Spring connotes rebirth and resurrection, apt associations for Peoria’s Springdale Cemetery. Conceived in 1854 and chartered in 1855, Springdale is generating lively interest as it approaches its 150th birthday.
Only a few years ago, the cemetery was suffering the ravages of mismanagement. A public irate with the neglect, vandalism, theft, and abuse of trust demanded change, and volunteers mobilized to seek improvement. In 2003, the City of Peoria, Peoria County, and Peoria Park District signed the Springdale Cemetery Intergovernmental Agreement, bringing the Cemetery and Mausoleum under city ownership. The Springdale Cemetery Management Authority now handles operation, assisted by financial support from the Springdale Historic Preservation Foundation.
In the past few months, there’ve been high school art and photo contests; cemetery walks with folklore storytellers; a documentary on WTVP; an exhibit at Peoria Public Library downtown; a series of classes in April at Bradley’s Institute for Learning in Retirement; and, coming May 28, historic trolley tours by CityLink, with guides certified by the Peoria Historical Society. A Memorial Day celebration May 30, with an avenue of flags and military ceremony, will draw even more attention.
The trolley tours continue from 2 to 4 p.m., Fridays through June and resume in October when the fall colors peak. Tours start at the Harp & Thistle at 4605 N. Prospect Road in Peoria Heights. Tickets cost $8 and can be reserved by calling the shop at 688-5668. The route also includes Grand View Drive, designed for the Pleasure Driveway and Park District of Peoria and named in 1904. With its distinguished homes and scenic vistas, the Drive still merits Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 description as "world’s most beautiful drive."
CityLink also offers 90-minute tours of Grand View, downtown, and the west bluff at 10:30 a.m., Thursdays and Saturdays, May 27 through October. At 10:30 a.m., Fridays, an All-American City tour departs from the Riverfront Visitors Center.
Springdale’s development reflects the rural cemetery movement that encouraged picturesque design and appreciation of nature. Horse-drawn carriages could travel more than 25 miles of roadways through Springdale’s 358 acres of valleys and hills. More than six miles of roads and bridges were recently upgraded and improved, now allowing safe transit of the trolley.
Highlights of the tour include Soldiers’ Hill, final resting place for 300 Civil War veterans, and Legion Hill, where an additional 2,000 spaces were reserved for our country’s bravest men and women from all wars, as well as approximately 50 wives and mothers. Soldiers’ Hill was first a labor of love by the Ladies Memorial Association, who carted dirt to enhance the site and collected funds for a statue, now gone. In more recent times, veterans of later wars dedicated their efforts to relocating and replacing the Civil War cannons and refurbishing the site.
The Mausoleum, constructed in 1929 and expanded in 1965 and 1973, has a capacity of 1,100 crypts. No wood was used in the granite, marble, and steel building, guarded by bronze doors. Some 15 private mausoleums, dating to as early as 1887, stand throughout the cemetery.
Visitors will see the artistry of the monument makers as they learn about a few of the nearly 80,000 people resting in Springdale. They’ll see names still familiar today-Detweiller, Bradley, Fulton, Gwynn, Flanagan, Morron, Buehler, Jobst, Block, Chanute, Woodruff, and Zeller-and learn about others well known in their day: Gov. Ford, Gen. Stillman, Lt. Robin of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, artists, sculptors, musicians, military heroes, judges, historians, and mayors. The tour also passes a remnant of native prairie, an inspiration to naturalists dating back to the 1800s.
"You can learn a lot about Peoria history, associating people with the streets and institutions named for them, influence of disease and hardship on life span, military involvement, and patriotism," said Linda McMullen, a retired teacher who used to take Washington Gifted School students there. "I never thought of it as a ghoulish place. Every stone holds a story."
McMullen has worked with Gloria LaHood to research information for the tour guides. The cemetery includes 70 areas, with groupings of all sorts: family, occupation, religion, age, lodge affiliation, residential neighborhood, military service, and economic status.
Approximately 50,000 sites remain available, an opportunity for people of today to secure a place in Peoria history, observed Jim Baldwin, chairman of the management authority and a PHS board member. Sale of sites is vital to the cemetery’s future.
Springdale, which WTVP termed the "Foundation of Our Future," holds both history and promise. Take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a guided tour of this resurrected treasure. AA!