By Cathy Stuehmeier
Being interested in historic restoration, it was a natural for me to become very aware of a couple of stones (that resembled headstones) just outside of Centralia. They are to the left when you are traveling west on 161, or to the right when you are driving east on 161, about a mile outside of Centralia, sitting slightly up on a small hill, on the edge. The area looked unkempt, and what was there was in disrepair until I noticed a change a few years ago.
With my mom’s interest in genealogy, she dragged me from cemetery to cemetery. The result was I fell in love with and developed a strong appreciation in cemeteries for the history of the old gravestones, some more beautiful and ornate than others.
The same can now be said for Gilmore Cemetery, thanks to a lot of folks interested in preservation and restoration. So you can imagine my delight when a dear friend Mike Chambers called and asked me if I would be interested in doing a story on what looked like an old family burial plot with a few gravestones, which was so much more. Of course I jumped at the chance. So the call was made to sit down with a lovely devoted lady who was a member of the Prairie State Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Vicki (Schoen) Edwards.
DAR does a community project once a year, and this is the same chapter that the late Anne Chappell belonged to. Anne did many great works with Prairie State Chapter, NSDAR. And so the project began. Vicki (Schoen) Edwards and her group decided to take on the project of restoring the tiny cemetery on 161, and boy what a project it turned into. So with the members voting yes, it all began with the help of some of the members and their families (some as far away as Alaska). Joining in the project were members of the community; some Brookside Township Board members; Centralia Tri Chi 2025 and their leaders; Boy Scout Troop 620 and their families; Jim Shoemaker; Vicki Fuhrmann, owner of Traces of Eternity, a company that restores headstones; and Tracy Macz from Macz Day Funeral Home, who supplied temporary markers for the graves.
In the first step, the Brookside Township Board gave this ambitious group their blessings after it was found that no one owned the ground. After that, all was a go. The hand and foot work began in the fall of 2021, and it was all cleared in the fall of 2022; then a proper sign was put up. Luckily the Centralia Museum supplied an old map showing where the graves were and where stones once stood, buried deep underground. The map dated back to 1948, showing between 30 to 35 graves, mostly from five different families as well as some others. The early history was from 1808 to 1817, from a small settlement or town called Clinton that was in the same area but no longer exists.
One of the early graves the cemetery holds is the grave of a War of 1812 veteran born in 1776 who died in 1833. He is buried next to his young son who was born in 1811, named John J. Gilmore (Gilmour). In 1820, at the age of nine, young John J. was the first known burial that, at the time, was called Gilmore and was spelled Gilmour. The last burial that they know of was close to 100 years ago, on April 10, 1944, Sharlott Gilmore, age 96, a teacher. I’ve also found through research that there was a road that went through the area where the cemetery is located, and the Civil War soldiers used it.
Needless to say, this project turned into a massive undertaking that included a multitude of man hours at a huge expense. There were trees to come down, underbrush to clear, and buried stones to be located, uprighted, and repaired. And there is still more to go. The goal in the long run was to salute and contribute to the amazing history of all of Southern Illinois, and so far they’ve already accomplished this. But there is more to come.
The chapter is now in the early stages of repairing fractured graves. There are several fractured graves that need repairing and/or those needing leveling and reset.
This work is continuing at the cemetery as long as funds are available. A large rummage sale was held Saturday, September 2, 2023 at First Christian Church in Centralia. Proceeds from this sale will benefit this cause. If you are moved to make a donation (no amount too small or too large) to the cemetery restoration project, please make checks payable to Prairie State Chapter, NSDAR. In the memo line please write Cemetery Restoration Project. Mail to Prairie State Chapter, NSDAR, 166 Mill Rd., Walnut Hill IL 62893-1104.
This is part of a series, so stay tuned for next week.