Woodlawn Cemetery

Woodlawn Cemetery, located along the northern edge of Urbana, was established in 1907. The first documented burial on the land dates back to the burial of Isham Cook in 1830 [1]. The land and funding for Woodlawn Cemetery came from Colonel Samuel T. Busey who enlisted Dr. Lauren W. Judy, a landscape architect specializing in cemeteries, to lay out and maintain the original cemetery. Col. Busey and Dr. Judy sought to establish an affordable and beautiful cemetery where families could ride a streetcar out on Sundays and stay the day in a cemetery-park, visiting their loved ones, picnicking and walking the meticulously laid out grounds.

When the cemetery opened, Col. Busey extended the streetcar line to the cemetery with extra runs on the weekend. A special trolley car able to carry a casket was added to the line [2]. This was of particular importance because without the funeral trolley, most of the cities' residents would have been unable to attend funerals or visit the graves of their loved ones.

Dr. Judy, landscape architect of the cemetery, exhibited a strong connection to the cemetery where he was ultimately buried. After Woodlawn opened, parks and cemetery officials in the Eastern United States attempted to enlist his talent, but the Urbana Daily Courier reported his intention to stay in Champaign-Urbana until “Woodlawn [was] the fulfillment of his dreams” [3]. He is quoted in newspapers expressing his deep admiration for the natural beauty of Woodlawn: “Nature first drew the picture for me and I am only retouching it. I do not intend to cut one tree or move a hill. I want them just as they are, painted by the deft hand of nature” [4]. Dr. Judy lived in a house bordering the cemetery, and in May of 1910, spotted two men entering the cemetery grounds at dusk. Suspecting them to be flower thieves, he followed them with his automatic handgun. He discovered the thieves in the act of digging up a rare rhododendron and opened fire. Both men escaped, but Dr. Judy believed he hit one of the men. Following this incident, the cemetery closed at dark and a security guard patrolled the grounds at night [5].

Dr. Judy was not the only one that saw beauty in Woodlawn. Newspaper articles published at the time of the cemetery’s opening were thrilled with the beauty of the cemetery as well, touting it as “God's Own Cemetery is Beautiful Woodlawn” [6]. At the time of Woodlawn's opening, Mt. Hope Cemetery was facing financial difficulties that was reflected in the upkeep of the cemetery which made the pristine grounds of Woodlawn all the more valued.

The cemetery also had a practical appeal: its elevation and space. With the cemetery’s burial plots all 20-45 feet above surrounding water sources, such as the “Little Mississippi” in Crystal Lake Park, families could rest assure that drainage of the area would be adequate to prevent flooding of graves [7]. The space of the new cemetery allowed families to obtain large family plots. Several families had the graves of buried family members exhumed from the crowded Mt. Hope Cemetery and moved to the new cemetery, which the newspapers graphically described:

“One body, exhumed Friday, had been buried thirteen years, but was so well preserved that the hair was combed exactly as it was when the remains were laid away, and the comb marks were still plainly distinguishable” [8].

Col. Busey initially dedicated a total of twenty acres of his family's land to the cemetery in 1907. The cemetery has been expanded several times over the years with the additions of more land, the construction of new memorials, mausoleums and monuments as well as more gardens. It is now approximately forty two acres consisting of several mausoleums and memorials to soldiers. In the early days, Memorial Day services were held every year at Woodlawn Cemetery. There are sixty nine veterans of the Civil War and forty nine veterans of WWI buried here [9]. The Daughters of the American Revolution recorded the inscriptions on all gravestones in the cemetery in 1983 [10].

Both Col. Busey and Dr. Judy died several years after the cemetery was established and were buried in the cemetery of their own creation. Col. Busey drowned in 1909 and Dr. Judy passed away in 1911 [11]. For more information on the life of Col. Busey as well as some of the other people buried here, see the connected photographs.

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1803 N Coler Ave, Urbana, IL 61801