This cemetery contains graves dating from before the Civil War. The first grave belongs to John Bowman who died October 11, 1843, the year the cemetery was established.
The original section of the cemetery is very near to the front entrance. You can see an area marked "Presbyterian" near the road as you face the Bond Monument. This makes sense, because the only church operating in Chester in 1843 was the Presbyterian congregation. One will notice that most of the names on the oldest stones in the cemetery are English. The community in Chester predates the massive German immigration of the mid-19th century. As you encounter graves from the 1860's and later, you will begin to see more German names.
The records in the cemetery office only date to 1891 and list over 6,600 burials. If we consider that Evergreen had already been in use for 38 years by 1891, it is safe to assume that there are well over 7,000 individuals interred here. It is one of the oldest (active) cemeteries in this part of the country.
A few of the large White Oak and Hard Maple trees throughout the old sections of the cemetery are nearly as old as the graveyard itself. The most impressive is the White Oak that shades the band stand.
Headstones have been discovered in trees that have died or fallen during storms. These trees serve as a living link to the City's past.
The exhumation and relocation of Shadrach Bond to Evergreen merited national media attention in the early 1880's. When the monument was dedicated in 1882, a story from the St. Louis Glove Democrat subsequently appeared in the New York Times.
In order to restore damaged or broken monuments, the cemetery sexton pieces the stones back together and supports them with PVC pipes filled with concrete. If the pipe is removed, the concrete almost gives the appearance of being part of the original monument. You can see these repairs have been done on several stones throughout the old sections of the cemetery.
Some interesting facts about Evergreen Cemetery:
- It contains the smallest state park in Illinois - the gravesite of Shadrach Bond, the first governor of Illinois.
- Elias Kent Kane, the first Illinois Secretary of State who wrote the first Illinois constitution, is buried here.
- A number of interesting folks from Chester's history are buried here including the Cole family, the Cohen family, and Dora Paskel, the inspiration for Olive Oyl in the Popeye cartoon.
- The cemetery is 20 years older than the Gettysburg address.
- It is 35 years older than the Southern Illinois Penitentiary (Menard Correctional Center)
- Evergreen is old enough to contain the graves of veterans from every conflict, including the American Revolution.