Stewart’s Scottish Cemetery
Stewart’s Scottish Cemetery in Marengo is a historic place of peace and beauty.
High upon a knoll surrounded by large spruce trees just north of Marengo stands a small cemetery that was officially established as Stewart’s Scottish Cemetery in 1858. But its roots as a burial ground extend earlier.
In the 1800s, before antibiotics and immunizations, death from infectious diseases was commonplace. It was in the Marengo area on the nearby Beldin Farm in the 1830s that two of the family’s children succumbed to scarlet fever. It was a year of high water, thus leading the Beldins to bury the children on the knoll. The children did not stay at rest here, but were later moved to the Marengo Cemetery in the nearby town of the same name. The use of this ground as a cemetery seemed to be short-lived.
The Stewarts Settle In
Alexander and Jane Stewart, part of a group of Scottish immigrants who found their way to McHenry County in the first half of the 19th century, purchased land that included bluff where the Beldin children had originally been buried. This area seemed ideal – the Kishwaukee River flowed nearby assuring the availability of water for the settlers, their livestock and crops, and the large oak trees provided lumber for building homes and barns, heating and cooking.
The Stewarts recognized that this peaceful knoll would make a perfect burial ground for members of their group. On November 26, 1858, the Stewarts officially dedicated the land for use as a cemetery. They deeded plots to each of the families that settled here, making it certain that this close community of friends and relatives would remain together in death as they had in life. And thus the families of Alexander and Jane Stewart, Robert Smith, Daniel Stewart, John Wilson, Thomas Hutchinson, Andrew Purves, James Smith, Alexander Redpath, Patterson Pringle and George Pringle are all found buried here on land that is now the Ted Wilson Farm.
A Peaceful Refuge
Walking uphill along a rutted path through a stand of oak trees on the way to the cemetery, it is easy to feel the present slipping away. The fresh air and silence as you reach this historic cemetery surrounded by the fragrant spruce trees provide a sense of peace and tranquility. With the clear blue skies overhead, you can almost feel the presence of these early settlers and perhaps the sound of the bagpipes as they laid members of the community to rest in this space.
The burial plots of each of the families are marked by large family monuments, although many are difficult to read because of their age and exposure to the elements. Marriage by members of the families does blur some of the lines as members of the Pringle, Wilson and Redpath families are all related by marriage.
Every person buried here has a story. Some passed on at a young age due to influenza, consumption, farm accidents and childbirth. Others lived long lives, such as Margaret Pringle Wilson, who passed away a few days short of her 94th birthday.
For Daniel Stewart, who lived from 1811 to 1859, the short ride home of approximately one mile from Marengo was never completed. He left the town during a blinding snowstorm. Unable to see well, Stewart somehow missed the bridge and he and his wagon ended up in the creek. He abandoned his wagon and waded upstream for some distance, hoping to receive some assistance. He was later found frozen in death holding on to a willow tree. Rumors suggested that he had met with foul play, but he still had his money with him when discovered.
Restoring a Resting Place
The cemetery remained an active burial ground until 1922 when the last full burial was held on this land. After this time, the cemetery was neglected and became overrun with brush. The original fence fell, allowing grazing cattle to find their way into the cemetery. Many of the gravestones toppled, weakened by age and the presence of the cattle.
In 1958, according to John Weyland, son-in-law to Ted Wilson, legislation was passed that allowed uncared for cemeteries to revert to the township, but still the cemetery remained in disrepair until the 1980s when the Wilson family undertook the massive job of removing the heavy brush and undergrowth in an attempt to restore the cemetery.
After clearing the land, a temporary fence was erected to keep grazing cattle out and then the job of repairing and restoring the headstones was undertaken. “The gravestones that fell with the inscription side down were better preserved than those that remained standing with the inscriptions exposed to the elements,” Weyland said. In 2001, at a cost of $2,200 donated by the Wilson family and friends, the tombstones were righted and foundations were repaired, thus restoring the cemetery to the way it was in the early days.
The beautiful black decorative fencing that has surrounded the cemetery since 2006 has added a look of elegance. While there was not such a decorative fence around the cemetery in the early days, it is fitting tribute to these families bound together in history.
For Weyland and his wife, Shari Wilson Weyland, the cemetery has special meaning. Not only is it a memorial to Shari’s ancestors, but in 2001, with the death of their son Johnny Justus Weyland, they were given permission to inter his ashes here in this place that Johnny loved. Johnny’s tree house can be seen along the trail when hiking up the hill to the cemetery.
The entire Wilson family has spent time and money to restore and now maintain this beautiful, peaceful place that is not just a burial ground, but a historical record of the Scottish settlers who made this land their home. There are many more projects to be completed, including repairing the path up to the cemetery.
Occasionally, the McHenry County Historical Society hosts public cemetery tours – visit mchsonline.org for more. To learn about how to get involved with the restoration, including how to make a donation for the cemetery’s maintenance, call Shari Wilson Weyland at 815-568-6145.