In the latter part of this past summer I had an opportunity to search out and find Searl Ridge Cemetery. This little site is tucked away in one of the more rural areas of the already very rural Bureau County here in Illinois. Many of the ancestors on my father’s side of the family lived in this area, and I was interested in this site in particular because it includes the gravesite of my great-great grandparents.
I often like to bike or trike to visit these graveyards, but Searl Ridge is a good 30+ miles from home. I may work up to that type of distance, but I’m not there yet, so when one of LB’s Cross Country meets took us into Bureau County I took the opportunity to find it. Like many of these older cemeteries, it’s clear that the site has been cared for. Still, the degree of this declines over time, likely as descendants move out past the generations that actively remember those interned within. As a testament to this, the iron fence and sign have on it a plaque indicating it was "donated by M.R. Clark [and] R.L. Clark, 1994". This seems, to a person from my era, like recent attention paid to the site by benefactors until one realizes that 1994 was 23 years ago...
There are other indications of change as well. As is often the case, I found this site through findagrave.com. This site often includes pictures not just of gravestones, but also of the entranceway to the graveyard itself, which can be helpful when things are hidden away behind trees and the like. The black fence and sign here are unmistakable, but to the right of the sign there is a building foundation with charred remnants of its former occupant.
I’d saved the entranceway photo from findagrave back when I first came across the location. It’s unclear when that photo was taken, but the building was still present at that time.
When you enter the cemetery you see that someone cared about this site not just enough to put up a fence, but also to make an informational sign:
The sign was put up as part of a restoration project that appears to have started back in 2007, according to this article from BCRNews. The building that is gone was The Ridge Chapel. The cemetery, the chapel, as well as some history about the buildings, are touched on here by Avra Valley John on his site Off the Beaten Path in Illinois. The article, which is from March of 2017, refers to the chapel as being present, which suggests it burned relatively recently. A comment on his site suggests it was in very poor repair so it’s possible the fire was intentional, though vandalism also rears its ugly head out in rural areas.
Also referred to in these sources is the old schoolhouse, which is still there:
Avra Valley John indicates the structure, built in 1875, is the third school built on the site. The first was a log cabin which hosted the first classes in 1837. This was replaced by another building in 1860, and then the current building, pictured, built in 1875. The history on the sign indicates that it continued to be used as a school until 1947.
The graveyard itself is like many in the region, with stones ranging in age from the mid-1800s to the late 1970’s (at least), in varying states of repair:
Several of the "stones" weren’t stone at all, but appeared to be a cast metal, and are hollow:
This was new to me, and it’s difficult to tell just by looking, but knock on them and they ring out. Wikipedia suggests that these could be cast iron, or sand-cast zinc, which were popular for the era. In many cases the "engravings" and information appear to have withstood the ravages of time better than their stone counterparts.
George Washington and Sarah Amelia (Ireland) Wade are the great-great-grandparents I was here to find, and their site was present:
I know very little about these folks, aside from some demographic information. They had eight children together, including my great grandfather, Percy.
Two of their daughters - Jessie Pearl and Nina Elsie - worked as school teachers in the area (they show up frequently in newspaper archives). Percy himself was a lock tender on the I&M Canal.
There are only these Wades in the cemetery, but there are several Irelands. There are also Searls, as one might expect, and at least some (if not all) of these are family to Sarah Amelia. Included among them are her great-grandfather, Timothy Searl, and her parents, Jonathan Ireland and Elizabeth Catherine. The broken gravestone, above, is possibly for Elizabeth - it reads "Eliza, wife of J. Ireland". If so, it was later replaced with this, much larger stone:
It appears she also has two brothers here. Wilber, buried with his wife Mary:
And her brother Frank, is also here:
The inscription on the stone reads "Uncle". This would suggest that he never married.
It seems likely, given the nature of these sites, that several of the other Searls and Irelands are also relations. I realize, as I look through my family tree and try to pair pictures with people, that I will need to take another trip to Searl Ridge Cemetery. I was focused primarily on finding George and Amelia’s grave. I was successful in this, but i missed out on many others. I’ll need to take more time on another day