First two Chicago municipal cemeteries

Two early municipal cemeteries were designed to limit burials to specific areas. 

The Chicago Tribune writes: “Finally in 1835, the town undertook the establishment of regular cemeteries. A.J. Bates, the first Chicago undertaker then appeared. Two cemetery sites were selected,  one at Twenty-Third Street (South Side Cemetery), the other at the foot of Chicago Avenue (North Side Cemetery), where the waterworks now stand. The former was never used to any great extent. The latter became the regular city burying ground.”

North Side Cemetery 1835-1847

Also known as Chicago Avenue Cemetery, the Chicago Tribune of 1897 described the cemetery as “..extended from Rush to Sand (now St. Clair) street, and from Chicago avenue (to) five blocks north.

 DeWitt_Cregier

 Dewitt C. Creiger who had to do with the removal of bodies, described the cemetery as a “most dismal place. There was nothing but sand and sand”, said Mr. Creiger. “Tombstones there were some, though over some graves, wooden crosses and other emblems had been put up. After a windstorm, the bleak shore looked positively grewsome. The sands would be piled in little piles on some graves, while at the low places the coffins, sometime half showing their contents, would be exposed. By 1843, the removal of the bodies to the half mile section north of North Avenue (City Cemetery) bought by the city, had begun, but a large number of bodies were never taken out, and to this day, human excavations are made at or near the water-works.”   Another report states that this process of grave removal continued to 1847.

South Side Cemetery 1835-1847

About 1833, 16 acres of land were purchased at this location for a town cemetery reserved for Catholics. On August 15, 1835, the town surveyor was ordered to survey the property and completed the task on August 26. The location varies among several secondary historical accounts. A letter written by Fernando Jones, who managed land abstracts later to become Chicago Title and Trust, described the cemetery as being at 22nd street near Prairie Avenue (300 east). A letter written by Robert Clark to the Chicago Tribune about 1897 states the location to be about 22nd and Calumet Avenue (325 east). He stated that the “McAvoy brewery stands about the center of it.”

mcavoy

The Chicago Tribune of 1897 refers only to 23rd street.   From other sources we learn that the brewery was at 23rd Street and South Park Way, now Martin Luther King Drive.

 

An article in the Chicago Tribune dated October 7 1900 described the location only as:…Twenty second Street and Prairie….long been obliberated by the handsome residences in that section of the city.”Colbert describes the location as being at about 23rd and Wabash Avenue. This conflicts with two or three other estimated locations.

In 1937 a bronze plaque was placed at the 23rd Street viaduct over the Illinois Central Railroad. The inscription reads “First City Cemeteries – This was the site of one of Chicago`s first two cemeteries, and comprised sixteen acres. It was laid out in August, 1835, and enclosed in September, after which burials elsewhere on the south side were forbidden. – Erected by Chicago`s Charter Jubilee – Authenticated by Chicago Historical Society – 1937.” Reports state that an identical plaque was to designate the North Side Cemetery of 10 acres on Chicago Avenue, east of Clark Street, but there is no confirmation that it was put in place.

Based upon these descriptions, A best guess for the sixteen acre cemetery could have been bounded by 22nd on the north, 23rd on the south, Cottage Grove on the west, and Lake Michigan shoreline on the east.  The cemetery was as unpopular as the North Side Cemetery and was closed by the Common Council in 1843. They ordered all graves moved to the new Catholic Cemetery at State Street and North Avenue (1600 north). This task was reported to have been completed by 1847.

Reference: Chicago Tribune, Aug 8, 1897. By 1847, the corpses remaining at 23rd street had all been removed to Lincoln Park.

But as we well know, despite best efforts, early burying grounds never seem to be completely removed as intended. The Tribune of 1897 stated “It was only a few weeks ago that in excavating for a building on the south side, the laborers found three well preserved graves, evidently not those of red men. Upon investigation, it was learned that the bodies had been interred over half a century ago in a corner of an old cemetery situated at Twenty-Third Street.”

 

Both cemeteries were replaced by City Cemetery now Lincoln Park, a subject all its own.

 

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