Walnut Hill Cemetery History
©1993, Robert Gentsch. Republished with permission of the author 29 April 2008.
A teacher for 34 years, most with Belleville Township High School District 201, Mr. Gentsch became active in politics, and served on the City Council and St. Clair County Board. He served as vice-president of the St. Clair County Historical Society, edited its Journal, and wrote several articles and manuscripts on Germans and Belleville history.
Walnut Hill Cemetery, conveniently located in the southeast quadrant of the city off route 177, has been serving Belleville families since 1850. Walnut Hill is the oldest and most historic public cemetery in the area. Walnut Hill Cemetery is one of the last area cemeteries to allow above ground headstones which add to the character of this beautiful historic resting place.
Some of the unique features of the cemetery are the gently rolling grounds with above ground monuments, lawn crypts, a Civil War Memorial, a Veterans of Foreign War Memorial and other various headstone statues found through out the cemetery.
Walnut Hill cemetery with its remarkable source of history and beauty offers a tranquil sanctuary for remembrance of loved ones.
In the early history of our country, it was common practice to bury loved ones in a family burial plot. Often this plot would be started in an area where fruit trees would bloom in the spring, thus adding some beauty to the plot. Normally all of the members of an enlarged family who died in this area would be buried in the one location. When the big cholera epidemic hit Belleville in 1849, the citizens did not want the victims of the cholera to be buried nearby. AS a result our officials sought a municipal burial plot.
On March 1, 1850, the minutes of the Town Trustees meeting states, that the trustees “concluded a bargain with Philip B. Fouke, for the purchase of a Walnut Hill Cemetery as a public burying ground for the inhabitants of Belleville.” The price was to be $400.00, payable in $100.00 increments every six months. The size of the land purchase is not mentioned in the minutes.
The deed signed by Philip and Emma Fouke on February 27, 1850, and witnessed by William Snyder is available in the St. Clair County Recorder of Deeds office. It lists the numbers of the cemetery lots sold to the city and it is obvious that many lots were retained by the Foukes; for instance lots 1 through 20 were not included in the sale.
Less than a week later on March 7, an ordinance was passed prohibiting the burying of a body within the corporate limits of the town. In addition, anybody buried in the town limits was to be removed by December 1, 1851. A fine of from $1.00 to $25.00 per day was to be levied for non-compliance. An amendment to this ordinance was passed on July 6, 1852, which levied stiff fines for desecrating the graveyard in any way.
On April 21, 1853, Anthony Lobsinger was appointed sexton of Walnut Hill. One had to apply to him to get a permit for burial and he was to keep complete records of all burials. His annual salary was to be $25.00, and the cost of the graves were 75 cents for a grave three feet and under, $1.00 for a grave three to four feet long and $1.50 for a grave of over four feet. The sexton also received 25 cents for each permit issued.
The original ordinance stated that lot 544 must be used first and then along the ‘front range’ until lot 518 was used. However, there seems to be no record of anyone being buried at Walnut Hill cemetery until 1853. The author has not been able to find this first book, although one book of records from Walnut Hill was found from the late 19th century.
On November 5, 1855, the sexton, Joseph R. James, reported to the city council that from January 1, 1855 through November 1, 1855, there were 98 burials in Walnut Hill; 61 males and 37 females, with 58 of these being under 5 years of age. In 1859, Joseph R. James received a pay raise to $35.00 annually and in 1864, the cost of burial was raised to $20.00.
Joseph R. James died in 1899, and the Belleville Advocate carried an article which said that he had dug 20,240 graves from 1853 to 1899. His son continued as sexton until 1904 when John Rensing succeeded him. Mr. Rensing served until 1931. In 1913 the first auto victim was buried at Walnut Hill.
Part II [The Cemetery Expands] The original plat of Walnut Hill Cemetery, purchased from Philip B. Fouke in 1850, was along the Freeburg Road. Eventually this original plat plus a few additions would incorporate lots 1 through 984; even though lots 1 through 20 immediately along the Freeburg Road near the Army Reserve Building had not been in the original purchase.
On April 15, 1899, Edward Abend added five acres to Walnut Hill. A quote from the Democrat says, “It is laid out in a very tasteful manner with suitable shade and ornamental trees thereon.” Although no record of the exact location of this five acres could be found, the “Maple Addition” in the southwest corner of the cemetery contains about five acres. The minutes of the city council meeting does not contain a purchase price on this plot. Later a First and Second Addition to Maple Addition made a total of 258 more grave sites available at Walnut Hill Cemetery.
This Maple Addition contains the four lots given to the Woman’s Relief Corps in January of 1893, to be used for interment of indigent Civil War soldiers.
Ordinance 221, approved by the City Council on July 5, 1887, added the Fifth Addition to Walnut Hill. Those lots numbered 135 through 307 included the area just north of the circular section where some of Belleville’s most celebrated citizens, such as Gustave Koerner, are buried.
In 1910 an Annex to Walnut Hill Cemetery was added. This land was located along Mascoutah Avenue from the point where the South Belt curves into Mascoutah Avenue to the eastern extremity of the cemetery. The first burial in the annex occurred on March 13, 1910. The most rapid growth in this part of the cemetery, so the Daily Advocate says, occurred in 1918 when the influenza epidemic hit here. Thirty people were buried there during the first week of the epidemic.
About two years later in 1912, an office and chapel was built at the cemetery. The cornerstone, which is still located on the building, is difficult to read. With the help of the city council minutes, the author believes that the members of the committee were a Mr. Voegtle, Coester C. Halstead and Fred Hary, Sr.
In September, 1923, 5.5185 acres was purchased by the city from the Belleville Brick Company and its president, Edward Abend, Jr. at $500.00 per acre. The total price was $2,759.35, and was that “land lying between Walnut Hill Cemetery and Walnut Hill Cemetery Annex.” This increased the size of the cemetery to 128 acres and extended it from Freeburg to Mascoutah Road. At the Belleville City Council meeting on September 17, 1923, Mayor Anton was authorized to close the deal which would make Walnut Hill Cemetery one of the largest in southern Illinois. Superintendent John Rensing estimated that 35,000 people had been buried at Walnut Hill by this date. At the September 4, 1928 City Council meeting, Kloess Construction Company was granted a contract for $1,327.50, to erect a shelter house and comfort station. The plumbing work was to be done by Otto Goes plumbing company for an additional $450.00.
Six years later in September of 1934, Steiner Brothers was awarded a contract on their low bid of $979.50 to build a brick garage and machine shop at the cemetery. The construction was to be supervised by city engineer, C. A. Heinzelman.
The last major addition to Walnut Hill was concluded in September, 1937, when the city bought 34 acres from the Belleville Brick Company for $14,000. It was in three parcels and was to be paid for as follows: $5,000 in 1937, $5,000 in 1938 and $4,000 in 1939.
From all indications the care of the cemetery, in its early years, rested with the sexton and his family. In 1931, the city began using recipients of township relief orders as part-time workers at the cemetery. These relief orders were issued by Belleville Township and permitted the holder to redeem them at a grocery store for edible food. Eighteen men were used in this manner in 1931. By April, 1934, they began using these men to keep the roads in repair also. We know that some city employees were assigned to the cemetery because in 1920, the gravediggers joined a general labor strike in Belleville.
On May 15, 1940, the city hired two laborers at $135.00 per month to work at the cemetery.
The fees charged for burial at Walnut Hill gradually increased. By Ordinance 195, passed at the June 7, 1886 City Council meeting, the fees were as follows: a grave of 3 feet or less in length, $1.25; 3 feet to 4 feet, $1.50; 4 feet to 6 feet, $2.25; and over 6 feet, $2.50. These fees reflect the fact that so many small children died and thus the fees were substantially less for them. On June 7, 1889, the City Council made some adjustments in these fees to reflect the method of burial rather than the size of the grave. If your family had a box or boards placed over your coffin the cost was increased. [At that time] a 4 foot to 6 foot grave with a box over the casket would cost $3.00. Once again this was in addition to the $0.25 fee charged for registering each person buried at Walnut Hill cemetery.
A 15 inch by 22 inch map of Walnut Hill Cemetery which was furnished to the author by the cemetery office will be placed in the circular file at the [St. Clair County Historical Society] Museum. It contains all of the lot numbers, additions and streets in the cemetery.
***End History by Gentsch***
by Diane Walsh, April 2008.
For the year ending 31 March 1857, 146 burials were made in Walnut Hill. Two-thirds were for children under age 5 years. Consumption, croup, teething, and “summer complaint” accounted for 77 of the 146 causes of death. An additional 20 burials were for stillborn children. [Belleville Weekly Democrat, 10 April 1858.]
Perpetual Care (Future Care) began in 1951.
Ornate iron fences that surrounded private and city-owned cemetery lots were taken down in 1942 and contributed to the scrap metal drive for conversion into weapons and munitions during World War II. Fences from the Kircher, Abend, Wess [sic] and August Meyer lots were contributed. The Abend lot fence is pictured in the Belleville Daily News-Democrat, 6 October 1942.
The original plat of Walnut Hill Cemetery is recorded in Book W: 341 – 342, Recorder of Deeds, Courthouse at Belleville. The land is part of Survey 380 Claim No. 483, containing “the most westerly corner thereof . . . being lots No. 10 and 11 in the subdivision of part of said survey by Sidney Breese on record in the office in St. Clair County, Ill.” Dated 30 January 1850, recorded 18 February 1850. Originally, the streets running East and West were named (from North going South) Silent, Monument, Cypress, Walnut, and Mulberry. Today (2008) these same streets are titled Home, Monument, Cypress, Hope, and Palm, respectively. Main Avenue, running North to South, is called Maple today. Philip B. Fouke purchased these 15 acres on 13 February 1850 [sic] from Charles Owens and his wife Anna [Deed recorded 15 February 1850, Book W1: 329 – 330.]
Fouke retained several lots for private sale. A sampling of those sold in 1850: Jno Rittenhouse, lot 969 [W: 410]; Chas. P Patterson et. al, lot 748 [W: 413], city of Belleville by Trustees, 316 lots beginning with number 21 [W: 426] Ellis, lot 748 [W: 441]; David Wilver, lot 834, [X: 59]. The Illinois Republican of 23 January 1850 ran the announcement that P. B. Fouke intended to appropriate “the whole place” for a place of burials to be called “Belleville Cemetery,” and would be entirely fenced. Five acres were for Protestant, and two acres for Catholic burials, the remainder sold to families and communities.
Thomas James owned lots designated Original and lying South of Home, West of Maple, East of Silent, and North of the First Addition to Maple on the South end. [Deed Book Z: 166 dated 1 February 1851, recorded 3 February 1851, and A2: 311-312. dated 11 July 1851, recorded  September 1851.] The Belleville Advocate, 13 February 1851, reported Mr. James had the energy and enterprise to carry out planned improvements.
The Catholic Section was purchased in November 1850 based on a report by Rev. Bauer, “Wealth of a Century.” It encompassed lots 377 – 396, 451 – 470, 471 – 490, and 545 – 564 (bounded by Home, Maple on the East, and Cypress). This manuscript is at St. Peter’s Rectory, 200 W. Harrison Street, Belleville, IL 62220.
The Methodist Episcopal Church of Belleville purchased lot 664 for $20.00 on 8 July 1851 from Thomas and Susan James. [Recorded 16 December 1852, Deed Book D2: 449.]
The Baptist Church of Belleville purchased lot 665 for $20.00 on 31 July 1851 from Thomas and Susan James. [Recorded 12 August 1851, Deed Book A2: 215.]
The Presbyterian Church purchased lot 752 in November 1859. [Deed Book D3: 41].
The Town of Belleville took ownership of virtually all lots lying South of Cypress and West of Maple. Lots 48 through 54 were reserved for Negroes and mulattoes.
Some bodies were removed from other cemeteries for burial at Walnut Hill toward the end of the 19th century. On 12 April 1879, “unknown bones” were reburied on lot 188 in Block 21 Tier 9. On 22 March 1889 the remains of bodies buried in the old cemetery in Belleville [the Old Burying Ground] were removed to Walnut Hill Cemetery in the children’s row on the north end of the first row of Block 19 Tier 1. See Walnut Hill sexton’s book for date shown. Unnamed remains from Harrison Cemetery were removed to Block 21, Subdivision B, Tier 1, graves 43 and 44 at Walnut Hill.
**End of additions**
FAQ / how cards were transcribed
Sexton's books (original) courtesy of City Hall
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