We have a new sign courtesy of Wilmington High School who painted this great sign! Here are pictures of the new sign and our gracious volunteers Ashley Wheeler, Melissa Woodall and Mrs. Josette Twait who helped with the installation. We are very thankful for their kind assistance and a special shout out to Wilmington High School!
Many volunteers help us with the heavy task of restoring Oakwood Cemetery. Here are students from Wilmington High School assigned through the Southern Will County Cooperative For Special Education (S.O.W.I.C.). The SOWIC mission is to build a world class education service provider.
In order to do this they: Value each child; Value parent input; Foster self-esteem and independence; Listen to and respect the needs and differences of others; Be honest and perform with integrity; Show kindness to others; and, Provide a nurturing environment.
The students who helped us build a new cemetery entrance on this day demonstrated all of these positive traits and their efforts were greatly appreciated. You can see some of the work they did with us in the following photos.
The south portion of Oakwood Cemetery, which is catalogued and available for purchase from the Will County Historical Society for $20 plus mailing cost, lies on a sandy bluff overlooking the east branch of the Kankakee River, known locally as the "Mill Race". Shaded by giant oaks and generally cooled by a river breeze, it is a favorite spot for summer evening walks. As Wilmington was one of the area's first settlements, Oakwood has, since the 1830's, been a burial place of choice for residents of Wilmington and surrounding townships in Will and Grundy Counties.
This portion of the cemetery, south of a shallow creek, contains burials from 1838 to the present time, while the "new" part, north of the creek, dates only from about 1907. The earliest burials, interspersed with newer ones, are generally confined to lots 99 through 113 and have markers set at a different angle. These "angled" lots, noted in the editorial information following the lot number, were generally discontinued in the 1840's. The first map of Oakwood, filed at the Will County courthouse in 1854 by the owner, Hiram 0. Alden unfortunately excluded this original section of the cemetery.
As this map, and each map of subsequent additions, used different lot-numbering systems, the repetition of numbers made lot identification unduly complex. Hence, for the purpose of this book, a wholly consecutive numbering system and an accompanying map have been provided. These lot numbers are NOT the ones still in use by the cemetery. A three-row parcel of lots, part of the 1881 addition, was apparently sold to the adjoining Catholic Cemetery.
The transition is imperceptible and it takes a sharp eye to distinguish the border between the two cemeteries. Early cemetery records were destroyed in a 1923 fire at the home of the Secretary-Manager, Julius Luther. Both Mr. Luther's daughter, Mary, and James McGovern, a former cemetery maintenance worker, recall that there were once a number of wooden markers perhaps an inexpensive alternative to a stone marker of which not one remains today.
Until its destruction by fire a few years ago, a two holed outhouse/shed served not only as a "comfort station," and reference point, but also as a refuge from heavy rain. (One wonders at the circa 1900 sensibilities and the "privacy" of a two hole outhouse.) Only the limestone foundation remains just north of lot 113 which is indicated on the map by a dotted line. Oakwood burials include residents of the Soldier's Widows' Home once located in Wilmington. Founded in 1895 by the Woman's Relief Corps (W.R.C.) and the G.A.R., it opened in March of 1896. After a few years, the State of Illinois took over the operation, so residents' graves are marked with military-style markers. These, alas, give only the name and date of death. While the majority of these markers are in a very obvious section in the newer part of Oakwood, the earliest Widows' Home burials are on lots 74 and 75 in the south portion of the cemetery.
Cataloging began in the fall of 1986 with revisions in the spring of 1988, the summer of 1990 and final proof reading in August of 1991. After the collapse of the Mill Race dam in 1990 and the subsequent lack of rainfall, much of the water was drained from the Mill Race and a number of whole or fragmented "lost" markers were found on the bottom. Heaving or rolling markers down the embankment is a favorite form of teen-age vandalism, with the cylindrical sausage-shaped ones being particularly vulnerable. (One of the latter, after a great deal of back-breaking labor to extricate sufficiently for the inscription to be read, was found to say "Father.")
Occasionally, final proofreading efforts were unceremoniously interrupted when angry wasps, annoyed at being disturbed, would swarm from their nest at the base of a marker. While angry wasps would hardly be a problem for the casual visitor, the very prevalent poison ivy might be. The Mill Race embankment is covered with it and, out of reach of mowers; innocent-looking sprigs of it lurk at the base of trees and stones. "Leaves three, let it be."