Originally published in The Rock River Times.
There has been a definite revival in the interest in this region’s history. There is a renewal of pride in our area, including clean ups of neighborhoods and abandoned places.
One of the abandoned places that received some much needed care is the Long Cemetery on Route 2. It is located not far from the intersection of South Main Street and Illinois Highway 2. It sits back behind houses now and access is limited.
A few years ago, there was not much left to see in the fenced off area. Grass and weeds had overtaken the entire place. Vandals had damaged most of the stones and there were only a couple of broken pieces of markers scattered around. In 1986, the fear of vandals damaging the remaining stones caused the township officials agree to remove them. The markers eventually found a new home at the church yard in Midway Village. It seemed that the little family plot had been forgotten along with any history of the people buried there.
But a recent visit to the little burial place showed that the entire plot has received improvements. A fenced-in area has been added and now contains the remaining grave markers of those who were buried there. The Township officials agreed to bring these back to the area. Research done by Find A Grave members Alva Van Houten and family member John J. Long helped reveal the stories of these long forgotten pioneers.
The cemetery received its name from Richard and Margaret Long who came to this area just a few months after Winnebago County was formed in 1836. Richard purchased 300 acres of federal land to build his farm near the Rock River. He would eventually donate 2 acres for the Long Cemetery.
Though records are scarce the first recorded burial was that of one year old Julia Ann Brentner who died on July 22, 1842. Julia Ann was the daughter of George and Julia Ann Brentner.
According to the book, ”The Pioneers of Winnebago and Boone Counties” George was born in Germany in 1802. At the young age of 13 years-old, George and his brother, John decided to stowaway on a boat headed for America. They landed in Baltimore in 1815. George would later end up in Virginia where he learned the skill of carpentry. While he was in Virginia, he met and married Julia Ann. The couple later moved to Rockford. George and Julia Ann built a house for the family on South Main Street.
Julia Ann was the only Brentner buried in Long Cemetery. According to one source, she had not even been listed with the rest of her family prior to the discovery of her broken tombstone in 2011. Her oldest brother, George, married one of Richard and Mary’s daughters, Phoebe. George and Phoebe left Rockford for Iowa.
George Brentner and one of Richard and Mary’s sons, John Barret Long, would settle in Iowa. They would be called the founders of Mason City, Iowa. The name was probably chosen because John Long was a Master Mason during this time. George’s father and mother would eventually join the families in Mason City.
Another person buried in Long Cemetery was the grand-daughter of Richard and Mary. She was born to their daughter, Margaret, who married Lonson Corey in December 1838. Lonson would also buy land along South Main Street and the area now known as “Corey’s Bluff” was named for him. Margaret’s obituary claimed she was the third white child born in Winnebago County in 1839. She married George Crawford who is also reported to be buried somewhere in Long. Margaret would be the last person buried in Long Cemetery when she passed away in 1907.
Two more of Richard’s daughters were also buried there with their parents. Mary, whose small tombstone remains at Long, married Joseph Jewell. The couple had two children before Mary died at just 27 years of age in 1849. Joseph then married Mary’s sister, Sarah Barbary Long. Sarah and Joseph would have 4 children of their own before she passed away in 1862 at the age of 36.
As one can imagine, researching the resting place of people who died so long ago can lead to more questions than answers. The next record is a very good example of that. One set of records states that Conrad LaGrange lived in the Rockford area around 1860. In fact, according to the Census records of 1860, Conrad was Joseph and Sarah Jewell’s neighbor. Conrad enlisted in the army in the fall of 186. He was a private in Company G of the 45th Illinois Infantry Unit. He was killed during the battle at Shiloh in Tennessee on April 7, 1862. Some of the records list Conrad’s burial place as Long Cemetery but others state he was buried at the National Cemetery at Shiloh. His wife Ann is buried in Byron, Illinois where she moved after the war to be with her sons. The website Genealogy Trails lists Long Cemetery as also being called Bitner’s Wood Cemetery. It is this site that lists Conrad LaGrange as buried in Long. Genealogy Trails usually lists cemetery information gathered from the stones in the cemetery. Conrad’s actual burial place remains a mystery.
Some people might not be interested in stories such as these. They might not be saddened by the thought of this little abandoned cemetery slipping away and the history lost to time. But there are some of us who do understand the importance of saving and preserving these little pieces of our county’s history.
Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events