Main Street Living Cemetery brings Downers Grove history to life

A number of people were on hand Oct. 21 during the Downers Grove Historical Society’s The Main Street Living Cemetery. (Megann Horstead/For The Bugle)

(From left to right) Brenda Krass, Karsen Krass and Kurt Krass watch on as Isabelle Christiansen brings the story of Downers Grove’s Mary Coates Puffer to life during The Main Street Living Cemetery. (Megann Horstead/For The Bugle)

By Megann Horstead | For The Bugle

Just in time for Halloween, the Downers Grove Historical Society took visitors on a tour of the cemetery plots for Downers Grove’s pioneers during its annual program called The Main Street Living Cemetery on Oct. 21.

On west side of Main Street between Curtiss and Grove streets, a half-acre park sits in downtown Downers Grove; it was home to nearly 100 people—babies and children, Civil War soldiers, mothers, fathers, a veteran of the War of 1812, a former slave, politicians, store owners, blacksmiths and farmers.

“I think [the program] keeps the history of Downers Grove alive because these people were the core peoples founding the Village, and, of course, over the years people might forget who these people are,” said Lois Storba, treasurer for the Downers Grove Historical Society. “This program brings alive these people who actually made this Village. These are the early people who came from the east and settled here. They were from New York, Connecticut, or Vermont.”

Around that time, people started traveling westward to obtain land at a cheaper price.

Main Street Cemetery original served as a portion of a sheep pasture tended by a man named Samuel Curtiss. In 1864, a cemetery association formed and purchased the land in question, which later became part of the central business district of Downers Grove.

Downers Grove’s early families, including Israel Blackburn, a freedman, and members of the Blanchard, Curtiss and Wells’ families were buried on site. Among the people of the Village that is not buried in the cemetery are its founder, Pierce Downers, and his wife, Lucy Ann Wilson. Instead, the two rest at in a family plot located on the original Downer homestead.

“There used to be a creek that ran through downtown Downers Grove, the St. Joseph’s Creek,” she said. “It’s gone underground now, but when it flooded the people on the north side of town couldn’t here to this part of town.”

Sharon Pyne, of Downers Grove, said she and her daughters decided to come out for The Living Cemetery to learn about the origins of Downers Grove.

“We came last year,” she said. “It was very interesting. The actors do a nice job.”

This year’s program was made possible with contributionsfrom The Living History Guild of DuPage County and the drama club for Herrick Middle School. They provided assistance by serving as actors that shared the stories of Downers Grove’s early settlers with anyone who dropped in.

“I think many of [the visitors] find it very interesting that this program talks about the Village because in our school curriculum, here, in second grade, we teach the kids about the history of Downers Grove, but then after that, we don’t say too much about it. … People want to know the history of Downers Grove.”

According to their website the the Downers Grove Historical was incorporated in 1968. The Society is an independent, non-profit volunteer organization whose work is funded entirely by memberships and donations.

The Society members believe that promoting the rich and unique history of Downers Grove creates a strong sense of place and a vibrant community for residents, businesses, and well as visitors.

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