The History of Chippiannock Cemetery - Rock Island's Rural Cemetery
The development of Chippiannock Cemetery parallels the development of rural cemeteries in larger urban areas. However, Chippiannock did differ from rural cemeteries in other areas in at least one aspect - the need for a cemetery. In the case of Rock Island, the problem was not overcrowded churchyard cemeteries. The problem was that no cemetery existed in the Quad Cities! Purportedly Rock Island's dead had been buried somewhat haphazardly in Bailey Davenport's pasture, which is now Longview Park. (The burials in the pasture were relocated to Chippiannock Cemetery either in individual plots or as a mass grave.) Clearly Rock Island had a great need for a cemetery. Heavy industry, including factories, river traffic, and in 1854, the railroad, had resulted in a population boom. In 1856, the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River was completed at Rock Island. As a result, Rock Island's population was 5,000 in 1854, and by 1857 it had doubled to over 10,000.
As early as 1854, a group of citizens had formed to plan a cemetery. The December 15, 1854, issue of the Rock Island Republican announced news of a company interested in eighty acres just beyond the "Mealman place" between Rock Island and Camden for a cemetery. By May 1855, before the land had been formally purchased, the cemetery had been named "Chippiannock," meaning in the dialect of the Sacs and Foxes, "a village of the dead." A newspaper article announced the intention of the Cemetery Company to spend at least $6,000 in improving the grounds. The Cemetery Association's first Board of Directors included Holmes Hakes, S.S. Buyer, William L. Lee, Bailey Davenport, and Henry A. Porter.
The site chosen was a sixty-two acre tract that belonged to Ebenezer Lathrop. Significant as the ridge of the Manitou, the great Indian spirit, the site consisted of the western slope and crest of Manitou Ridge near the midpoint between the Mississippi and Rock (Sinnissippi) rivers. It was located just north of the former Sauk-e-nuk village. The property was wooded and hilly, with peerless vistas throughout the property. At that time, the land was carpeted with blue grass and squaw corn, between groves of native flowering trees such as plum, crab apple, and re-haw. The site was well-suited to the concepts of the rural cemetery movement.
Holding a bond agreement with Lathrop, the Board of Directors of the Chippiannock Cemetery Association met on July 20, 1855, to announce that since their last meeting, held on May 4, they had engaged the services of Mr. Almerin Hotchkiss, who was at the time in charge of Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. Hotchkiss had already surveyed the property and laid out the plan for the cemetery. He was retained to prepare an "artistic plat," and the Board of Directors quickly proceeded with construction of roads, water supply, and tree planting. The grounds were opened August 15, 1855. Sixteen burial plots were sold and several interments were held before the year's end.
Luring architects and planners of established cemeteries from other cities was accepted practice in the nineteenth century. The founders of Chippiannock had evidently been impressed with Hotchkiss's work at Bellefontaine Cemetery, and persuaded him to come to Rock Island to design Chippiannock. The well-educated, thirty-three year old Almerin Hotchkiss had previously been convinced to leave his post at Green-Wood and go west to St. Louis to design Bellefontaine.
Almerin Hotchkiss was a civil engineer, trained in horticulture in New York. He was a friend of Henry Shaw, St. Louis's patron of landscapes, and George I. Barnett. Hotchkiss collaborated with Shaw to introduce non-native trees to the Bellefontaine grounds and to Tower Grove Park, a residential section of St. Louis around Shaw's home. Shaw's home and adjacent lands became the Missouri Botanical Garden, affectionately known among St. Louisans as "Shaw's Garden." Bellefontaine Cemetery was established in 1849 and designed by Hotchkiss. An article in Winterthur Portfolio noted, "He carefully supervised the placement of the principal carriage routes so that it highlighted views of the Mississippi River. He also paid attention to ... preserving the existing trees, and to building a collection of specimen trees throughout the cemetery."
Almerin Hotchkiss is also credited with designing the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest in 1857. A 1904 issue of House and Garden notes that, "Frederick Olmsted was consulted, and on his advice, Mr. Hotchkiss, of St. Louis, who was a landscape architect, ... was employed to lay out a village in a park style." Hotchkiss's three prominent Midwestern designs - Bellefontaine Cemetery, Chippiannock Cemetery, and Lake Forest, Illinois - shared common details including curvilinear driveways and the interplay of cultivated landscapes. Hotchkiss (1816 - 1903) served as Bellefontaine's superintendent for forty-six years until his death. He was succeeded by his son Frank.
Chippiannock Cemetery is a wonderful example of a rural cemetery. Through its founding, siting, and Almerin Hotchkiss design, Chippiannock Cemetery is an important reminder of this significant landscape movement, which in turn was instrumental in the development and design of public parks throughout the country. Chippiannock founders' conscious effort to secure a prominent site was crucial to the cemetery's successful design. The site provided gently rolling hills climbing to a top plateau within the grounds, allowing numerous scenic vistas within and external to the grounds. From the cemetery's south end, the Mississippi River could be seen in the distance. The site's topography provided an exquisite venue for Almerin Hotchkiss's design, a site on which a system of curvilinear driveways could wind around burial sections The natural woods on the site could be thinned and formed into, in effect, an arboretum, all part of a landscape design to enjoy the beauties of nature and commemorate the dead.