Lost Macon County



King's Cemetery
1000 Block of West Wood, Decatur



Kings Cemetery

DECATUR PLAT MAP DATED 1874

The words "King's Cem." lie almost hidden within the above highlighted square at the edge of the third ward on this 1874 plat map of Decatur. Note Pine St. in the upper right corner, West Wood St. at the right and Decatur St. below. The cemetery land which now lies in the 1000 block of West Wood once belonged to Dr. Joseph King, a very early settler of Illinois and the city of Decatur.



FOUND - A METALLIC COFFIN IN THE old King cemetery. Call Harris & Co.'s plumbing shop.

~ The Decatur Review ~ Sunday, 12 Dec 1909 ~



TRENCHERS FIND METAL CASKET

~ The Decatur Review ~ Monday, 13 Dec 1909 ~

Maybe It Is One For Which Reward Was Offered Years Ago

In a metal casket, which was uncovered by trench diggers in the Old King cemetery in the 1000 block on West Wood street, the one for which a reward of several hundred dollars was offered fifteen years ago? While digging a trench there Saturday the workmen uncovered the edge of the coffin which is almost round in shape and has a letter or monogram somewhat resembling a "C", but on account of rust and dirt this is not legible.

The old King cemetery has not been used for over forty years and most people have forgotten that there was ever a burial ground there. Old residents remember that a woman then living in Chicago offered a large reward for the finding of the casket. A search was made then but it could not be found. The casket is about seven feet in the ground and has the appearance of being very expensive for the time when it must have been purchased, probably 75 to 100 years ago. Several other coffins have been struck but all were in a decayed condition, the metal only is preserved.



DUG UP A SKELETON

While Excavating for a Sidewalk Through King's Grave Yard

~ Decatur Republican, 26 Jul 1895 ~

It is generally known that West Wood street has been opened through King's cemetery in the third ward, from Haworth to Oakland avenues. Some time ago nearly all of the bodies were removed from the burial ground to Greenwood. Many of the bodies could not be found in the graves for the reason that time had obliterated all particles of the remains, and then there were cases where none could tell where their relatives had been buried in the old cemetery. Graves had not been marked and some had been neglected until there was no way to locate the graves of parents or children.

The cemetery having been abandoned and the street ordered opened improvements are in progress. This forenoon the city force under Superintendant Alexander were engaged in making excavations for a sidewalk near the west end of the old grounds. The men plowed down four feet, and at one point unearthed a human skeleton, that of a full grown man. With the skeleton was found an old pocket-book, silver coin to the value of $2.50, two pieces bearing dates of 1852 and 1856, also an old key and a jack knife. Nearly all of the people in the neighborhood gathered to have a look at the skeleton and speculate on the find. Supt. Alexander had the human bones and all that was found in the grave placed in a box. The remains will be placed in a grave in Greenwood.



GRIM RELICS ARE FOUND BY DIGGERS

When the Old King Buying Ground Was Torn Into Lots Relatives Notified

~ Decatur Review, 15 Dec 1909 ~

No burial records of the old King cemetery in the 1000 block on West Wood street are in existence and it is unlikely that the people interested in the metallic casket found there by trench diggers will be located.

When the burial ground was platted into city lots about thirty or forty years ago the fact was made known by the owners of the ground and then relatives of the people buried there were notified. A few came to take the bodies away but a number could not be found then.

UNCOVER FOUR SKULLS

The trenchers cut into almost a dozen coffins, the wood always being in a decayed condition. Monday afternoon and Tuesday four skulls were uncovered. Whenever this happened a hole was dug horizontally into the side of the trench and the skull put back.

The metal casket is in almost perfect condition with the exception of a few places where it is slightly rusted. The lettering on the casket still remains illegible on account of the darkening of the metal and the rust around it.

NO NAME PLATES

The name plates on the wooden coffin are rusted away or lost and it is impossible to identify any of them. Had not the records been destroyed so that the location of the graves could have been found, the metal one and possible some of the others could have been traced.



LOT 12 IS ONLY A BIT OF HISTORY

~ Decatur Review, 10 Dec 1911 ~

Probably the most noted, not to say notorious, piece of real estate in Decatur has just passed or is just passing into history. This is lot 12, Woodland addition, vividly known to every abstract maker in Decatur for twenty years.


Lot 12 Plat

It is not that to make Lot 12 the bones of a score or more of former Decatur citizens were dragged from their peaceful graves but ever since it was made, the lot has disturbed the sleep and harassed the waking hours of many worthy people, and it is even believed by one whose opinions should carry weight that Lot 12 sent one excellent man to his grave.

Lot 12 is no more. It took the execution of half a dozen deeds a city ordinance, the vacating of portions of two alleys and the opening of a new alley to bury it, but is obsequies have been duly performed. Most of the deeds have passed and the others are on their way. Of course the wraith of Lot 12 will rise to vex abstracters and title lawyers for generations but the ghost is effectually laid so far as the neighborhood is concerned.

THE GRAVE YARD

Woodland addition, of which Lot 12 was a part, was originally King's grave yard. After the streets were platted that far west the grave yard fronted on Wood street, lying between Wood and Macon, and about 240 feet west of Haworth avenue. The grave yard was for many years in a field and not much attention was paid to its boundaries. When it came to be surveyed it was found impracticable to make it a rectangle. The south line was broken, having a jog of some forty odd feet with the southeastern most boundary deviating from the east and west course by several degrees. It is believed that this irregularity in platting the cemetery was due to the fact that a number of graves were found out of the bounds on the south side. In fact not much attention was paid to bounds. Those old grave yards were essentially common burying grounds and people buried their dead wherever space could be found. The King cemetery was closely filled with graves and had begun to spread when growing real estate values fixed the limit.

BODIES MOVED

More than twenty years ago the old grave yard was thrown on the market to be sold for building purposes. For many times before there had been no new burials there. The bodies were moved, such of them as could be readily found. Many of them were not found till building excavations were made and there is no doubt that many of them are there yet. But that has nothing to do with Lot 12.

PLATTED

E.E. Gibson and George F. Wickens bought the old grave yard site through George F. Handy, agent for the King estate. The deal was consummated Oct. 10, 1891. The consideration was $4,400. Gibson and Wickens platted the property into eleven symmetrically shaped lots. There was already a sixteen foot alley platted part way through the block east from Oakland avenue. Gibson & Eickens laid out the lots in conformity with this alley and extended the alley through to the east line of their property. But this left an irregular and wedge shaped piece of ground south of the alley which was platted as lot No. 12. The line west of the job was also irregular and it was necessary to buy a strop of ground eight feet wide at one end and running out to nothing at the other in order to make the lots on that side extend through to the alley.

The lots fronting on Macon street were of course too short by so much of the cemetery tract as lay south of the alley. These lots were platted as A.F. Kenny's First addition. An eight foot alley was left between these lots and lot 12 of Woodland addition. The eight foot alley extended through to Haworth.

WORK OF YEARS

Lot 12 came into possession of Mr. Gibson and he has owned it since. It has remained open and has been used by the public as an alley. If lot 12 should be fenced and occupied it would leave the lots on Macon street with nothing but a crooked eight foot alley as a back entrance to their premises. Lot 12 was not desirable as a residence lot and there was always the danger that it be used for some purpose not agreeable to a residence neighborhood.

For twenty years the owners of the Macon street lots have been endeavoring to get together and buy Lot 12, apportion it among them and have the eight foot alley vacated. In 1892 there was an effort to carry this plan through. An agreement was drawn providing that the abutting lot owners were to pay for lot 12 its proportionate part of the original cost of the graveyard tract. An ordinance was introduced but the plan failed because there were some who could not be brought into the agreement.

HELD ON

Almost continually since that time some of the abutting lot owners have been urging that or some similar plan but it was not till within the last few weeks that it took definite shape and was carried through. During that time Mr. Gibson has paid taxes on the lot. He has had a number of opportunities to dispose of it in one way or another but always in a way that would further bungle the situation.

It required an ordinance of the city council to vacate the eight foot alley on the south and west sides of Lot 12. It was also necessary to vacate a corner of the sixteen-foot alley on the north side of the lot. This alley had to be turned diagonally across the east end of Lot 12 to reconnect with the eight foot alley. The remainder of lot 12 after cutting out this diagonal section of alley was distributed among five Macon street lot owners by the extension of the lot across the eight foot alley and Lot 12.

THE NEW OWNERS

The Macon street lot owners who thus secure additional land and a satisfactory alley frontage are Felix Beschle, Cora P. Baldridge, David R. Coulter, Charles W. Pistorius and John H. Melchers. Mr. Beschle gets merely a triangular chunk cut off the narrow end of Lot 12 and the alley. The largest slice goes to John H. Melchers, whose share is cut from the wide end of lot 12 and in addition he gets the north and south section of the eight foot alley. The share of each differs from the others in size.

C.C. Miler who owns lot 1 of Woodland addition also comes in for a share of the property. The sixteen foot alley dead ended at his east lot line made a most satisfactory entrance to the rear of his premises. He is given by the city as much of the north end of the alley as is cut off by the diagonal alley line and also a corner of Lot 12.

These changes effectually put Lot 12 out of the way and remedy the defects of the early survey as far as they can be remedied. The defects in the survey extended to the property between Lot 12 and Haworth and there still remain the bend in the alley with the eight foot section to Haworth avenue.



IF GHOSTS HAUNT COLLEGIATE "HANGOUT" 'TIS NATURAL, CEMETERY ONCE LOCATED THERE
~ Decatur Herald, 9 Oct 1927 ~

Half-forgotten Old King's Burying Ground Located in 1000 Block West Wood Street Was Moved During the Nineties

If there are ghosts, they probably are haunting the 1000 block of West Wood street and are gazing disapprovingly into the windows of a popular drug store in the block, where Millikin students sit listening to rollicking jazz music and sip their soft drinks with no thought for the hallowed dead.

In Civil war times, there was modest grave yard in the 1000 block of West Wood. The cemetery occupied most of the block now bounded by South Haworth avenue, Wood, West Macon and South Oakland avenue. This resting place for the dead, known as King's cemetery, long since has been forgotten by most of Decatur's older generation.

The "lost" graveyard passed out of existence in the '90's, when the need for land to accommodate Decatur's growth was already being felt. With all due reverence for the dead, city officials and the owners of the land went through required legal formalities and moved occupants of King's cemetery to other cemeteries.

COFFINS WERE MOVED

Thus, some of the pioneers who had come to Illinois by the covered wagon route or on flatboats down the Ohio river before there was such a thing as Macon county; who had prospered on the broad prairies of this state and died and gone to their last rest in King's cemetery, were not allowed to lie undisturbed. Their coffins were taken to other resting places, adding still one more journey to the long one they had taken in life from the East to the golden Midwest.

King's cemetery was the burial ground for men and women who had wrested what is now Macon county from the Indians, according to the few living patriarchs of the city who remember the cemetery. No one gives it a thought today, least of all the Millikin students who foregather in the drug store and joke with one another, not more than a few feet from where there used to be graves.

A sorority house is now in this block. Bright new automobiles now chug out of driveways beneath which the pioneers lay, and over some of the empty graves are homes in which, of evenings, children are told bedtime stories. Houses and private garages now occupy the cemetery land and if, on a dreary night, the window shade of a room rustles, it may be either the wind - or a sorrowful ghost, grieving over the desecration of his grave.

SKELETONS ARE FOUND

According to paving and sewer contractors, it is reasonable to believe that there may yet be skeletons in the ground which once was King's cemetery. Some were found long after the cemetery had ceased to be. Sheridan (Sherry) Tuttle, once a paving contractor of Decatur and now dead, uncovered skeletons when he paved West Wood street with the brick that was later covered with asphalt. Rudolph Klein, who worked for Sherry, remembers having heard Tuttle tell of unearthing skeletons on West Wood close to South Haworth while excavating was in progress for the original brick paving. Apparently, some of the graves in the old cemetery were neglected and were without headstones, causing the coffin-movers of the 90's unwittingly to pass up a few of the bodies.

"Undoubtedly some were left in the ground," said Mr. Klein last week, in commenting on Sherry Tuttle's gruesome discoveries. Sherry didn't imagine, on digging up the human bones, that he had found evidence of wholesale murder, it is believed. Those who remember him are sure that he knew of the existence of the cemetery.

CEMETERY PLATTED IN 1865

Inspection of fading records in the office of the county recorder last week brought to light a plat, dated 1865, showing King's cemetery in the location mentioned above. The cemetery did not occupy that part of the 1000 block of West Wood where the drug store is located, but the graves were close. John E. King and Maryetta King are listed in county records of 1865 as members of the family that owned the cemetery land. The cemetery was in existence during the Civil war and afterward, the records reveal, but in 1892 the grave yard had become the Woodland addition to Decatur.

The books and plats in the county recorder's office do not show any lost cemeteries other than King's cemetery. There are 30 burial places for the dead on the county records. Four of the 30 cemeteries are in the city; Greenwood, Fairlawn, Calvary and Graceland. One of the Macon county cemeteries is not platted. It is the North Fork cemetery outside Decatur.

LAWS PROTECT DEAD

There are interesting laws concerning cemeteries. The laws evidently all were designed to uphold the sanctity of the dead. It is well known that graves may not be robbed, or opened without sufficient legal reason, but it is not so well known that no cemetery or grave may be commercialized, and that it takes definite and reasonable legal action on the part of a corporate municipality, and the cemetery owners, trustees or society, to move the bodies and devote the land to other purposes.

The law will not even permit the building of a much needed highway through or across the corner of a cemetery, without a special course of action, the theory being that the building of the roadway may disturb graves.



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