Memorial Day event caps long project to restore an old cemetery

A freshly laid path of wood chips just beyond a guardrail off Winchester Road west of Libertyville leads to a previously hidden link to Lake County history.

Established in about 1849 by Hurlbut Swan, a notable Fremont Township settler and anti-slavery advocate, the tiny cemetery includes the graves of two Civil War soldiers and another from the War of 1812.

And on Memorial Day, 16-year old Eagle Scout candidate Thomas McGormley, who has worked doggedly to clear and renew the site, will be joined by fellow scouts and others to honor the fallen as the culmination of a long and arduous enterprise.

McGormley and about 20 volunteers, mainly scouts, logged many hours - at times in pouring rain - clearing brush and debris, spreading mulch, removing an old iron fence and its concrete footings and pouring new ones, installing a new fence and flagpole and other tasks.

A member of Libertyville Boy Scout Troop 72 who just completed his sophomore year at Libertyville High School, McGormley also researched the history of the cemetery and area.

On Memorial Day, 16-year-old Eagle Scout candidate Thomas McGormley, who has worked doggedly to clear and renew the site, will be joined by fellow Scouts and others to honor the fallen as the culmination of a long and arduous enterprise. Courtesy of McGormley family

"I wanted to do a project that would be meaningful," he said. "This one definitely will be meaningful."

Family friend and former state Rep. Andrea Moore, whose maiden name is Swan, will join McGormley Monday to renew the site. She became aware of the project when McGormley's father, Jon, called after seeing her name on cemetery legislation while doing research.

"It was kind of serendipitous, really. As I grew up, I didn't know it (Swan cemetery) was there," she said.

Other expected guests Monday are representatives from the Libertyville American Legion post, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, Fremont Township officials, the extended McGormley family and contributors of labor and services.

"This is preservation of Lake County (history) which is nice to see," Moore said of the project. "It was pretty inspiring."

The groupings of stones are leaning, partially buried or broken from their bases, attesting to their age and history. Some are fragments and others barely legible. It's difficult to know how many graves actually remain, as some of the bodies, including that of Hurlbut Swan, were moved nearby to Ivanhoe cemetery.

Cold spring temperatures didn't stop workers from spreading mulch at Swan Cemetery. Courtesy of McGormley family

Until site clearing began in late January, the little burial ground set among gnarled old oaks and pines was invisible to motorists.

"It was really sad. I remember the first time we went out there," said McGormley's mom, Karen. "There were liquor bottles, trees falling down. You look at that and say, 'Gosh, these are Civil War vets.' That moved both of us."

  The marker for Henry H. Swan, who served in the Civil War with the 96th Illinois volunteers. He died at 21 in 1862. Mick Zawislak/

They are: Henry H. Swan (Hurlbut Swan's nephew), 21, who was with the 96th Illinois Volunteers. He never fought in battle and died of measles in a hospital in Danville, Kentucky, on Dec. 3, 1862; and, Erastus E. Thompson, 19, of the 134th Illinois Infantry, who died Sept. 6, 1864 of typhoid fever in Paducah, Kentucky. Also listed as being in the Swan cemetery is James Wade who fought in the War of 1812 and married into the Swan family.

Disease killed more men than bullets during the Civil War, according to Diana Dretske, curator and Lake County historian for the forest preserve district.

Hurlbut Swan arrived in what is now Fremont Township from Connecticut with his wife and five children and secured 640 acres (one square mile) on the open prairie. The August Wirtz family bought the land in 1881 and lived there until 1967. A landscaping operation occupies a portion of the site, which remains privately owned.

Eagle Scout candidate Thomas McGormley, 16, works on installing a fence surrounding old grave markers in Swan Cemetery near Libertyville. Courtesy of McGormley family

The idea to revive the Swan cemetery came from Mike Graham, senior vice president with Landscape Concepts Management. Graham has provided guidance, labor, materials and funds for other projects in Libertyville in recent years. For the Swan project, he had buckthorn cut and chipped.

"I love history and nature," he said.

The burial ground is on private property and it took awhile to get permission to access the site in order to clear brush and debris, install the path, a flagpole, fenced area and make other improvements.

Fremont Township Supervisor Diana O'Kelly said she has received many complaints about the condition of the cemetery but had luck reaching the property owner.

"The cemetery now can be respected and cared for," she said.

McGormley's project will be reviewed by the Troop 72 scoutmaster and Eagle Board of Review with the Northeast Illinois Council before he is officially named an Eagle Scout.

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