Mapping the Cemeteries: City Cemetery

On May 1, 1859, the last burial lots were sold in the City Cemetery. Although this meant the cemetery would not be further developed, it did not stop lot owners from interring within their family-owned plots. The order to stop sales also did not affect the burials in the potter's field. Interments continued for six more years. Dr. John H. Rauch wrote in 1866, that from January 1860 until March 1866, a total of 15,212 bodies, including those of nearly 4000 Confederate prisoners, were buried in the City Cemetery and its potter's field.

In 1863, the Supreme Court ruled that the city officials had illegally acquired the 12-acre Milliman Tract. Rather than pay the Milliman heirs the $75,000 they were asking for the land, the City opted to remove the graves for a lesser cost. The officials then returned the land to the heirs, who sold sections of the ground to individuals, who in turn sold their land back to the Lincoln Park Comissioners, who incorporated it into the park in the 1870s.

The City Cemetery was under the control of the Board of Public Works until the grounds were turned over to the Lincoln Park Commissioners in 1869. At that time, Lincoln Park, covered the area from Wisconsin Street, north to Fullerton Avenue. The park commissioners concentrated on improving the landscape of the park and embarked on the construction of the new Lake Shore Drive, leaving the cemetery intact.

After the 1871 Chicago Fire ravaged the surface features of what was by then called the Old Cemetery, there was a renewed effort to continue disinterments and ultimately to incorporate those grounds into the park's landscape. Read eye-witness narratives about the Chicago Fire that reference features of the City and Catholic Cemeteries, here.

In 1874, the Lincoln Park Commissioners condemned the ground containing unclaimed cemetery lots to incorporate that land into the park. See the record of those 712 burial lots, here.

In 1875, the Lincoln Park Commissioners removed the remaining headstones and their graves to an area north of today's baseball fields, creating a fenced-in cemetery within the park. The ground was eventually cleared of the markers, and the land was incorporated into the park.

By 1877, the last remaining visible reminder of the City Cemetery was the Couch Tomb. It still stands on the spot where it was built in 1858.

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Chicago, January 7, 1860
Messr. Long, Taft & Carpenter
Special Committee on the Chicago Cemetery


In compliance with your request the undersigned would respectfully place before you their views respecting the improvement of the Cemetery, in a detailed and somewhat specific form.

         In the first place the lands included in the Cemetery comprise about one hundred and twenty acres, situated mostly on the lake shore. Of these about Sixty acres have been surveyed into lots by the City and mostly sold. Perhaps not exceeding one half of this portion of the land has been occupied by actual interments.

         There is therefore about sixty (60) acres lying in a body wholly unsold and unoccupied. It lies North and directly adjoining the surveyed and sold portion of the Cemetery, and is exceedingly valuable for public purposes. It was purchased by the City out of moneys arising from the sale of lots and the cost price charged to the Cemetery Fund. We propose the abandonment of the tract to the City to be used for Public Grounds and such other public purposed (if any) as the Common Council may devote it to. We would not advise its sale; such a step we think would be unwise.

         While this consenting and advising the abandonment for burial purposes part of the Cemetery land, we at the same time expect that at least a fair portion of its estimated value shall be devoted to the improvement of the residue. The whole value has been pledged for that purpose, and if withdrawn from sale the proposed arrangement would be equitable and proper. But a comparatively small part of such value would be required in addition to the unexpended balance of moneys arising from the sales of lots, standing to the credit of the Cemetery fund.

         We would, in the next place, remind your Committee, that in the South west corner of the Cemetery and outside of the enclosure, there is a small triangular piece containing about three acres, originally constituting a part of the Cemetery grounds, but now separated therefrom by North Clark street. This small tract we would advise the sale of; the proceeds of the sale to be added to the Cemetery Fund for the like purpose of improvement.

         Lastly, in respect to the improvements proposed, we would suggest the following as an outline:

1st     That a permanent wall or iron railing be erected around that part of the land proposed to be devoted to burial purposes:
2nd     That suitable entrance gates and buildings be erected:
3rd     That such part of the land, within said limits, as has not been sold, be laid off by the city in such way as may contribute to the general improvement of the Cemetery, and planted with trees and evergreens; And
4th     That the avenues and walks through the Cemetery be permanently improved by gravelling or otherwise.

         These suggestions embrace in general terms the proposed improvements. It is obvious that they cannot be undertaken until a plan shall be prepared by some person or persons qualified for the work, in order that the most may be made of the natural features of the ground. And we close by expressing the wish that such a person may be immediately employed and the plans spoken of immediately prepared. Where this shall be done many of our Citizens stand ready to improve their lots in such a way as will materially aid in making the Cemetery a credit to the City.

Very respectfully Your Obt Svts,

George Manierre
Grant Goodrich
Mark Skinner
B.W. Raymond
William Jones
W.L. Newberry

February 13, 1860
To the Mayor and Aldermen of the city of Chicago, in Common Council assembled:

Your Special Committee to whom was referred the Memorial of Hon. Geo. Manierre, Wm Jones & others on the subject of permanently improving the Chicago Cemetery

Having had the same under advisement, beg leave to report, That they have met & consulted with the Memorialists on the subject, who have kindly written out their views & furnished them to us, & which we adopt & herewith submit as part of our Report.

         A negotiation is now pending with the officers of the “Rose Hill Cemetery” for a Section of their grounds wherein to bury the dead falling under the City’s charge, & also to insure a cheap & proper burial place for the poor. It seems to have become a settled thing in the public mind, that no further extension of Cemetery grounds within the City limits be permitted, indeed when we look to the deterioration of property in their vicinity & the barrier which is placed to the improvement & extension of our City in their direction, we see the justice of the public sentiment.
         And your committee recommend that an agreement be entered into as speedily as possible, substantially in accordance with the draft of a contract submitted by the Mayor to this Council Nov. 10. 1859.         But our early settlers, the founders of our City are laid in the old burying ground – Fathers, mothers, children & friends there await the resurrection of the dead, & it becomes our sacred duty to protect the spot from dilapidation, & ruin, & to so protect it that the utmost confidence may be obtained in its permanency. It has been sadly neglected, & in the language of the memorial, “there is perhaps no other City in this country in which the burial place of the dead has received so little attention.”

         The whole amount of lands purchased by the City for Cemetery purposes comprises about 120 acres, & the Ordinance dedicating them & the contract entered into with the purchasers of lots therein, provides that they “shall be kept & preserved as a place for the burial of the dead of said City, & that all moneys which have been or which may be received for lots sold therein shall be laid out & expended in paying for said grounds & in ornamenting & improving the same.”

         These grounds cost the City in the aggregate $5755. & we have realised from the sale of lots about $25,000. The exhibit in account with the Cemetery on the Comptroller’s Books, shows a surplus received over the cost of the land & all other expenses accrued of about $5000. & leaves one half the land, about 60 acres, unoccupied & at the future disposal of the City authorities. It is therefore proposed that some well devised plan should be prepared & entered into by the City in compliance with the recommendations accompanying this report, & in compliance with the prayer of the original memorial. With this view, we offer for passage the following orders:

         Ordered – That the Mayor & Comptroller be requested to negotiate for the purchase of a piece of land lying on the South East corner of the Cemetery; it being necessary to bring the grounds at said S.E. corner to a right angle.
         Ordered – That all the grounds surveyed & laid out into lots in the “City Cemetery” & named respectively “old survey”, “new survey”, “last new survey” & “Green’s survey”, together with the piece of land named in the above order, if purchased, hereafter be the limits of the “Chicago Cemetery.”

         Ordered – That the Mayor & Comptroller be directed to cause a survey to be made & a system devised for the improvement of the Cemetery, to be prepared by competent persons, to be submitted to the Common Council for its adoption, and to be worked up to as means may allow - & the Mayor & Comptroller are hereby authorised to employ such assistance as may be deemed necessary for the purpose.

         Ordered – That Hon. Geo. Manierre, Hon. Mark Skinner, Walter Newberry, Esq., Wm. Jones, Esq., and J.N. Judd Esq. Be appointed a Committee to act in conjunction with the Mayor & Comptroller & any committee of the Common Council in carrying out the recommendations & orders herewith submitted, & that they be respectfully requested to accept the appointment & give the matter their particular attention & supervision, & apply to & advise with the Common Council at any time seemed necessary to further & consummate the object.

All of which is respectfully submitted,
James Long
Benjamin Carpenter         Sp. Com.

March 25, 1861
Communication from the City Sexton on selling extra sand which drifted on the northeast corner of the cemetery.

Commission of Public Works, Annual Report, 1863.
Mr. Ure, besides his having the care of the parks scattered over the city, had the superintendence of the cemetery, and was required to make report concerning it once every year to the Board of Public Works. His report for 1863 is still interesting. After telling of what had been done in the actual cemetery, he continues: “We have trimmed the trees in the northern part of the cemetery, generally known as the park; planted a row of maple trees along the first road by the fence on the west side; which are all alive and doing well.” Then again as to the cemetery: “ About six months ago a large portion of the fence of the cemetery was blown down and damaged by a strong wind, and we have repaired it as well as possible under the circumstances. A portion of the fence on the east side of the cemetery was almost covered by drifted sand. The boards of this fence being rotten, we considered it best not to raise it, but put new boards above the old ones where the sand had covered them.

Chicago Tribune, April 2, 1862

Chicago Tribune, December 11, 1862

Courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.

Transcribed from original, presented at the left:



Office of the Board of Public Works,
Chicago, July 27th, 1863

To the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Chicago, in Common Council assembled:

The Board of Public Works to whom was referred the petition of J.L. James, setting forth, that in 1852 he purchased eight Cemtery lots, while there was deeded to him but seven, and asking that the omitted lot be conveyed to him, respectfully report:

That Dec 30th 1852 Mr. James purchased Six lots. No's 1352, 1353, 1354, 1355, 1404 & 1405 at 15. dollars each and one No. 1452 at 20 dollars, paying 110 dollars; the price of them as shown by the Cemetery record - The lots are situated as shown in the plat below:

It was probably Mr. James' intention to purchase lot 1403, but the Board find no evidence, that he made the purchase. The lot has not been sold. We understand that it is enclosed by Mr. James with his lots and recommend that authority be given to convey it to him as his payment to the City of Fifteen dollars ($15.) the price at which it was rated, when his purchase was made:


This was the document that helped me definitively place and locate and properly layout these one hundred and twenty-seven lots within the cemetery.

Courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.

To the Mayor and Aldermen in Common Council.

Several Complaints being made of lot holders of the old Cemetery of Cattle running at large over the Grounds, & therefore recommend the passage of the following resolution.

                           Valentine Ruh
That the board of Public Work be and they are hereby requested to order the building of a fence between the old Cemetery and Park, running East and West

Adopted Oct 16th 1865
Presented to the Mayor for approval Oct. 21st 1865.
A. H. Bodman City Clerk
Approved Oct. 23rd 1865.
J.B. Rice Mayor.

1869 Annual Report
A contract was executed early in the year with Messrs. Nelson and Benson, the original contractors on Lincoln Park, for the grading and shaping of that part of the park (according to the original plan) not hitherto graded, for a large number of evergreen trees, for a drive connecting the park and cemetery, and for sodding an miscellaneous work as should be directed by the Board. This work has been in progress during the year. The park has, however, been visited by such large numbers of persons, that the necessary current expenditures for its maintenance in good order have amounted to a considerable share of the whole outlay.

Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1870
The Dead-House
A petition was received from Ald. Mongomery and others, praying that the dead-house be removed from its present location. The petitioners call attention to the fact that the building is in a dilapidated condition, and improperly located, inasmuch as it is upon a park driveway and a prominent thoroughfare. The closing of the road-way to Lincoln Park, from Clark street, forces the public to go in from Dearborn street, and many times the fetid odor from the house is sufficient to cause people to turn back. Wherefore, they present the following:
Be it hereby resolved, That the Board of Public Works be, and are hereby, ordered to remove the dead-house from North avenue to some more suitable and less frequented locality forthwith.

August 23, 1870
Ordered, That the Board of Public Works be and they are hereby directed to remove the dead house now Standing at the Ease Side of the Dearborn Street Entrance to Lincoln Park. The Said house being a Public Nuisance.

September 19, 1870

Courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.

Chicago Tribune, July 20, 1872
In the matter of a resolution directing the Board of Public Works to rebuild around Lincoln Park and the old cemetery the fence destroyed by fire, it was agreed to report favorably to the passage of the resolution.

Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1874
The public burning of the old pest-house, which was witnessed by a large crowd of spectators, last Tuesday evening, was generally looked upon as a destruction of the last remnant of the old order of things in that neighborhood, and a fitting inauguration of the new age of improvements.

Lincoln Park Commissioners Proceedings, August 17, 1875

By permission and courtesy of the Chicago Park District Special Collections.

Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1877  
Lincoln Park.
Working Out the Assessment.

Work has already commenced on Lincoln Park, and is progressing famously. Attention is confined exclusively to the lower end, and the landmarks of the old cemetery are disappearing before the continued attacks of 300 men.

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