Nature often inspires the artist. To experience a fortuitous combination of nature and art, as well as history, plan a visit via a historic trolley to Peoria’s Springdale Cemetery.
In many communities, sculpture was primarily the province of cemeteries. A 1936 paper presented to the Peoria Historical Society by a Chicago historian congratulated Peoria by noting, "The statues in the public parks and the War Memorial in Court House Square are evidences that sculpture has not been confined merely to cemeteries."
Nonetheless, the sculpted angels, bronze statues, cast concrete, and carved stones, as well as distinctive architecture of the mausoleums in Peoria’s Springdale Cemetery, distinguish it as an artistic treasure. At 255 acres, Springdale is Peoria’s largest cemetery. Nearly 80,000 people are interred there, but its size would allow it to welcome nearly 50,000 more. Its wooded hills, valleys, and glens bespeak a natural park rather than a burying ground.
Riverview, one of Springdale’s 70 sections, is the site for the Christian Buehler mausoleum, known for many years as the finest memorial in the west. The distinguished edifice has six fluted columns-each 25 feet high-an Italian marble interior, and a crown circling the top. The granite roof, quarried in Vermont, is 15 feet in diameter, two-and-a-half feet thick, and weighs 100 tons. Buehler had been in the meat-packing business and later established a chain of grocery stores. When his widow died in 1926, she left a directive for construction of the memorial, while also providing funds to establish Peoria’s Buehler Home for the Aged.
Across from the Buehler mausoleum stands a row of distinctive monuments, including that of banker Walter Barker and his wife, Mary, whose generosity helped establish the Children’s Home. The Fred L. Block memorial includes a bronze casting entitled "Peace" by Fritz Triebel. It matches one on the Triebel gravesite in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City. Block, a founder of Schipper & Block, later Block & Kuhl department store, was killed in an automobile/train accident near Troy, N.Y. The Franklin Corning mausoleum recalls the family associated with the Corning Distillery, part of Peoria’s rich heritage of brewing and distilling. About 100 years ago, Corning’s business suffered Peoria’s most destructive fire ever, with 15 people killed.
Because cemeteries include quiet, undisturbed places, they’re also sites for a variety of natural plants and wildlife-a refuge for the living, as well as resting place for the deceased.
Recently, several acres of glacial hill prairie in St. Mary’s Cemetery in West Peoria received recognition as an Illinois Natural Heritage Landmark. Springdale also includes a registered Illinois Natural Heritage Landmark for an area of native tall grass oak savannah. For several generations, botanists have led treks to these natural sites.
Nomination is in process for Springdale’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. That effort, coordinated by the office of Kenyon & Associates Architects Incorporated, already is helping visitors appreciate the variety of architectural styles, ranging from the classic Greek and Egyptian to French renaissance, Spanish Gothic, Italian, and Germanic. Although not on the tour, the gatehouse built in 1900 near the now-closed entrance off Perry Street reflects a Japanese influence, popular at its time.
Springdale, which was chartered in 1855, is patterned after Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass. That cemetery, founded in 1831, was considered the prototype garden cemetery. Predating the development of public parks, the cemeteries provided the opportunity for outdoor recreation in areas of natural beauty.
The nomination also notes the fact that more than 160 Peoria streets carry the names of persons buried in Springdale. Soldiers, sailors, politicians, shop keepers, tradesmen, businessmen, bank-ers, children and families, and people of all colors and creeds are there, while folks today continue to take their place in Peoria history.
Starting in September, CityLink trolleys, with guides from the Peoria Historical Society, will again offer tours of Springdale. The tours, which cost $8, depart at 2 p.m., Fridays, from the Riverfront Visitors Center at the foot of Main Street, replacing the tour of Old Peoria and the Judge. For more information, call 672-2860. In October, the tours begin at 2 p.m., Fridays, at the Harp & Thistle in Peoria Heights. For more information, call 688-5668.
As the seasons change, take advantage of the opportunity to view the panorama of art, nature, and history that Springdale Cemetery presents. AA!