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Crystal Lake Historical Society

Cemetery Walk 2006

On September 17, 2006, the Crystal Lake Historical Society hosted its fifth annual Cemetery Walk at the Union Cemetery in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Costumed interpreters presented first-person stories about the life and times of former Crystal Lake residents.

Our thanks to our tour guides and actors who helped make this event a great success.

The following is a video of the entire 2006 Cemetery Walk:


Crystal Lake / Nunda “Firsts”

Each of this year’s featured “residents” of Union Cemetery are credited as being the first to do something. You will discover a wide variety of individuals represented, from housewives to farmers to business men.

Arvilla Thomas (1826 – 1910) |First (in Crystal Lake) to die in an automobile accident

Arvilla French Thomas was the daughter of Joshua and Clara French and was born near Amsterdam, New York. She came to Illinois with her parents in the fall of 1844 at the age of 18. She had an older sister, Phebe, who lived in California and a younger brother, Samuel, who lived in Elgin. Two years after moving to Illinois she married LaFayette Thomas, a farmer, and they resided near Cary where they raised five children: Marion, May, Dorr, Fayette, and Ber. Daughter May died at the young age of 13 in November, 1863.

In the fall of 1881, Arvilla and LaFayette moved to Carthage, Missouri where they had purchased 160 acres of land. Their youngest son, Ber, accompanied them to Missouri where he farmed until his death in 1940. Daughter Marion Hamilton joined them in Missouri after the death of her husband, Tip, who operated a retail hardware store. Marion’s daughter, May, remained in Crystal Lake where she married Alva Hale in 1894.

Lafayette died in Missouri in 1899. Marion’s health was failing, so Arvilla and Marion returned home to Crystal Lake where May and sons Dorr and Fayette were living. Marion’s health never improved and she died in 1902 at age 54.

Arvilla Thomas built the house t 96 N. Walkup Avenue in 1904. Her granddaughter, May Hale lived one house south at 84 N. Walkup.

The Thomas house is a Queen Anne style, with a steeply pitched hip roof and multiple lower cross gables. The clapboard and shingle siding have been covered with vinyl siding. The front porch ballusters and columns still exist today, as does a lovely stained glass window on the north side of the house.

On Wednesday, Agusut 3, 1910, 83 year old Arvilla Thomas was riding in a pony rig with her granddaughter, May Hale and great grandson Hamilton on McHenry Avenue near the Union School. The pony was startled by an automobile, and Mrs. Hale, who was driving, lost control of the rig. The pony pulled the rig into the yard of Carl Jus’ home, crashing into the corner of the building. Arvilla was thrown against the house. Her skull was fractured and she died an hour later in her home, after being attended to by Dr. Hull. Arvilla Thomas was the first casualty in an auto accident in Crystal Lake.

Her Crystal Lake Herald obituary reads”…Reverend Charles T. Graeser, pastor of St. John’s Church of Chicago…was for several years pastor of the M.E. Church of Cary, Ill., and was probably as well acquainted with Mrs. Thomas as any living clergyman…Mr. Graeser spoke of the motherly spirit and woman qualities of the deceased…The love of many from this and surrounding towns was testified not only by the large attendance of friends, but by the rich profusion of flowers contributed.”

Ralph P. Wells (1899 – 1918) | First (from Woodstock) to die in World War I

Ralph Wells’ father, Peter, was born in a log cabin in McHenry in 1865. He married Ralph’s mother, Mary Parks in 1886. They lived in Chicago for a short time but spent most of their lives in Woodstock. Peter worked for the City of Woodstock, as a brakeman for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, at the Oliver Typewriter Factory, and as a farmer. Ralph was the youngest of six children and was born in Chciago before his family moved to Woodstock.

As a young man Ralph farmed with his father and worked for a short time at the Oliver Typewriter Factory. He enlisted in the Seventh Infantry Engineers in 1917 at age 18. Ralph was the first man from Woodstock to die in World War I. It is the story of his death that is of particular interest.

The Crystal Lake Herald reported on June 6, 1918 that Ralph met death by drowning, according to an official telegram received by his parents from Washington. It was thought that the young man was one of the victims on the British transport Moldavia which was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel. The official death notification did not give details of the place or other particulars, and said that the body had not been recovered.

The Woodstock Sentinel reported the same day that Ralph was not a victim of the ill-fated transport Moldavia. A letter from Ralph was received by his parents on the same day his death was announced. It was dated May 6 and stated that he was in Paris. It was later discovered that he died several days before the Moldavia was sunk and it is presumed that he died while engaged in his duties as a member of the 7th engineers, probably while building a bridge. He was 19 years old.

After recovering from the measles, he wrote two letters to his parents prior to his death that said in part:

Somewhere in France, May 6

Dear Mother,

At last I am back with the company and believe me I am glad to get back. I have been in British hospitals and camps so long I had begun to believe there was nothing to eat in the world, but when I got back to the good old U.S. army grub it was fine…We work ten hours a day…Well, Iguess I will write to Dad so he won’t be jealous.

Love to all, Ralph

and a second letter:

Somewhere in France, May 8

Dear Father,

When I got back to the company I found about six letters from you and in one you mentioned that mother’s letters were more welcome than your own, but don’t fool yourself, for when a letter comes I never look to see who it is from; the fact that it is from home is enough for me…I wish you could be here with me as I know you would enjoy it…I had five hours in Paris the other night and it was finest sight I ever saw. France is a beautiful country. One would hardly know they are at war…

With love to all, your soldier boy, Ralph P. Wells

Emma Schoonhoven (1852 – 1888) | First burial in Union Cemetery

Emma Schoonhoven was the daughter of Charles and Elsie Salisbury who moved from Ohio to Greene, New York where Emma was born in 1852. Several years later, Charles, a carpenter, moved his family to Greenwood, IL and later to the Village of Nunda. Emma was the youngest of nine siblings, three brothers and five sisters. Brothers Roswell and Hale were farmers. Sister Lottie was a milliner and sister Helen was a dress maker.

Roswell was sixteen years older than Emma and married Lovina Melus when Emma was ten years old. Roswell and Lovina Salisbury had three children. Their daughter Dora is joining Emma today in their graveside visit.

Emma married Thomas Schoonhoven of Elgin in February of 1877 in Independence, Iowa. They resided together in Elgin for only ten months until his untimely death in January of 1878. Thomas was 15 years older than Emma, but died at the very young age of 37 of unknown causes. The Nunda Herald stated that “she has borne life’s burdens alone,but has done so bravely” since her husband’s untimely death. Emma lived in Chicago and then Elgin, finally moving home to Nunda to live with and care for her aging parents. She was a seamstress and made dresses fr a theater group in Chicago.

Emma had herself been in poor health for several years and took ill ten weeks before her death. She died at the young age of 36 and was survived by both of her parents. Her cause of death was listed as “ulceration of the large intestine”. Her obituary stated that “the dear ones who are left behind will sadly miss her, but the venerable parents most of all.” Emma was the first person buried in the new “Nunda and Crystal Lake Cemetery”, later renamed Union Cemetery. Her parents were later buried next to her.

George W. Irwin (1850 – 1900) | First (and only) to die in an ice harvest accident on Crystal Lake

George Irwin was born in Cuba, New York and came to Crystal Lake in 1870. A year later he married Ella Simons, daughter of Andew Jackson Simons, the noted local stone mason and builder of several historically significant buildings in McHenry County. George and Emma had three children: Julia Ann was born in 1875, Mabel in 1881, and Austin in 1884.

George Irwin was the first and only person to die as a result of an accident during ice harvesting on Crystal Lake. Ice harvesting was a vibrant part of the economy in the 1800’s when huge blocks of ice were harvested from the lake, stored in ice houses along the shorelines, and eventually shipped via railroad into Chicago. Much of the ice was used commercially to refrigerate food in hotel and restaurant kitchens.

The following description of George’s ghastly accident is reprinted from the January 18, 1900 edition of the Nunda Herald.

As nearly as can be learned from the men who were working near him, Mr. Irwin attempted to start a cake of ice which had lodged, and in the effort slipped and jumped across the channel. He failed to secure a footing and dove into the water under the ice, where he was caught by the endless chain, and his body drawn through a space of only ten or twelve inches. The left side of his head was horribly crushed, an arm was broken, and his entire body was badly bruised. The features almost unrecognizable. He was unconcscious when taken from the water, and lived in that condition for nearly half an hour.

The instant of the accident, James McNett, who was working near Mr. Irwin, rang the bell to stop the machinery, but the death summons had been too quick. Mr. McNett, Bert Conover and P.H. Leonard jumped into the water and disentangled the victim from the chain, and carried him to the office of the company. Dr. H.D. Hull was hastily summoned, but could nothing to keep alive the spark of life which still existed.

Deceased was a strong, rugged man, and followed the trade of mason, also farming somewhat.

Ice harvesting was a dangerous business, lasting only a few months each winter. Many farmers and others who had no income during the winter months traveled to Crystal Lake each year for temporary employment during the ice harvest. The remnants of several ice houses are still apparent on the south shore of Crystal Lake today.

Claude V. Colby (1887 – 1951) First Auto Dealer in Crystal Lake

The Colby family has a long history in Crystal Lake. Several generations of family members were prominent business people in town and took pride in their community service.

Albert Colby was born in Vermont in 1830. He married Abigail Smith Colby,the widow of his deceased brother, Webster, in Nunda on April 29, 1855. Albert was a farmer. He and Abigail had three chldren, Minnie, Lillian and Fred. Fred was raised on his parent’s farm along the Fox River and continued to live there when Albert and Abigail moved to McHery in 1885. Fred married Lydia Willard later that year and had one son, Claude.

Fred, Lydia and Claude lived on the farm until 1889 when they moved to McHenry and Fred entered the implement business. After a year, he purchased an established implement business in Crystal Lake which he operated alone until Claude became of age and joined his father in a partnership. The firm became known as F.L. Colby and Son.

Claude married Della Lund in 1909 and had three children, Ethel, Fred and Scott. They lived on Caroline Street.

As the transporation industry began to progress quickly, the father and son team met Henry Ford, Sr. in 1904 in Algonquin at the Auto Hill climbing race. They became one of the original Ford dealers in the country. Cars were shipped by train in a “knocked down” state and were assembled at Colby’s. Fenders had to be bolted on, windshields and headlights installed and tires had to be mounted. Driving lessons were mandatory with every car purchase. Colby’s later sold Overlands, Durants, Stars, Stearns Knights, Willys Knights, Oldsmobiles, Buicks, Chevrolets, Studebakers, Pierce Arrows, DeSotos and Chryslers.

Fred retired in 1921 and in 1933, Claude’s sons Fred W. and C. Scott Colby joined the partnership. The business was renamed Colby Motor Sales. It continued in operation until 1986.

Ira Mallory (1847 – 1904) |First publisher of local newspaper

Ira Mallory was the youngest of five children and was born near Elmira, New York. Like so many New York State families, his headed west and settled in the town of Nunda in 1855. His father built the first three story building in town, located north of the railroad station on Main Street (now downtown Crystal Lake). The family operated a geneal store on the first floor and lived on the second floor. A meeting hall for the Odd Fellows was on the third floor.

Ira ran away from home at age 14 and joined the 17th Illinois Calvalry in which he served through the Civil War. After his return, he attended business college in Aurora where he became proficient in Spencerian penmanship and often embellished his writings with fanciful birds, flowers and other ornaments. He married Eunice Holmes whose family had also originated in New York State. When their first son, Albert, was six weeks old, Ira became stricken with tuberculosis and upon a doctor’s advice, took a long ocean voyage settling in California for several years before returning to Nunda.

He worked as a home builder and after a severe knee injury was forced to wear a wooden leg with his real leg strapped back. He became an agent for a manufacturer of wooden legs.

Ira was known as a man of boundless energy, astounding industry and high ideals. Other occupations included life insurance and real estate, village clerk, inventor and poet. He was a wall paper hanger, a well digger and even a barber. Eventually he purchased a small hand press and set up a printing business in his father’s store. This was the the birth of the Nunda Advertiser, a weekly publication that was the forerunner to the current Northwest Herald.

He worked at home when he founded the Advertiser in 1875, it was only with the intention of advertising the merchandise of his general store. The single sheet of paper was 3″ x 5″ in size. He taught himself the trade and soon issued semi-monthly papers from Woodstock and Freeport, Michigan.

The Advertiser became the Herald and grew quickly, soon outgrowing the space at the general store. The whole family worked on the paper. The little press was soon augmented with larger ones and twelve years after the first publication, a gasoline engine powered press was installed in a new building just south of the original Mallory building. The Herald was strongly Republican and wielded considerable influence in the county.

Ira Mallory loved to travel and ventured out many times each year. He traveled to Washington, D.C. for several inaugurations, visited the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and attended the World’s Fair of 1893 in Chicago several days a week! He often traveled with “country” friends who were too timid to visit the big city of Chicago alone.

When his health began to fail, he sold the Nunda Herald to Justin Beatty and his mother in 1896. He published and purchased several other newspapers and moved to Morristown, Indiana and New Orleans for a short while. He retired and passed away in August of 1904 after a lengthy illness.