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All six cemeteries (approximately 45 acres) are carefully maintained, although South and Round Grove are no longer active interment locations.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.