well as installing protective fencing around small rural cemeteries that are threatened. MCHS also plans to publish a brochure titled A Guide to Historic Cemeteries in McDonough County.
The Old Macomb Cemetery is the oldest existing cemetery in the area, with the earliest burial dating back to 1830 and the most recent in 1864. When the cemetery by Glen Wood Park opened in 1857, many of the buried were legally moved to the new cemetery. It is currently unknown exactly how many people are buried in the old cemetery.
"We don't know how many people were moved or gravestones stolen," said Gil Belles of MCHS and head of the cemetery project. A lot of the tombstones are buried under sod and grass. We will have a concentrated effort to try to locate them."
Broken stones are rehabilitated using a cement epoxy. Buried stones are located through a technique called "poking" that uses rods to find the stones, then carefully uncovering them and trying to locate where they originally belong. During the resetting process, volunteers will dig new troughs, put sand or gravel in the base, and stand the stone up as it originally was.
"One of the major goals of this project is to recover the buried and broken headstones before too much more of it gets completely obliterated," said Belles.
The stones have become fragile over the years, so volunteers must go through special training and use extreme caution. If it is unknown where a stone belongs, it will be reset in a special memorial section of the cemetery.
What makes the Old Macomb Cemetery so important is its historical value. Some stones were engraved in the 1830's and 40's by Macomb native John Long. Long's style includes embellishments and lengthy epitaphs. Four of the original 1830's stones are visible.
"These are the only hard artifacts from a Macomb person from that era," said Belles. He also says that a lot of valuable information can be found in the cemetery, such as ethnic migration and patterns of death and disease that shaped the Macomb area. WIU students have been known to use the cemetery for research, art and reflection.
Fifth Ward Alderman Dave Dorsett helped to pass the resolution of support for the renovation in hopes that it would help with receiving funding.
The property is owned by the City of Macomb, but has been overlooked throughout the years due to financial reasons. "It's been neglected," said Dorsett. "We should have done more, but there just weren't enough dollars to go around. We would prefer that all of the properties be as well-kept as possible."
He finds the immense support for the project to be impressive, with many volunteers taking the initiative to improve the cemetery on their own. "That's the kind of citizens we have that we are very proud of," he said.
Through this project, MCHS hopes to restore the cemetery to its former glory. If they receive funding, many volunteers will be needed to make the project a success. "We're trying to restore their dignity," Belles said. "They helped carve out the community we now live in. We need to respect the contributions they made."