As summer returns to St. Charles, we have so many exciting events planned! From educational programs on the history of St. Charles' homes and parks, to our historic house walk, to our living history presentation at the Museum during the St. Charles Fine Arts Show, there’s so much to learn about this great city
For those of us who call St. Charles home, we can learn from the people who settled here before us and their stories; their strengths, dreams, decisions and accomplishments, sprinkled with their struggles and disappointments. Consider that someday, we will be part of a future story with our own legacies.
The month of May is designated as National Historic Preservation month, and the St. Charles History Museum will be holding a variety of events and programs in recognition and celebration of the occasion. “This Place Matters” is a national campaign by the National Trust that encourages people to celebrate the places that are meaningful to them and to their communities.
Researching the Underground Railroad can be incredibly frustrating at times, as we often run into dead ends due to the scarcity and secrecy of sources. The abolitionist movement was a dangerous cause to stand with, especially to those that were actively helping escaped slaves. Leaving behind evidence of abolitionist activity could have been deadly back then, and now makes research and finding the cold hard truth difficult.
For the third year in a row, we temporarily closed our doors to the public in order to complete important projects around the Museum. Over the four weeks, we had nearly 30 helpful volunteers contribute their efforts. While there are still projects to be finished, January 2019 Shutdown was a complete success!
A History of North & Union Cemetery
Did you know that St. Charles has six cemeteries? In 1945, St. Charles Township formed a cemetery department to assume care and maintenance of North and South cemeteries, which were originally privately owned. Today, the Cemetery District encompasses six locations:
All six cemeteries (approximately 45 acres) are carefully maintained, although South and Round Grove are no longer active interment locations. The Cemetery District operations are funded by a small tax levy on St Charles Township property.
North Cemetery, aptly named for its location in relation to St. Charles, is the resting place for many of the community's early settlers. It was owned in the latter 1800s by William C. Irwin.
More popularly known as ''Uncle Bill", Irwin came to St. Charles in 1840 and permanently settled here in 1847 after a brief residency in Galena, IL.
Irwin was a cooper or barrel maker by trade. He was also the town funeral director for a number of years. He was probably best noted for developing Irwin's Block, a collection of commercial buildings, located on W. Main St. between 1st and 2nd Streets.
When he died in 1900 he was laid to rest in the cemetery he owned.
The cemetery remained in the possession of his estate for a number of years. Citizens concerned with its upkeep formed the Ladies' Cemetery Association. They collected dues from lot owners and hired to have the grass cut. But it was felt this effort was but a temporary solution to a long term problem. Each new burial meant one less contributor and one more lot in need of care.
In 1912, another group of concerned citizens, The Cemetery Union of St. Charles, formed and decided a new cemetery was in order. They took option on 12 acres directly across 5th Avenue from North Cemetery. They collected about $5000 to gain clear title of the property and deemed a percentage of proceeds from the sale of new lots would provide care and maintenance.
Still another group of concerned citizens in 1917, formed the North Cemetery Association and purchased North Cemetery from Irwin's heirs. They paid $1000 and collected another $1400 for care and maintenance.
By 1932, the Cemetery Union had paid almost all its start-up debts. It hoped someday the two cemeteries would be able to form a "union", hence the name Union Cemetery. This, they believed, would best provide a properly managed the resting places of the community's own.
For as many a St. Charles native rested beneath the manicure lawns of North and Union Cemeteries so too the product of a local company decorate those lawns.
St. Charles Memorial Works began in 1923. It was first located on the northeast corner ofN. 5th and E. State Avenues. It was owned and operated by Swanson Brothers. Algert Swanson was the business manager,. Edwin Swanson was the stonecutter. The business listed itself as maker of markers and mausoleums; later it listed itself as maker of granite and bronze makers. Today it lists itself as all of these at two locations; one in St. Charles, the other in Elgin, IL.
By 1937, Algert operated the business alone. He was later joined by his daughter, Carol. When Algert died in 1953, Carol continued the business a few years before her mother, Ruth, gave it to family member, Einar Bergsten, and employee, Ellis Carlson. Today Carol- now, Carol Glemza -works as an administrator at Baker Community Center.
Ellis Carlson was a stonecutter. Eventually his son, Terry, joined the business. By the 1980s Terry was the company's president, a position he still holds.
In 1972, St. Charles Memorial Works relocated to W. Main Street. Its original location was razed and the house that occupied the property was moved to Chestnut and Fourth Avenues when North 5th Avenue was widened and the new viaduct was built over the Chicago Great Western railroad tracks.
North Cemetery, Union Cemetery, and St. Charles Memorial Works are among St. Charles' own. They stand as testament and tribute to those who built St. Charles and now rest in its hallowed grounds.
Don’t forget to join us on October 6, from 11am-4pm as the St. Charles History Museum and the St. Charles Park District will host Grave Reminders , its Annual Cemetery Walk. The event is scheduled . at North Cemetery located on N 5°' Avenue (Route 25) in St. Charles.
An Eagle Named Abe
The 17th Illinois Cavalry Regiment, which was the second regiment to be stationed at Camp Kane, had a golden eagle mascot named Abe. The soldiers had heard stories of eagles seizing children, lambs and rabbits, so they gave Abe the eagle a chicken to ensure the children and livestock of St. Charles would be safe. The soldiers quietly waited to see if the eagle would make a meal of the chicken. The two birds cautiously observed each other before Abe made his move. To the soldiers surprise, instead of eating the chicken Abe tucked the chicken under his wing and guarded the hen. The two were quite attached and stayed by one another for a few days. The soldiers eventually had to dispose of the chicken but there was no doubt that the chicken and eagle were friends.
A Grand Reunion
On July 14th, 1924, 206 Civil war veterans from the 8th Illinois Cavalry Regiments came together to march together one last time. They disembarked from the Northwestern train and marched to Main Street. The men all marched in perfect unison, not one was distracted by the cheers of the crowd on either side. They marched over the Main Street Bridge and up the hill until they were across from where the Baker Memorial Park is today. The trees the men saw were planted when they were young boys and this was where the magnificent silk banner was torn in the wind they day they assembled to go to the front. From there they marched south and within a few more turns they had arrived at their old camp ground. There all voices broke into song as they remembered their days in the war.
A Bad Omen
Before the 8th Illinois Cavalry Regiment left for war, the town of St. Charles gathered to send the soldiers off with the presentation of a silk flag. As the beautiful silk banner was placed on the flagstaff all eyes were upon the flag in anticipation. People were in awe as the silk gleamed in the light of the sun. A gust appeared and instead of flowing gracefully, the wind struck the banner and it was thrown about and torn. They believed this was a sign that the United States Government would be divided and the 8th Illinois Cavalry would be the causes of this division.
Research Part 1
The area of Langum Woods, near the east bank of the Fox River, has had a few names in the past few centuries: 55 Acres, Camp Kane, and now Langum Park. The area has quite a rich history, dating back to the Civil War. The southern end of Langum Park is dedicated with a memorial for Camp Kane. When I read about Camp Kane, I started to wonder where exactly camp Kane was located. I started researching the area to see what the area of St. Charles looked like in the 1860s and what remains of those buildings today.
Camp Kane was located in and near Langum Woods but the exact location is unclear without evidence. The following information along with reference to a map of St. Charles from the 1860’s helps achieve a better understanding of where the camp was located. I started off searching the internet for what I could find about Camp Kane. I quickly learned that the camp was located on land that Col. John Farnsworth had owned on the east bank of the Fox River. The land sat between the Fox River and 7th avenue. The St. Charles Library website also mentioned that the camp is in the location of today’s Langum Park. I then went to the museum’s primary sources to see if I could confirm and narrow down the location of the camp. In reading various primary documents about Camp Kane, such as books, brochures, letters, and journals, I further strengthened the beliefs of the location that my previous sources had stated.
From reading a statement in a book about the history of the Illinois 8th Cavalry Regiment, which was stationed at Camp Kane, I concluded that the camp must have been north of the Farnsworth mansion because when the regiment marched south to Geneva it was necessary for them to pass opposite of Col. Farnsworth’s mansion. Although the Farnsworth mansion no longer stands today, as it was torn down in late 1992, the location of the mansion was on the west side of the river on top of the hill overlooking where the Mount St. Mary’s park is today. I thought I knew a potential location for the camp until I read these next few sentences from the Camp Kane dedication brochure from 1982
“McCauley’s stone quarry bordered the property on the north; on the far east as the South Cemetery (7th Avenue Cemetery) where Evan Shelby and other early pioneers are buried. In between was a large stand of timber known for years by local residents as “55 Acres,” and now known as Langum Park. The clearing was along the east bank of the Fox River”
I knew where the South Cemetery was and the Fox River, but I didn’t know the location of the McCauley’s quarry. My next step was to uncover the location of the quarry. I soon came across a history of the McCauley family of St. Charles. The author, Ken McCandless believed he had found the location of the quarry at the junction of 5th and Riverside Avenue, and at first, I also believed this was the location of the quarry.
After hours of sorting through the museum's photographs and primary documents, I became stuck with no idea what to search for next. Perhaps this meant I was done with my long and difficult journey locating Camp Kane. I reflected on my research journey and began to realize many of the sources I read were 2nd hand accounts. I wasn’t reading the evidence, I was reading about the evidence. In search of this original evidence, I went to the Kane County Government buildings to discover more. While I was there I looked at old maps, aerial maps, and deeds from the late 1800s. I found evidence that contradicted and proved my original ideas wrong.
Research Part 2
One of the most surprising things I learned was one that contradicted what many people had written about Camp Kane and Col. Farnsworth. Many people believed that the camp was set up on land that Farnsworth had bought in 1858. There is no record of Farnsworth owning land on the east side of the Fox River. The deed that I found for Farnsworth buying property in 1858 was for land on the west side of the river where the mansion was later built. The land that people assumed was owned by Farnsworth, was actually owned by a farmer named Ortho W. Perkins. Colonel Farnsworth was a well-respected man and most likely asked Perkins to use the land for the Civil War and Perkins agreed. This could be a reason for why there is no record of a land transaction. I even remembered a quote I read which mentioned the soldiers being camped on a part of the Perkins farm. Before seeing the evidence I had quickly overlooked that statement.
When looking at some maps from the mid-1900s, there was a land feature that caught my eye. In the area of Langum Park where the baseball fields are now, was a landfill area. If there was an area to discard unneeded tailings and dirt, it is quite likely that this was the area of the quarry. I viewed an aerial photo from 1939 which showed an area which looks like a stone pit on the northeast corner of Langum Park. This seems like a much more likely location for the quarry than the area Ken McCandless said the quarry was. The block between 5th Ave and Riverside Ave is much too small to be a quarry.
At this time, I rethought my theory about Camp Kane being located north of Colonel Farnsworth’s mansion. The soldiers passed his house when they marched south to Geneva. I know before the regiment left there was a ceremony to show them off. This ceremony most likely took place in town. From town they would have marched south, past Col. Farnsworth’s mansion and continued on to Geneva.
With all these facts in mind, I created a new map showing my new thoughts on the location of Camp Kane.
Timeline for Langum Park
- 1850’s In the 1850’s and possibly earlier “There was a large stand of timber known by local residents as “55 acres.”
- 1861 Farnsworth set up Camp Kane on land owned by Otho Perkins for the 8th Illinois Cavalry Regiment.
- 1864 Farnsworth set up camp again for the 17th Illinois Cavalry Regiment.
- 1925 Mayor Langum set aside 20 acres in 1925 to be a city park.
- 1978 First time Langum Park was in the St. Charles city directory.
- 1982 June 13th, finally after 67 years of trying to dedicate it as a historical park a memorial was put in place at camp Kane and dedicated as a historical site.
- 2000 In 2000 wanted to rebuild the Farnsworth mansion in Langum Park standing right across from where it was once built at the south end of the park.
- 2014 The Jones Law Office was moved from Cedar Ave. to its current location in Langum Park. During the Civil War, the law office served as a military recruiting headquarters.
Langum Park Today
Langum Park is no longer the 55 acres it used to be. The park is now a total of 31.2 acres. The park area has increased since Mayor Langum set aside the 20 acres of land 98 years ago. The forested area of the park has shrunk to about 9 acres. Today the park has baseball fields, tennis courts and a playground. There are plenty of picnic tables throughout the park and a great view of the Fox River. In the winter there is a sledding hill and an ice rink for hockey. On the south end of the park stands the Jones Law Office along with multiple signs about the Civil War and Camp Kane. Civil war reenactors have come to Langum Park multiple times throughout the last few years.
Behind the Name
Langum Park was named for one of St. Charles longest serving Mayors, Doctor I. G. Langum. Mayor Langum set aside 20 acres of land in 1925 to become a public space. He was a very productive mayor and St. Charles benefited from his good deeds as mayor. He was the Mayor for seven consecutive terms. He started a soup kitchen during the Great Depression and many other projects to help the community during the difficult time.