12/13/2013 9:59:00 AM City cemetery draws visitors for 150 years
by Sue Sullivan
For 150 years the Cannon Falls Cemetery has been meeting the needs of the city for its residents' final resting place.
Land described in 1863 as Blocks 85 and 86, then the eastern edge of town, was purchased through donations and became the Cannon Falls Cemetery. Block 84, purchased at the same time, later became the St. Pius V Catholic Cemetery which adjoins the city cemetery.
Before 1857, many buried their dead on their own property. When the need for a more common burial site became apparent, the site chosen was what would later become St. Ansgar's Cemetery, south of town. Though a number of burials took place, the grounds were not platted or laid out at that time and because of a common concern that the sandy soil made it more difficult to plant trees or flowers, many continued burying loved ones on their own property.
Six years later in February, 1863, a committee formed and secured all three blocks of land on a "tax purchase." According to a 1970 Beacon article, the original price of a lot was $5 in 1863, and a few years later, the amount was fixed at $8. Payment was made in cash, donations of wood posts and labor in those days. Seymour Kraft, secretary of the cemetery association beginning in 1938, had records dating "way-back-when" that showed receipts for hundreds of similar transactions, according to the 1970 article.
At that time lots were 16 1/2 by 10 3/4 feet with eight-foot alleys between. The sizes and shapes have changed along with the price. In 1970 a lot, consisting of six graves, was sold based on $65 per grave, with an increase expected.
Today there are eight graves per lot and the cost for each is $750.
The most famous burial at the city cemetery, conducted in 1905, is that of Civil War veteran Colonel William Colvill who led the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the historic Battle of Gettysburg which some believe turned the tide of the war in favor of the Union. He died in his sleep after attending a reunion of Civil War Company F and was buried in the Cannon Falls Cemetery.
As early as 1880, 155 interments had already taken place according to a history written by W. P. Tanner in 1880. Tanner was the husband of Colonel Colvill's sister Elizabeth. They had moved to Cannon Falls in 1856, and W. P. became first president of the Cannon Falls Cemetery Association. He died in 1883, his wife Elizabeth in 1898. Both are buried in the Cannon Falls Cemetery. Another of Colvill's siblings, Jane Wheat and her husband J.D. Wheat are also buried at the Cannon Falls Cemetery.
As of 1992, an estimate of the burials was 3,400, which included unmarked graves.
Lyle Wilson, secretary of the Cannon Falls Cemetery Association since 1998 stated, "Many people ask if the cemetery is full or almost full. It isn't close to filling up."
A permanent care fund established in the 1920s ensures perpetual care with about fifty percent of the cost of each lot invested in services such as cutting grass, painting fences and general maintenance. There is also a flower fund which ensures that flowers will always decorate.
Improvements have been made through the years including a board fence in 1865. A wrought iron fence which later replaced it, was itself replaced when a tree grew around it. In 2007 a new section of fence was installed. Shade trees were placed in 1867 and a $75 well and pump in 1891. The land was graded by B. Van Campen and he received the "circle" in the cemetery as compensation.
Improvements noted in the 1998 Beacon article include blacktopped roads, rebuilt walls around the Van Campen circle and trees planted to replace those damaged by storms and disease.
Explained Wilson, "A vault building was constructed in 1978 to house the lawn mowers and equipment. Shingles were replaced in 2007. That area was all wooded so in 2000, the cemetery ground was expanded by clearing wood, cleaning it up and seeding it."
The most recent improvement was a concrete replacement of the old flagstone walkway by the Col. Colvill memorial donated by the Cannon Falls Lions club in 2010.
The Cannon Falls Cemetery, located on Highway 19 across from the Cannon Falls Schools, continues to be well-maintained and is a quiet peaceful place notwithstanding Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the Fourth of July when parades, dedications and speeches take place there, drawing people from far and near.