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History of St. Stephen Cemetery, Carol Stream

Saint Stephen Cemetery is the burial ground that was affiliated with Saint Stephen Catholic Mission, a parish of the Roman Catholic Church. The cemetery is located adjacent to the Great Western Trail in Carol Stream, just north of St. Charles Road and west of Schmale Road. Many of the parishioners served by the church lived in Gretna, a farm community near the church. The church and the community no longer exist.

Founded in 1852 by the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Saint Stephen Mission was an active place of worship for about 37 years, or until about 1889. The cause of the church's closing was the loss of the access road to the property when the Great Western Railway built its roadbed in 1887. Easy access to the property still is a problem today. Paul Warner donated the land (about two acres) for the chruch and cemetery. The first board of trustees consisted of George Klein, Mathias Krieg, Frederick Mueller, and Sebastian Rickert. The cemetery remained in use until 1910.

Headstone inscriptions reflect the German heritage of the parishioners. Many are in German and contain names long associated with the area such as Muehlfelt and Mittman, for example. Other family names associated with Saint Stephen and Gretna are Barnes, Dieter, Hahn, Kammes, Klock, Krammer, Kuhn, Lies, Nagel, Nedermeyer, Pauling, and Stark.

The first Catholics in the locality were of Irish nationality, who sold out to the Germans in about 1850 and left for Lemont and The Sag, according to the Diamond Jubilee book from the Archdiocese of Chicago. The first German Catholics to settle here were, in about 1846, Sebastian Rickert and family, Mike Warner and family, the Damm family, the Drendel family, Jacob Miller, and Frederick Miller.

Because of the German Revolution in 1848, there was a strong influx into the United States of Germans during the years of 1846 through 1851. Some of the early families left this area in DuPage County for Mendota. These families were mostly from the Baden, Bavaria and Alsatia areas of Germany, the Catholic publication said.

Other German families who settled in the area, and the years are:

1847 - Nicholas Dieter, John Adam Hoffman, whose son Frank, was born in 1838.
1848 - Balthazar Stark, Adam Stark, John Stark, John Hummel, Frank Miller and Mathias Hahn.
1850-51 - John Lies, Mathias Kreig, George Klein, Paul Warner, John Kuhn and Mike Thoman.
2000 - Newly formed Milton Township Cemeteries Association begins clean-up of "abandoned" Saint Stephen Cemetery and Prairie, as well as two other "pioneer" cemeteries, Jewell Grove on Champion Forest Court south of Jewell Road in north Wheaton, and Pleasant Hill on Geneva Road west of Gary Avenue.

The Saint Stephen Prairie, a true native prairie, is adjacent to and west of the cemetery. Protection of the integrity of the prairie from the advance of invasive plant species is a continuing and at times, difficult task. The Milton Township Cemeteries Authority, advocacy groups, and volunteers have been involved for years with the cemetery and prairie.

The goal of this cooperation is to help preserve, restore, and enhance the cemetery and its native remnant prairie, and the entire area, for the benefit of those who use the Great Western Trail, and for all who value our cultural and natural heritage, and the quality of our lives.

The Joliet Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church owns Saint Stephen Cemetery and Prairie, but the diocese has charged the Milton Township Cemeteries Authority with the restoration, preservation, and day-to-day maintenance of the sites. Funds for the Authority's work come from the Diocese and from other contributors. Authority trustees are appointed for a six-year term by the Milton Township trustees.

St. Stephen Cemetery and Prairie
The Saint Stephen Catholic Mission was established in 1852. Within a few years one of the first Catholic churches in DuPage County was built on the land just east of the present cemetery grounds. When the Chicago and Greate Western Railway built its roadbed-what is now the Great Western Trail-just south of the property, the chruch's right-of-way and proper access were lost. Parishioners eventually attended St. Michael's in Wheaton and other nearby churches. By 1889 the church was forced to close. The structure was dismantled and its lumber used to build a school for St. Michael's. Burials continued in the consecrated cemetery groun until about 1911.

By the early 1990's, an industrial park was completed to the north and west of the property, and the grounds became more isolated. Vandals repeatedly overturned and destroyed many tombstones despite efforts to protect the area. Finally, a number of concerned citizens took decisive and more effective action. Supported by the local government of Milton Township and with cooperation from the Diocese of Joliet, the burial grounds were secured with a fence, a flag pole and lighting were installed, and signs were posted. Repair and restoration of the cemetery grounds continues.

The Prairie. The one-acre parcel immediately to the west of the fenced cemetery is land that had been planned for future burials. Thus, it has never benn grazed or tilled, and has retained much of the integrity and character it possessed before the arrival of White people to the area, including a diversity of native prairie plants. While small, it is a true prairie remnant, and as such, of great value in preserving the genetic integrity of our native plant species. This is especially critical in Illinois, which has the nickname "the prairie state," but which retains less than one half of one per cent (.005 or 1 acre out of every 200) of its original prairie landscape.

Summer brings the greatest amount of bloom and beauty to the prairie, but the diversity and number of native species insures color and interest throughtout the growing season. Spider Wort, Shooting Star, and Nodding Wild Onion grace the first warm days in April and May. Culver's Root, Prairie Dock, Rattlesnake Master, and Wild Bergamot dominate midsummer. Goldenroad and Aster brighten the late summer and autumn. American Elderberry, Wild Senna, and a host of native sunflowers can also be found among the more than fifty native species present. Rare native plants periodically make their appearance in the highest quality sections of the prairie.

The protection of the prairie's integrity from the advance of invasive plant species is a continuing and at times difficult task. Cooperative efforts are currently underway among the industrial park property owners, the DuPage County Trails Coodinator, and the volunteers who have been involved here for years. The goal: protect, preserve, restore, and enhance the cemetery and its native prairie, and the entire nearby area. The beneficiaries are all who use the trail, and indeed all who value our cultural and natural heritage, and the quality of our land and our lives.

Further information, and access to the cemetery grounds can be obtained by contacting Milton Township at 630.668.1616 or Friends of Pioneer Cemeteries at 630.668.8736

Volunteers are welcome. - RR, Milton Township Cemeteries Authority: 2010

History of Gretna
Gone but not forgotten
A veteran of the War of 1812, Anning S. Ransom, came to farm this area around 1840. He was followed in 1844 by Daniel Kelley from Vermont, who purchased 1,400 acres and settled at "Tall Trees" with his wife to raise Spanish Merino sheep. The Kelleys and their eight sons and three daughters all became involved in Wheaton's political and business life. Daniel Kelley donated land for the Chicago & Great Western Railway, and the area around the railroad stop became known as Gretna after 1887.

A change had come to Gretna in the late 1840s when a number of German farm families, fleeing the political oppression and famine in their homelands, arrived in north Milton and Bloomingdale Townships. Frequently they took ownership of farmlands, which earlier had been acquired by settlers who later continued their westward search for open space.

The Germans who settled in the Gretna area were primarily Catholics from southern Germany. At the time, there was no Catholic church in the county other than Sts. Peter & Paul in Naperville. Once a month, one of the priests from that church would gather his religious articles for the journey across the prairies to Gretna.
By 1852 the bishop of Chicago had authorized construction of a wooden Catholic church and school with a churchyard cemetery. Saint Stephen Catholic Church was dedicated in 1853 by Bishop James Oliver VandeVelde.
It continued to served the vast German Catholic parish of central DuPage County from Roosevelt Road north to the county line near Schaumburg. In 1867 St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was opened in Winfield to serve that growing area. The bishop ordered Saint Stephen closed, except for special services, with families transferred to St. John's for worship.
When St. Michael Catholic Church and School opened in Wheaton in 1872, the parishioners from Saint Stephen were transferred to that church, along with their records. The cemetery at Saint Stephen continued to be used until 1911. Saint Stephen served the area for 20 years and became the mission church for six other DuPage County parishes.
Agriculture dominated Gretna's economy until the 1950s.