Joliet Township cleans up abandoned cemetery
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org September 5, 2012 9:42PM
Jaime Guajardo, a Road District employee, walks through Mound Cemetery along Cherry Hill Road in Joliet, IL on Thursday August 30, 2012. The cemetery was taken over and cleaned up by Joliet Township. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 4, 2012 12:57PM
JOLIET — Help has arrived for Mound Cemetery on Cherry Hill Road.
Joliet Township took over the vintage burial ground in August. In the past couple of weeks, township highway department workers and private contractors have been trimming trees and picking up debris and cutting grass, Township Supervisor Dan Vera said.
“It was ankle high to knee high in spots,” Vera said of the grass.
The township acquired the cemetery from the city of Joliet, which purchased Mound in the late 1990s at a property tax sale, Vera said. The city was supposed to transfer the cemetery, but it fell through the cracks until recently, he added.
This is the second cemetery that the township has acquired. The other is Zarley Cemetery on Patterson Road, which the township has had for much longer.
Both cemeteries date to the early 1800s and neither had a cemetery board or sexton, so they were, in essence, abandoned, Vera said. State law requires township governments to take over such cemeteries and maintain them.
Burr Oak effect
Recently, the laws governing cemeteries in Illinois have gotten even stricter, Vera said. The changes were prompted by a cemetery scandal in Burr Oak Cemetery in Cook County that involved multiple burials in the same plots, Vera said.
The topic is so hot for townships, it was the first order of business for a meeting Vera attended in Bloomington on Aug. 24 for Township Officials of Illinois.
Only three topics were discussed, but cemeteries were first on the agenda, he said. Because Mound and Zarley have no active burials and are under three acres each, the township only has to register the cemeteries with the state, but no further reporting is necessary, Vera said.
The township sets aside about $10,000 a year for cemetery maintenance from its general fund. Vera said the cemetery fund will be used up this year with maintenance at Zarley and a lot of the cleanup work at Mound. But in the next couple of years there should be enough money to hire a monument company to erect stones that were toppled by time or vandals.
Also, the township would like to hire a company that uses radar to locate burial vaults and gravestones that have been covered by soil and grass and are no longer visible, Vera said. Once located, the gravestones could be brought back to the surface.
Joliet Township hired an intern a few years ago to research Zarley Cemetery to try to find a sexton map of graves, but was unable to locate one. However, all of the research, which includes newspaper articles, information from the Will County recorder of deeds office and tax information, has been kept on file.
Vera is encouraging people who have done genealogical research at either cemetery to share their information or to contact the township to access its information so records of burials and ownership can be kept for future generations.
Though it’s required by law, taking care of aging cemeteries is the right thing to do “to show our respect to those who were there before us,” Vera said.
Mound may not be the last cemetery the township acquires. Vera said there is an old cemetery at the shuttered Joliet Correctional Center on Collins Street and farm and pioneer cemeteries throughout the area that are going to need help in the years to come.
“They’ve just gone to the wayside through the evolution of time,” he said.