The Amity Cemetery consists of about two acres, located between Cissna Park and Milford on 500N Road. It was the location for the 7th annual Cemetery Walk sponsored by the Iroquois County Genealogical Society. For a cemetery, it may be small and quaint, but it’s an area rich in history to Iroquois County.
Chairperson of this year’s event, Dee Eckersley, welcomed the 70 or so attendants to the walk and then gave a brief history of the area. The area of the cemetery is known as Lovejoy Township and over 100 years ago, there were four small towns, each with its own post office: Goodwine, Hickman, Lyford and Seemly.
Amity (which means “peace, harmony, a friendly relationship”) Cemetery came to be when two children under the age of one died. The first to die was William C. Wilson, son of John B. and Eliza J. (Hickman) Wilson, who passed away on Jan.13, 1859. Then, on Jan. 31, 1859, the second infant, Enoch Hickman, son of Richard and Elizabeth Jane (Cannutt) Hickman, died. The nearest resting place was eight miles away and the families wanted something closer for their children. Levi Hickman sold Richard and John B. two acres of land for $12. Though the boys were the first to be buried there, there are no records other than their headstones. Records for Amity Cemetery didn’t start until 1928; therefore, most of the information about those buried there is what is included on the headstones.
The town of Hickman, located just north of the cemetery, came into being as more people move to the area. There used to be a railroad spur through Claytonville, Goodwine and Alonzo Elevator (Lyford) and this track connected with the tracks which ran north and south (to Chicago and Danville). On Jan. 10, 1900, a post office went into service in Hickman, and by 1903, Hickman had a population of 20. The post office closed on Nov. 30, 1913 and the people gradually moved out.
About 1915, a group of local men saw a need for upkeep at Amity Cemetery so they formed the Amity Cemetery Association. They met at the Goodwine elevator office and organized. Many of those who started the association are buried in Amity: EF Blake, FR Carmon, George Criss, Sam Wise and J. Hamilton. By 1953, the township of Lovejoy was chosen to do the upkeep of Amity.
Janet Anderson told the story of some of the cemetery headstone symbols. Here are just a few of those symbols you can find on headstones in the cemetery and what may (or may not) be their meaning. Alpha (the first letter of the Greek alphabet) and Omega (the last letter) are often found combined into a single symbol representing Christ. A wreath represents victory over death, a handshake or representation of clasped hands, mean a farewell to earthly existence and God’s welcome to heaven; and an obelisk can represent rebirth and the link between Heaven and Earth.
Some headstones have hands and there are generally three symbols: a hand with the index finger pointing up, a hand with the finger pointing down, and hands holding a heart. The finger pointing up symbolizes the hope of heaven, the finger pointing down represents an untimely, sudden or unexpected death; and hands holding a heart are representative of charity and can typically be found on headstones of members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Several speakers took turns telling the stories of some of those buried in Amity Cemetery.
First, Cooper Frerichs, a junior at Milford High School and the son of Steven and Jessica Frerichs, talked about Jacob J. Wise, an early settler in the Fountain Creek area. He came to Illinois to further his education and become a teacher. He and his first wife had eight children and after her death, he waited 22 years to remarry. At the time his second wife passed away, he was in his 70’s. Wise died on March 29, 1910, and it is noted five of his children are buried in Amity Cemetery.
Next, Jerry Moore of Paxton and Janet Anderson of Watseka, presented the story of John B. and Eliza Jane Hickman Wilson, parents of the first person (their infant son, William C.) buried in Amity Cemetery. Together the couple had seven children in 12 years – three sons and four daughters. Eliza died on Sept. 12, 1874, of complications from a medical procedure – she was just 35 years old. John B. had struck out on his own at age 16, eventually going to the gold fields of California. Though he dreamed of becoming rich, he had $3 in his pocket when he turned 18. Upon arriving back to the Midwest, he eventually made his way to Iroquois County where purchased 200 acres for $1,000. It is here he settled down and raised his family. In1859, he and several other farmers decided there needed to be a school. The group petitioned to have a township of their own so they snapped off from Milford and formed Lovejoy. He would serve as superintendent of the school over 20 years, in addition to being a justice of the peace. He, along with several others, put in $200 each and had a church built within the cemetery.
Wilson and other farmers interested in the grain and livestock business petitioned and got part of a branch off the railroad (the one which ran from Cissna Park) and that’s how the grain operation got started at Hickman. In 1873 he entered into a partnership and opened a shipping office near Wellington. There, grain, stock, hay and seed flax were shipped out, making this one of the largest operations between Chicago and Danville. He was also active in politics at the local, state and national levels. He died April 15, 1908.
Ralph Butzow gave a short history of the area, noting there was a 1-room grade school about 1 mile south and ½ mile east of the cemetery. This school – Amity School – was where church services were conducted for a while until, eventually, two churches were built: a Methodist Episcopal Church was built in the cemetery and a United Brethren Church was built further west. The latter was rebuilt in 1912 in Claytonville. Butzow asked if anyone has any history of Amity School to please contact him as he would like to compile a history of the school.
Charles “Charlie” Crow, formerly of Milford and now of Danville, told the story of his great-grandfather Isaac Scott, who at the age of 18 in 1861 enlisted and became a member of the 48th Ohio infantry which was formed at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati. Of interest, Crow noted there were no rifles used during training – they were given wooden cut-outs. The campaign of the 48th was to take control of the Mississippi River to deprive the South’s use of it.
The 48th’s first engagement was at Shiloh, Tenn., where a battle took place around a community church. During this battle the 48th lost about 200 men, which was one-third of its members. In 1863, at the Battle of Vicksburg, the 48th had the duty of leading the first charge during which Isaac Scott was wounded. After his recuperation he rejoined the 48th. Scott was a flag bearer for the 48th when it surrendered in Louisiana and was herded to Ft. Hood, Texas. Before the march to Texas, Scott removed the flag from its pole and gave it to a mess sergeant to hide. They eventually hid the flag in the lining of Captain Gonzalez’ jacket.
Upon their release of the 48th, they were marched to the Mississippi River and put on a steamship. Before the ship left, the men took out what was left of the flag and waved it – whooping and hollering as they did so. For the cemetery walk, Crow had on display a replica of the flag, made by his wife. The original battle flag of the 48th is in the state capitol of Ohio and is very seldom displayed.
Jessica Runner told of her great-grandmother, Flossie Wilt-McKinley, who was born Sept. 21, 1898 in Maryland, West Va., moving to Milford in1906. Her parents – Jesse and Fannie – are buried in Amity Cemetery. Flossie never learned to drive, and she didn’t have an electric stove or running water until 1972, when she moved to town.
She married Joe McKinley in June, 1916, and they had 10 children. She had a passion for quilt-making and many are still in the family. Flossie died in a car accident on Oct. 8, 1972, as she and Joe were heading home from visiting their daughter Rose in Watseka.
Runner said she was able to share personal information about her great-grandmother because her mother, Ginny Lee, Milford, took the time to write down her memories of her grandmother and pass them along. Runner encouraged attendants to take time to write down their memories of their family members so there is a bigger connection to them, rather than just dates.
Teri Edris spoke about her mother, Thelma Morgeson, who passed away May 18, 2016. Edris’ loss of her mother was still raw as she choked back tears in telling her story. As she is buried with family members, Edris shared the story of Thelma’s siblings, children and grandchildren. Thelma worked for the county nurse at the Iroquois County courthouse prior to her marriage, and later worked as a waitress in Kentland and Watseka. She worked for many years in the meat department at Tuttle’s in Milford.
She later served as a cook at the Milford school for 10 years, then as a bus driver for the school three years. Her most rewarding “career” was that as a volunteer for Iroquois Memorial Hospital Hospice, for which she served 16 years. She kept track of her patients and left that for her family. She also volunteered with the church and helped transport people to meetings and appointments. Thelma was well-known for her baking – she baked pies every year for the Stockland Methodist Church tent at the county fair. Edris also shared of the friendship her mother had with Judy Brassard.
On the back of Thelma’s stone are the words “Hooty whooo … I’m home.” Her family had those words put there because that was how she announced her arrival at others’ homes.
After the walk, attendants gathered near the flag pole where Glenn Berg read the names of the military men and women buried in Amity Cemetery. Afterwards, Kathy Finley played taps.
Military members buried in Amity Cemetery include: Bernard Reetz, Silvester Hickman, Grady Bell Sr., Elmer Decker, Mearl Lantz, Isaac Scott, Samuelson B. Townsley, Lewis G. Butzow, Joe Boyce, Loren Hamrick, Samuel Nolin, Jerry Crist, Lee Judy, Earl Smith, TJ Peddicord, Bernard Hillyer, John Dugan, Maurice Ziegenhorn, Charles Jacobsen, John Breeding and German Robertson.
Others who served in the military and buried in Amity are: John Crist, Alva Hawthorne, Charles Minnis, John Tharp, Dan Hinkle, Charles Allen, Al Gillan, Gene Nolin, Iris Reetz, Ira Stanley Judy, Glen Focken, William P. Buckley, Joseph McKinley, William Smith, W. Hickman, Glean Earl Boyce, Lee Frye, Paul Ristow, Daniel Smith, George Meredith, George DeWitt, Elmer Burgett, Wilbert Gudeman, David Sanders and Martin Brookwalter.
Military members buried in Amity Cemetery also include: Victor Boyce, Dan F. Hamrick, Edward Reetz, D. Watkins, Gilbert Kincade, J.C. Adams, Glenn Munnbert, Elroy Crist, Robert Martin, Enoch Simkins, Parlo Jacobsen, Loren Chadwick, Robert Gore, August Reetz, Edd Eells, James Hickman and Everett DeWitt.
Iroquois County Genealogical Society members ask those who may be interested in Amity Cemetery, other county cemeteries, or their own family trees, to call them at 815-432-3730. The office of the ICGS is located in the Old Courthouse Museum, 103 W. Cherry, Watseka, and is open10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. The ICGS is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping others research the history of their families. The group can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming events the ICGS will sponsor are a ham and beans dinner on Saturday, Oct. 5 during Harvest Daze, which takes place on the grounds of the museum; a pumpkin decorating contest during Harvest Daze with the theme “Fly Me to the Moon,” and the popular one-on-one program Oct. 14-18, in which those interested can get a free two-hour session to help them get started (or continue) their family search. The group’s annual meeting will take place Nov. 2.
Those interested in genealogy may also find the group’s Facebook page to be helpful (Iroquois County Genealogical Society) or their website: www.iroquoiscountygenealogy.org.