Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Lake Geneva's history lies buried in Pioneer Cemetery
All those interested in history should stroll among the tombstones

December 13, 2012

The year 2012 is the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the Pioneer Cemetery in Lake Geneva. Many area residents drive past Pioneer Cemetery frequently without giving a thought as to how the tombstones in the cemetery might relate to Lake Geneva’s 19th-century history. They are probably unaware that the cemetery contains graves of many people who were “players” in Lake Geneva during the 19th century.

If the cemetery were kept unlocked during the daylight hours (this writer hopes that the Cemetery Commission will decide to keep it unlocked as it was during most of the 175 years that it has been in existence), all those interested in Lake Geneva’s 19th-century history could stroll among the tombstones and view the names of many of the people mentioned in James Simmons’ magnificent history, “Annals of Lake Geneva, 1835-1897.”

Foremost among those who are buried in Pioneer Cemetery (beneath the largest tombstone) are Dr. Phillip Maxwell and his wife Jerusha. Dr. Maxwell was one of the seven founders of Geneva (as Lake Geneva was originally known). Maxwell’s mansion, the first mansion built on Geneva Lake (in 1856), still exists on Baker Street just west of Baker Street’s intersection with Wells Street. Maxwell Street in Lake Geneva and the more famous Maxwell Street in Chicago are both named after him.

Many other significant residents of 19th-century Lake Geneva are also buried in the Pioneer Cemetery. They include the Rev. Lemuel Hall, the first minister of the Congregational United Church of Christ (founded as a Presbyterian Church) and the Rev. John McNamara. Rev. McNamara was the first rector of the Church of the Holy Communion, Lake Geneva’s Episcopal Church. Born in Ireland, he was also the editor of the “Anti-Slavery Churchman,” which supported John C. Fremont, the first Republican candidate for president in 1856. Rev. McNamara also was a chaplain in the Union Army during the Civil War.

There are at least 26 other Union Army veterans of the Civil War buried in Pioneer Cemetery. (There are 51 Civil War veterans buried in Oak Hill Cemetery and 13 Civil War veterans buried in St. Francis de Sales Cemetery.) Perhaps the most notable Union Army veteran buried in the Pioneer Cemetery is Asa W. Farr. Asa Farr was a lawyer and a law partner of Charles M. Baker, the father-in-law of Emily Baker, whose home, Baker House, still exists on Wrigley Drive between the Harbor Shores and the Bella Vista Suites. Farr also was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and was the school superintendent in Geneva. In November 1861, Farr joined the Union Army and became a lieutenant and quartermaster in the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry regiment. On Sept. 6, 1863, he and another soldier in the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry were brutally murdered at Baxter Springs, Kan., by William (Billy) Quantrill’s band of Confederate bushwhackers (which probably included Jesse and Frank James and Cole, Jim and Bob Younger).

Also buried in Pioneer Cemetery is Martin F. Ross, a member of Company C of the 22nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, who died in Danville, Ky., during the Civil War.

In addition to the veterans of the Civil War buried in Pioneer Cemetery, there are also two veterans of the War of 1812, both of whom served in the U.S. Army at a very young age — Zaccheus Gillette, a drummer boy during the War of 1812, and John Powers, who was probably also a drummer boy in the War of 1812, and who was also a Civil War veteran. Moreover, two veterans of World War I are buried in Pioneer Cemetery, George Rich and Warren Rich.

Among other notables, 19th-century residents of Geneva buried in Pioneer Cemetery are John Haskins (after whom Haskins Street is named), Harrison Rich (who developed Rich’s addition to Geneva, between Madison and Williams streets), and Noah Barrell, who was one of the early ministers of the Baptist Church (now the Geneva Village Shops).

Of the seven founders of Lake Geneva, only two are buried in the Pioneer Cemetery, Phillip Maxwell and Lewis B. Goodsell, who died in Chicago on May 27, 1852, while on his way back to Geneva following a trip to New York City.

Among those buried in the Pioneer Cemetery are two individuals who literally built Geneva in the 19th century — the carpenters H.B. Conant (after whom Conant Street is named) and O.T. LaSalle (after whom LaSalle Street is named).

After 1880, when Oak Hill Cemetery was opened, many tombstones and remains of 19th century pioneers buried in the Pioneer Cemetery were transferred to Oak Hill. One can readily identify their gravesites in Oak Hill by the age of their tombstones, which clearly resemble many of those in Pioneer Cemetery. Among the early settlers of Geneva whose remains were moved to Oak Hill was Robert Wells Warren (after whom Warren Street is named), who was one of the seven founders of Geneva.

Unfortunately, over the years, especially during the 1950s, hundreds of the original tombstones in the Pioneer Cemetery, especially those of sandstone or limestone, broke off and were stacked at the north end of the cemetery. The large piles in which the tombstones were stacked disappeared many years ago. Of the tombstones that have survived, only those made of granite or, to a much lesser extent, marble, have names carved on them that are easy to read. It is, therefore, impossible to determine who is buried in many of the plots in the cemetery.

Records relating to who is buried in the cemetery are quite sparse. In 1976, as part of the U.S. Bicentennial activities, a group of Girl Scouts, under the direction of Mrs. Jack Williams, prepared a map of Pioneer Cemetery plots and who owned them. Mickey Tolar, who administers the Oak Hill Cemetery office, has a copy of the map prepared by Mrs. Williams and the Girl Scouts.

The Walworth County Genealogical Society published a booklet containing the names of the people who were known to have been buried in Pioneer Cemetery. Because of the large number of tombstones that have not survived, the removal of headstones and remains of old settlers to Oak Hill Cemetery after 1880, and the inadequacy of available records, there are large, seeming empty, areas in the Pioneer Cemetery, beneath which are buried early residents of Lake Geneva known today only to God.

One hopes that the gates of Pioneer Cemetery will soon once again be opened during the daylight hours much as they were open during most of the cemetery’s 175-year existence so that people from Lake Geneva and those who come to the cemetery from afar in quest of their ancestors’ graves can walk among the stone monuments that exemplify Lake Geneva’s history.

There can be no more fitting commemoration of the Pioneer Cemetery’s 175th anniversary than to open its gates. While the tombstones are mute reminders of Lake Geneva’s 19th-century history, they also stand as silent sentinels of that history.