EXPLORE our History

The Story of Springdale

By the mid-1850s, Peoria was fast becoming a thriving Midwestern city. As the population doubled to nearly 12,000 people, the community faced the problem of providing infrastructure to support a growing population. That included space to bury the dead. At a public meeting at the Peoria Court House on August 4, 1854, a movement was launched to create “a more adequate cemetery.”

The most attractive site lay in the valley beyond Birkett’s Hollow and on the beautiful wooded hills above. Much of this land (a 160-acre site) was owned by William A. Hall, Thomas Baldwin and Hervey Lightner. The earliest description of the property was published August 11, 1854, in the Peoria Weekly Republican and reads in part:

“All the requisites of a large and beautiful cemetery seem combined in this ground… The hills slope at so easy an angle that no difficulty is apprehended in making carriage ways through the whole ground. The little streams through which springs discharge their waters may be arrested in their progress and formed into small lakes or pools… Lying between the Mount Hawley road and the table land of the city, and covered with an almost unbroken forest, it is wholly secluded from the noise and dust of travel and business…”

The large size of Springdale required the owners to procure a charter from the Illinois State Legislature to become operational as a cemetery and hold funds for burial in trust. On February 14, 1855, the charter passed and Springdale Cemetery was officially in business. Interments began in spring 1857 with the burial of Ben Frank Powell, child of local Judge Elihu Powell. Many early burials were reburials, where families moved the remains of loved ones from family plots or other small, local cemeteries. Little did they know that Springdale would grow to become one of the largest cemeteries in the state of Illinois.

Historical Residents

Today Springdale is the final resting place for more 70,000 former Peoria-area residents of many nationalities—African, English, French, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Korean, Polish, Russian, Scandinavian, Spanish, Vietnamese and more. Springdale is also the resting place for many of Peoria’s most well-known names, including:


Gov. Thomas Ford

He was governor of Illinois from 1842-1846 and wrote History of Illinois 1818-1847 while living in Peoria.

William Hale

Elected in 1845, he served as Peoria’s first mayor and as a soldier in the War of 1812.

Capt. Henry Detweiller

This pioneer steamboat captain and Civil War veteran served as city treasurer. He is the namesake of Detweiller Park.

Octave Chanute

Considered the “Father of Aviation,” he is best known for helping the Wright brothers design their first aircraft.

Romeo Benjamin Garrett

A professor of sociology at Bradley University, he wrote “The Negro in Peoria” and was the first African-American professor at the university.

Lydia Moss Bradley

A leading philanthropist, she founded and endowed Bradley Polytechnic Institute (now University).

If you’d like to learn about more of the cemetery’s historical residents, download the Springdale History Tour Brochure and Cemetery Map

Soldiers Hill

Located in the heart of the cemetery, Soldiers Hill is the final resting place for more than 1,100 U.S. veterans from almost every American conflict — including more than 300 who served in the Civil War — as well as British, Canadian, Italian, Scottish and Swedish soldiers. The four-sided monument on the hill, known as the Sentinel, was dedicated at Springdale’s third Memorial Day event in 1870.

The Shaft Monument

Possibly the first Civil War memorial in the state of Illinois, this 30-foot pillar was dedicated outside the Peoria County Courthouse on October 11, 1866. It stood tall in downtown Peoria until 1962, when it was removed and its pieces scattered around the city during construction of the current courthouse. Local volunteers led efforts to recover the statue and raise funds to reproduce several sections that could not be found. A $10,000 matching gift from the Springdale Historic Preservation Foundation helped make the reconstruction possible. On October 12, 2019, “The Shaft” was rededicated in its new home, just inside Springdale’s entrance.

Funeral Customs

Many of today’s funeral customs originated in ancient times. There’s even evidence that Neanderthal man buried their dead with flowers, much as we do today.

Our mourning clothing customs come from the ancient practice of wearing special clothes as a disguise to hide the living from evil spirits during their grief. Some people believed the spirits would overlook mourners in their new attire and cause them no harm.

There was an ancient belief that the spirits of the deceased escaped through their mouths and that this could be prevented by covering their faces with a sheet or cloth.

The feasting and gathering associated with modern funerals developed from a time when elaborate food offerings were made to the gods and as a provision of hospitality for travelers. The funeral wakes we hold today come from the ancient custom of keeping watch over a deceased loved one to see if there might be signs of life. Wakes were also held to protect the body of the deceased from marauders and predators. In Judaism and other cultures, the selfless act of watching the dead is a high honor.

The lighting of candles comes from the ancient use of fire as a means to protect the living from evil spirits and ward off predators.

The practice of ringing bells at funerals comes from the common medieval belief that evil spirits could be kept at bay by the ringing of a consecrated bell. In times before newspapers, it was also a form of communication. The length of time bells were rung indicated the age of the deceased.

The firing of a rifle volley over the deceased mirrors the tribal practice of throwing spears into the air to ward off hovering spirits or demons.

Originally, holy water was sprinkled on the body to protect it from demons. It was also a ritual of purification such as the washing of Christ’s feet.

Having floral arrangements at funerals comes from times when flowers were brought and placed around the deceased to gain favor with the spirits and camouflage unpleasant odors.

Funeral music had its origins in the ancient chants designed to placate the spirits.

Washing of the body is done today in Jewish and Muslim cultures to prepare the deceased’s physical and spiritual body for the next life.

Grave Marker Symbolism

An anchor signifies hope.

A broken chain symbolizes that the soul is freed or that family circle has been severed.

Cherubs are angelic and signify innocence.

Fruits signify eternal plenty, as in the fruit of life.

Harps represent praise to God.

Hands praying are asking God for eternal life.

A hand or finger pointing up means the pathway to heaven.

A hand or finger pointing down represents God’s hand pointing to you as his chosen one.

Hands clasped can mean farewell, friendship, the bond of marriage or an earthly and heavenly bond.

Two joined hearts on a stone mark a marriage.

Ivy stands for friendship and also immortality.

Laurel is a symbol of worldly accomplishment and heroism.

Liliesare the virgins’ flower and the symbol of innocence and purity.

Morning glories signify the beginning of eternal life.

Oak leaves and acorns stand for power, authority or victory and are often seen on military tombs.

Palm branches signify victory and rejoicing.

Pine cones and pine trees signify the cedars of Lebanon and suggest immortality or everlasting life.

Poppies represent eternal sleep.

A rose in full bloom means the deceased died in the prime of life.

A rosebud indicates a young life cut short.

A rod and staff are used to bring comfort for the bereaved.

Rosemary and thistles stand for remembrance. Thistles can also indicate Scottish descent.

Stars and stripes around an eagle represent eternal vigilance and liberty.

Swords that are crossed may indicate a military person of high rank.

A tree stands for life.

A sprouting tree stands for life everlasting.

A tree trunk represents a life cut down too soon or in the prime of life.

An urn with a flame symbolizes eternal life or undying remembrance.

Weeping willow trees depict perpetual mourning or grief.

Wheat stalks or sheaves represent the divine harvest or the bread of eternal life.