Note by Phyllis Brown: In October of 2002 Ritchey and I went on a quest for his relatives – and find them we did! Our first stop was Schuyler County, Illinois. His ancestors here were McKee’s and Ritchey’s. We found a cemetery full of them! The oldest of his family in this cemetery were William McKee, born 11 Jan 1782 in Hardin County, Kentucky, and his wife, Cassandra Frakes, born 30 May 1784 in Pennsylvania. They married in Hardin County 27 Sep 1804, eventually moving to Schuyler County. Their two oldest children, Hannah and Cassandra, were born in Kentucky, the remaining ten children were born in Crawford County, Indiana, the last in 1825. It was after this date that the family moved to Illinois. Deeply saddened at the death of his youngest child, Amanda McKee Ritchey, on 17 May 1851, at the age of 26, he began this cemetery, little knowing that less than a month later he would join her in death.
This is an article we found while researching at the Schuyler County Historical Museum – a restored jail that serves as their history and genealogy center. They have a wonderful research center and many old pictures and artifacts in their museum. It was a fascinating place to spend the day! The article is interspersed with pictures we took at the cemetery.
The Rushville Times – December 15, 1949
McKee Cemetery Restored
Early Burial Site Reflects Local History
After many years of inattention, the McKee cemetery, located in Sugar Grove School District No. 2, on U.S. Highway 24, two miles northeast of Rushville, and one of the oldest burying grounds in Schuyler County, is being restored to its original attractive appearance.
No one seems to know the exact date of the first burial made in what is the McKee cemetery, although it is known that one, Solomon Stansberry, whose estate was the first to be settled in the Schuyler County probate court, in 1832, is buried there. Statistics reveal that it was more than a century ago that one, William McKee, the grandfather of Mrs. Bertha McKee DeWitt, deceased, set aside a portion of his farm holdings as a final resting place for members of his family, and dates on various headstones in the old cemetery verify the belief that the time of its founding was far more than a century ago.
The land on which the old burying ground is located, has changed ownership few times in the long span of years since it became the property of one of the oldest and most influential families in Schuyler County, the McKee family. It was after the death of the elder William McKee in 1852 that his son, William, who became owner of the McKee homestead, at the age of 41 transferred by deed to the Schuyler County Commission, composed of William Ellis, county judge, and John Brown and Peter C. Vance, associate judges of the county court, the 1.68 acre plot now occupied as a cemetery and by the Sugar Grove school house.
Deed Recorded In 1854
The document describing the transfer of land from William McKee to the county commissioners reveals the date of recording as April 1st, 1854, and may be found on page 230, Book V of Deeds, in the office of Circuit Clerk Dwight Hester.
It will be of interest to many persons here and afar, whose relatives are buried in the McKee cemetery, to know the terms of this deed, which reads in part, as follows:
“This indenture made the 29th day of March, 1854, between William McKee of the County of Schuyler and State of Illinois, of the first part, and William Ellis County Judge, and John Brown and Peter C. Vance, Associate Judges of the County Court of Schuyler, for the purpose of establishing a common burying ground, and a house for the purpose of education and divine worship, for the use of the inhabitants of School District No. 2, in Rushville township, inconsideration of the sum of $1.00, that said William McKee does convey by quit-claim deed to the County commissioners, for the use of the said inhabitants of said School District No. 2, for the purposes aforesaid forever, all the right, interest, claim, and demand which he has to the described 1.68 acres to the named commissioners, or their successors, to have and to hold the same together, with all and similar appurtenances and privileges thereunto belonging, viz. All the estate, right, title, interest and claim whatsoever of the party of the first part either in law or equity, to the only proper use and behoof of the said parties of the second part, and their successors in office forever in trust for the purpose aforesaid, and none other, and if perverted to any other use, the title to revert to William McKee and his heirs.”
In the deed, the sentence “and if perverted to any other use, the title to revert to William McKee and his heirs” is underlined before signature was affixed. The document was notarized by John C. Bagby on April 1st, 1854.
Cemetery Goes To Ruin
For years the McKee cemetery, like thousands of its kind in rural sections, was permitted to go to ruin. “Long Tom” grass grew rank, practically hiding some of the ancient grave markers. Relatives of those buried there, who came from a distance, were forced to search about in the undergrowth to locate the graves of their loved ones.
In recent years there was considerable talk about something being done to improve the appearance of the old cemetery, but no progress was made until last spring after the new state law was enacted providing for the care of the many neglected rural cemeteries, the new law making it possible for cemetery trustees to turn over accumulated funds and the responsibility of upkeep of cemeteries to the various township officials.
It was at a called meeting of the McKee cemetery trustees and other person whose loved ones were buried there, held at Sugar Grove school house last spring, that it was voted to invest the Rushville township officials with necessary power to care for the cemetery thereafter.
Following the meeting, Elzie Robeson was employed to take over the work of restoring the cemetery to its one-time attractive appearance, his work including the restoring of many old crumbling headstones to their original positions. Today it is one of the most well kept cemeteries in this section of the state, and the creditable manner in which the work has been done has brought happiness to all those whose loved ones sleep there.
Many Prominent Names Seen
It is interesting to note that names of some of Schuyler County’s most prominent citizens, many of them members of staunch, pioneer families, among the first settlers and founders of Rushville, appear on many of the headstones.
Among the inscriptions on the gravestones are those of Jonathan Manlove, first surveyor of Schuyler County, who arrived in Rushville in 1825, and Benjamin Chadsey, soldier of the War of 1812, who came to Rushville in 1824 and was one of three commissioners chosen to select the location for the county seat of Schuyler County.
What appears to be the oldest date on a grave marker is found in the double inscription on a white marble slab. The names inscribed are those of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Owen, the wife, Harriet, dying in 1836 at the age of 36, and the husband, Daniel, in 1839 at the age of 41.
Another old marker is at the grave of Aaron Harding, a brother-in-law of William McKee, Jr., who died at the age of 41, in 1845.
Monuments mark the graves of a number of Civil War veterans, one of whom was 19-year-old Harrison Rippetoe, who made the supreme sacrifice on the battlefield, September 29, 1862. The name of Louis P. Daniel, another Civil War veteran, who died in 1864 and was buried at Camp Douglas, appears on the Daniel family monument.
Represents Schuyler History
Other names which have played an important part in the history of Schuyler County, and especially Rushville township, to be found on headstones in the McKee cemetery, include those of McKee, Price, Ritchey, Tullis, Bertholf, Houston, Wheelhouse, Carty, Chadsey, Manlove, Crandall, Nall, Gorsuch, Hall and Sands, besides scores of persons from other townships. Many of the stone markers reveal persons dying at an early age, and the cemetery contains the graves of many children.
Since the restoration of the McKee cemetery began, it has become a gathering point for many persons from other sections of the country, who return to their native community to revisit the final resting place of members of their families.
The McKee cemetery, which lies northeast of the city of Rushville, on U.S. Highway 24, is known to be more than 100 years old, according to the dates on some of the tombstones. The Owen tombstone reveals that Harriet Owen, wife of Daniel Owen, died June 20, 1836, aged 36 years, and that her husband died April 8, 1839, aged 41 years. This double stone, of pure white marble, is of beautiful workmanship. Apparently hand carved are the names and all designs, which include an open Bible in the center, the Masonic emblem, and a rose.
It is fitting that the monument erected to the memory of William McKee and his wife, Sarah Wilmot McKee, which stands well in the center of the McKee cemetery, should be portrayed at this time, inasmuch as it was Mr. McKee who deeded the cemetery plot for a burial ground, and the McKee family was one of the pioneer families whose efforts are mentioned frequently in the early history of Schuyler County.
The old McKee cemetery, located in Sugar Grove School District No. 2, in Rushville township, and one of the oldest burying grounds in this section, is shown above as it looks today, after a restoration program which has been in progress since early last spring. It was thru the efforts of a group of persons whose relatives are buried there, that the McKee cemetery funds was voted to be turned over by the trustees to Rushville township, which, as the result of a recent law passed, gave various townships permission to assume responsibility for the upkeep and care of neglected rural cemeteries. Elzie Robeson was employed to take over the work of reconditioning the McKee cemetery, and after many hours of hard work on his part, it is one of the most attractive rural cemeteries in this area.