Once Upon a Time

Hebron Cemetery, established in 1834, remains in use

Hebron Cemetery is about 3 miles north of Camp Point, Ill., off Ill. 94. The gate is part of the iron fence erected in 1913. | Photo courtesy of the author
Posted: Jul. 26, 2020 12:01 am Updated: Jul. 26, 2020 12:09 am

In 1834, a baby boy was born to pioneer couple Lewis and Jane McFarland in Adams County, Ill. They named him Ira.

Sadly, four months later, the infant died, and his parents chose a serene area on a slight rise in the Illinois prairie for his burial. His grave faces east on a beautiful grassy, quiet landscape that became known as the McFarland Graveyard.

After Hebron Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1848 about a quarter mile away, the cemetery was renamed Hebron Cemetery.

Hebron is one of the oldest continuously operating cemeteries in Adams County. Located about 3 miles north of Camp Point, off Ill. 94, Hebron has been operating for more than 186 years.

The cemetery sits on 3.75 acres of land originally owned by Lewis' father, John McFarland, who gave the land for a cemetery through a land deed in 1855. A second donation in August 1878 by Robert A. Beckett and James Beckett expanded the cemetery to the size it is today. The cemetery is well kept and completely enclosed by an iron fence erected in 1913 from Steward Iron Works of Cincinnati, Ohio. The west side of the cemetery features a large, historic entrance gate.

The cemetery is divided into eight sections, labeled A through H and 46 rows. The oldest graves are in the middle and back, on the east side of the cemetery in sections D-E-F, rows 1-5. Newer burials are closer to the west gate. There have been 20 burials since 2000.

Hebron is the final resting place of some of Adams County's earliest pioneers. The McFarland family, who donated the original land, moved to Illinois from Kentucky. Lewis McFarland gained prominence as justice of the peace for Adams County for 36 years.

Twelve people buried there were born in the late 1700s: the earliest birth dates belong to Anne Wilks (1768) and her husband, William Wilks (1769), who arrived in Adams County from Virginia in the 1820s. William A. Beckett, William Garner Sr., Andrew Hughs, John A. McFarland and John W. McFarland were all born close to the end of the Revolutionary War and all fought in the War of 1812.

One third of the burials represent members of prominent families of the surrounding region, with Becketts topping the list at 63, followed by 45 Downings, 43 McFarlands, 34 McClintocks, 31 Whitfords, 26 Bottorffs and 22 Garners.

About 200 (one fourth) of the burials at Hebron are children under age 10, including many infants, a testimony to the hardships associated with life on the prairie in the mid- to late 1800s. Dates of death of these children map closely the preponderance of deadly disease outbreaks at the time, most notably cholera in the 1840s and 1860s, the recurrence of smallpox in the 1850s and 1880s, the widespread devastation of diphtheria in the late 1880s that preyed especially on children and respiratory flu epidemics that affected the nation in the 1850s and 1870s.

Forty-seven veterans are buried in Hebron, representing service in every war from the War of 1812 through Vietnam. Twenty-two of these veterans fought in the Civil War, most in Company G of the Illinois 78th Infantry which mustered into service in Quincy in 1862 and was discharged in July 1865. The 78th Infantry traveled on the steamboat Jennie Whipple down the Mississippi, then up the Ohio River to Kentucky, eventually participating in many key Civil War battles. The 78th Infantry lost 100 men in one day at the Battle of Chickamauga but played a key role in capturing a unit of Confederate soldiers there. They joined Sherman's campaign against Atlanta, captured a rebel battery at Jonesboro, and later participated in Sherman's March to the Sea.

At the end of the war, the 78th participated in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C., before returning home to farms and homesteads to resume life after three years at war.

Four of the Civil War veterans buried in Hebron -- James M. Beckett, John Beckett, John Ehmen and Charles Whitford -- lost their lives in battle. The remaining 18 returned home to tell their stories.

During the Civil War, young men were recruited from the nearby Hebron Methodist Episcopal Church, and the church played a key role in honoring veterans until it closed in 1920.

Set in a heavily wooded area, the church is a red brick structure with white trim and surrounded by a white clapboard fence. Men entered on one side and women on the other. Two pot-bellied stoves provided warmth in winter, and eight full-length windows provided breeze in the summer. On Decoration Day (Memorial Day) in the early 1900s, aging Civil War veterans were invited to speak at the church.

At the conclusion of the program, children and young people carried evergreen wreaths and flowers and marched down the road to the cemetery to decorate each grave.

The Hebron Cemetery Association, a volunteer board of trustees, is one of the few remaining cemetery associations chartered before the Civil War. In the earliest days of the cemetery, requests for gravesites were recorded on an oilcloth laid out on the kitchen table of the association president.

Today the board governs the cemetery and ensures that the grounds, monuments, fencing and landscaping are kept in neat condition and orderly repair. Since its inception, there have been no fees for burial.

The cemetery receives no money from federal, state or county taxes and relies on donations and on interest from its perpetual trust fund established in 1917. Records are no longer maintained on oilcloth spread over the kitchen table.


Jenny Fisher is an amateur genealogist and family historian with roots in Adams County dating from the 1830s. She is a graduate of Quincy Notre Dame and Quincy University and lives in the Chicago area. 



"78th Illinois Infantry Regiment." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/78th_Illinois_Infantry_Regiment


"Cemeteries of Adams County", Volume V, Great River Genealogical Society, Quincy, Ill., October 1989.


Hebron Cemetery Association. "Hebron Cemetery Veteran's Grave." Unpublished manuscript.


Hebron Cemetery Association. "List of Hebron Burials, 1989-2000." Unpublished manuscript.


Hebron Cemetery Association. "List of Hebron Burials, 2000-2019." Unpublished manuscript.


Obituary, Lewis McFarland, Quincy Herald Whig, July 14, 1881.


Street, Janice. "The Hebron Cemetery Perpetual Endowment Fund." Unpublished manuscript, 2017.


Street, Janice. "History of Hebron Cemetery." Unpublished manuscript, October 2014.


Wittemyer, Beatrice August Dickhut. "Hebron." Unpublished memoir.