Restoring Spring Hill Cemetery

“To everything there is a season…and a time to gather stones together.” (Book of Ecclesiastes)

(Click on any picture below to view the full size images.)

Spring Hill overlooks Grand Cote Prairie in Perry County, Illinois. Spring Hill Cemetery (also known as Boyle Cemetery) is on the upper slope, a bit below the crest. The closest hamlet is Winkle, originally Craigs Station along the Cairo Short Line Railroad. Now a near-ghost town, Winkle was once a boom-and-bust coal mining community of 1,000 people.

Long before Craigs Station was platted in 1871 and long before the huge mine was even a dream to Mr. Winkle, Spring Hill Cemetery was the final resting place for farm families in that section of Perry County and nearby southern Washington County. The earliest known burial was in 1841.

As decades passed, meandering cattle knocked over tombstones while, below ground, gophers undermined and toppled pedestals and monuments.  Some families began burying their loved ones in other nearby cemeteries like Swanwick Bethel. People moved away. The cemetery gradually became overgrown and began a long, slow process of deterioration. Tumbled stones piled up haphazardly. Tunneling gophers, aided by blowing soil from decades of farming on the windswept prairie, buried tombstones and foot stones. The last known burial was in 1911.

Naomi Logan Bass and her husband, Laverne Bass, first took me to Spring Hill Cemetery in 1979. There were only a few tombstones still standing. Trees, fallen limbs, and brambly underbrush nearly obscured the cemetery from the road below. During the growing season, the only way to tell there was a cemetery there at all was because the trees in the midst of cultivated fields gave it away as did, up close, the periwinkle ground cover. (Periwinkle is a dead giveaway (no pun intended) that a cemetery is or was once there.)

In 1997, my uncle, Jack Logan, visited Spring Hill Cemetery. He took one long look and said straightaway, “We need to fix it up.” Now, I had been to that cemetery several times (and had hosted many a tick and chiggers to prove it) and this had never occurred to me. You might call it an epiphany or teachable moment or eureka moment. To me, it was a palm plant right to my forehead: Why didn’t I think of that? But I was grateful my uncle did.

Jack Logan’s pragmatic vision started an every-Spring-and-Fall work detail/pilgrimage to Spring Hill Cemetery to rehabilitate the place. The first years were spent felling dead trees, removing brush, and hauling out fallen timber. A varying cast of people worked as time and circumstance permitted.  Folks who could no longer do physical labor brought food and drink and contributed tools.

Roger Kuhnert, who lives near Spring Hill, showed up one day and lent us his tractor so we could remount the heaviest tombstones on their original pedestals. Roger didn’t know us from Adam. For all he knew, we could have been a nefarious gang of tractor thieves. But he didn’t hesitate. (Roger’s story continues to this day as he voluntarily looks after, mows, and maintains Spring Hill Cemetery. He also has worked for years mowing and maintaining Swanwick Bethel Cemetery.)

As the seasons and years passed, we gradually got the upper hand over the weeds. Coincidentally, coyotes came back into the area and, nature being nature, helped us with our overly-industrious gophers and unstable soil problem.

Once the cemetery got cleared out a bit, we gently probed for buried tombstones and foot stones. Stu Wright brought along his dowsing rods. Mostly, the stones were hidden under several inches of dirt and clay, but gophers had succeeded in burying one a couple of feet deep. Cindy Abbott worked a long time to uncover that hidden treasure.

As the old stones were re-erected, eventually periwinkle carpeted a real cemetery once more. Jack Logan designed a metal “Spring Hill” arch to frame the entryway to the cemetery. Crafted at his home in Wisconsin, he transported it to southern Illinois where he and his brother, Jay Logan, assembled it. The arch overlooks Grand Cote Prairie on one side, Spring Hill Cemetery on the other. Flowering bushes and dogwood trees were planted beside the archway. The dogwoods were christened with Harry Brown’s and Tom Logan’s favorite beverages: strong coffee and Gatorade, respectively. Spring Hill Cemetery was a cemetery again.

The people who worked on the Spring Hill Cemetery Restoration Project over the years are:

  • Cindy Nehrkorn Abbott
  • Cindy Logan Abernathy
  • Helen Tanner Benson
  • Harry and Beulah Tanner Brown
  • Katie Logan Clark
  • Irene Purcell Dixon
  • Kent Dixon
  • David and Nathan Guthrie
  • Mike Jones
  • Roger and Sue Kuhnert
  • Elsie Logan
  • Jack Logan
  • James and Ada Logan
  • Jay and Mavis Logan
  • Jim Logan
  • Theo Logan
  • Tom Logan
  • Gene and Glenna Hammack Nehrkorn
  • George Nehrkorn
  • Marge Logan Shew
  • Nila Jean Tanner
  • Stu and Sharon Purcell Wright

Our thanks to Roger Kuhnert who continues to look after Spring Hill and Swanwick Bethel cemeteries and to Glen and Delores Bauersachs for maintaining the easement to the cemetery.

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