A historic district of 225 acres, designed to be a cemetery and a park
In the mid-1850s, Peoria was fast becoming a thriving Midwestern city. As its population doubled to nearly 12,000, the community faced the problem of providing the infrastructure to support this growing population—and the space to bury those who died here. At a public meeting in the Peoria Courthouse on August 4, 1854, a movement was launched to create “a more adequate cemetery” for the fast-growing city.
Large and Beautiful
The most attractive site in all of Peoria lay in the valley beyond Birkett’s Hollow and on the beautiful, wooded hills above. Much of this land was owned by Peoria citizens William A. Hall, Thomas Baldwin and Hervey Lightner.
The earliest description of the property was published on August 11, 1854, in the Peoria Weekly Republican: “All the requisites of a large and beautiful cemetery seem combined in this ground… The hills slope at so easy an angle that no difficulty is apprehended in making carriage ways through the whole ground. The little streams through which springs discharge their waters may be arrested in their progress and formed into small lakes or pools… Lying between the Mount Hawley road and the table land of the city, and covered with an almost unbroken forest, it is wholly secluded from the noise and dust of travel and business…”
Springdale’s large size required its owners to procure a charter from the Illinois state legislature in order to become operational as a cemetery and hold funds for burial in trust. To help get the charter, organizers hired Peoria lawyer Alexander McCoy. On February 14, 1855, McCoy succeeded in getting the charter passed, and Springdale Cemetery was officially in business. Interments began in the spring of 1857 with the burial of Ben Frank Powell, son of local Judge Elihu Powell. Many of the first burials were actually reburials, with families moving the remains of loved ones from family plots or other small cemeteries in the state.
Our Citizens’ Home
Today, Springdale is the final resting place for nearly 80,000 former Peoria-area residents of a range of nationalities and descents—English, French, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Korean, Polish, Russian, Scandinavian, Spanish, Vietnamese, African and more. It’s also the resting place for many of our legendary citizens, including:
- Illinois Senator Prescott E. Bloom;
- Lydia Moss Bradley, who established Bradley University;
- Octave Chanute, who helped the Wright brothers design their aircraft;
- Henry Detweiller, a steamboat pilot and captain on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers;
- Edward Easton, a successful grain dealer, distiller and president of the Peoria Board of Trade;
- Thomas Ford, governor of the State of Illinois from 1842 to 1846;
- Dr. Romeo B. Garrett, Bradley University’s first African-American professor;
- John H. Gwynn, president of the Peoria NAACP and national civil rights leader; and
- John Hall, a Civil War veteran who marched with Sherman to the sea.
Completed in 1929, the Springdale Mausoleum was designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Lovell & Lovell, one of 49 designed by the firm. Its style could be characterized as a restrained version of the Gothic Revival. An article describing the mausoleum appeared in the April 1931 issue of The American Cemetery.
Springdale’s mausoleum is of poured, re-enforced concrete, constructed by the Valley Mausoleum Company. The exterior is clad in gray Barre granite, and the interior is finished in white Alabama marble. Bronze doors, grills and window frames were produced for the project by the J. S. Heath Company of Waukegan, Illinois. The contract for the stained glass windows was awarded to the Temple Art Glass Company of Chicago.
For Remembrance and Enjoyment
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Springdale Cemetery was designed to be both a cemetery and a park—a place for both remembrance and enjoyment. This jewel of Peoria is a peaceful place of great beauty, deep meaning and rich history. It’s where people from all religions, cultures and walks of life come to remember and honor loved ones. Today, the cemetery holds 15 private family mausoleums, scattering gardens, designated areas for “natural burials,” and the Whispering Woods Pet cemetery, where people can bury their beloved pets.
Visitors come from the local community and throughout the Midwest to honor those who are interred here, and to use the grounds for walking tours, jogging, hiking or riding bicycles. They are able to experience the benefit of the many roads and trails that wind through the hills and valleys of this vast nature preserve. They enjoy the historic monuments, beautiful bluffs and scenic vistas, forested pathways, flowing streams, flower-covered meadows, the historic savanna and majestic river views.
While there are many thousands buried within these 225 acres of rolling hills and valleys, there is still enough space for additional growth. In fact, the land could accommodate an additional 50,000 full burials without any further expansion.
Commitment to the Future
Springdale Cemetery is owned by the City of Peoria, managed by the Springdale Cemetery Management Authority, and supported by the Springdale Historic Preservation Foundation. Throughout the year, it hosts a variety of special events and services for Peoria citizens; coupled with a dedicated staff and many regular volunteers, its future is bright. Come visit Peoria’s cemetery… you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the improved state of this wonderful treasure on Prospect Road. iBi
Mark Matuszak is general manager of Springdale Cemetery. Announcements of tours, events, beautification projects and other services can be found at springdalecemetery.com. For more information, call (309) 681-1400.