On September 16, 2020 Diane Eubanks, Chapter Regent and Pam Holmes, both from the Ansel Brainerd Cook Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, presented me, Vern Paddock, with the distinguished “Historic Preservation Recognition Award” for the initiative, dedication and volunteer efforts to restore and preserve the abandoned Fort Hill Cemetery.

C:\Users\Vern\Pictures\2020\2020-09-16 DAR Award Fort Hill Cemetery\2020-09-16 DAR Award Certificate 4.jpegThe Daughters of the American Revolution “Historic Preservation Recognition Award”
(photo by Vernon B. Paddock)

The award included a letter from Sally E. Patterson, National Vice Chair, Historic Preservation Committee of the NSDAR which states:

“It is with great pleasure I approve the application of the Ansel Brainerd Cook Chapter NSDAR for the Historic Preservation Recognition Award for Vern Paddock.  As a person who has so many of my ancestors in cemeteries dating back almost 200 years here in Mississippi, it always warms my heart when I see individuals dedicated to preserving the slice of our history.  All individuals deserve to be remembered.  If the cemeteries are devoured by time and foliage, not only is that connection to our past lost, but many of those individuals are forgotten.  Through the hard work of Mr. Paddock, those almost forgotten people can now be remembered now and for future generations.

I particularly loved the fact that Mr. Paddock went above and beyond the “normal” steps most take of merely clearing off the brush and cleaning the tombstones.  Since the records of those interred in the Fort Hill Cemetery had been destroyed, his research into those tombstones to provide future genealogists even more information, and then overseeing the transitioning of the cemetery from the ownership of the county to the town to help ensure protection moving forward, is truly commendable.

Thank you for nominating Mr. Paddock for the Historic Preservation Recognition Award.  I hope you will consider putting a brief article about his work in the Daughters’ Newsletters section of the American Spirit magazine about all her and pictures presenting the award.  I’m sure the other members of DAR would be interested to learn of this creative way you have preserved the history of your area.”

C:\Users\Vern\Pictures\2020\2020-09-16 DAR Award Fort Hill Cemetery\2020-09-16 DAR Award, Pam Holmes, Vern Paddock, Diane Eubanks (1) 1.JPGPam Holmes and Diane Eubanks presenting
the DAR “Historic Preservation Recognition Award”
(photo by Ruth Paddock)

Also, included with the DAR award was a letter from MaryAnn Erbach, Director, Lake County (IL) Genealogical Society:

“I am writing on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Lake County (IL) Genealogical Society (LCIGS) to recommend Vernon (Vern) Paddock for the DAR Historic Preservation Recognition Award.

Vern Paddock is a member of our society.  His passion is the restoration and preservation of the Fort Hill Cemetery in Avon Township in Lake County.  This small cemetery, established in 1844, was in great disrepair, and seemed to be abandoned.  The cemetery contains six of Vern’s relatives, other early settlers in the county, and a Civil War veteran.  Members of Vern’s family were farmers in Lake County for 150 years, having come in 1855.  Lake County received control of the cemetery in 1847, but the records of the Fort Hill Cemetery Association were lost.

Vern and his relatives cleared the brush around the gravestones of his relatives, but the entire cemetery needed repair and restoration.  Vern met with officials, and as a result of his efforts, responsibility for the cemetery transferred from Lake County to Avon Township in 2018.  However, the county decided to help with the restoration, and provided funds for a professional restoration by the only certified cemetery restoration company in Illinois.  Work began in July, 2019.

A total of 98 gravestones were repaired, reset, and cleaned.  Vern has documented 381 grave sites, and is compiling genealogies for those buried at Fort Hill from 1844 to the 1920s.  He has used the collection of the LCGIS to help him compile those genealogies.  In January, 2019, he created a website to share his research with others.  The website is: https://www.forthillcemetery.org.  The website has sections for history, genealogy, and preservation.

Vern’s persistence has brought about the restoration and preservation of the priceless piece of Lake County history, valuable to descendants and historians.  For his outstanding work, we proudly recommend Vernon Paddock for the DAR Historic Preservation Recognition Award.”

C:\Users\Vern\Pictures\2020\2020-09-16 DAR Award Fort Hill Cemetery\2020-09-16 DAR Award, Vern Paddock (1) 1.JPGFilming of Vern Paddock by videographer Steve Oakley
(photo by Ruth Paddock)

A third letter was included with the DAR award from Terry Wilke, Supervisor of Avon Township:

“Vern Paddock came to Avon Township with a request to investigate the maintenance or lack thereof, of an abandoned cemetery known as Fort Hill.  At the time it was unknow (sic) to us that it belonged to the County since the early 1800’s but was maintained by different associations over the years.  The last know association was a volunteer organization that had long since gone defunct and was no longer responding to any communications.  We further ascertained that in Illinois, townships are the owners of last resort for abandoned cemeteries.  We contacted Lake County and asked if they had any interest in maintaining Fort Hill Cemetery going forward, which they did not.  We then asked for a legal transfer so that Fort Hill could be maintained and owned by the Township to allow for guardianship in perpetuity.

Vern Paddock has been instrumental and indefatigable in his pursuit of resources for Fort Hill. Mr. Paddock has singlehandedly mapped and cataloged the entire cemetery and all know internments.  His effort has resulted in the clearing of all the overgrowth and tree entanglements as well as the repair and replacements of 40+ headstones that had been broken, pushed over or misplaced.

Because of Mr. Paddock, plans are also underway to place several Veterans Medallions, a flagpole, an identification of sign marking the site of Fort Hill cemetery.  And finally, a plaque to commemorate the reestablishment of the Fort Hill Cemetery as a place of honor, and respect for those with family and/or friends interned there and a place of deep historic significance for the rest of us.”

My initiative in recommending the ownership be transferred to Avon Township and recommending John Heider of R.I.P. Ltd. to preserve the gravestones played a major role in the cemetery’s preservation.  Along with my wife, Ruth, we spent hundreds of hours cleaning gravestones, removing stumps next to the grave markers, cleaning the perimeter to hold back the overgrowth, trimming lower branches of trees, initiating the Illinois State Highway Department to dredge the ditch to stop flooding near the front entrance, purchasing a new sign for the front entrance, and purchasing American flags to be placed at the gravestones of the forty-eight veterans and one Illinois State Senator.

In January 2019, I began working with Ruth’s son, Ted Olson, to develop the Fort Hill Cemetery website to provide a documentation of my research in the (1) history of Fort Hill; (2) genealogy of all those buried in the cemetery; and (3) and the preservation of the gravestones and cemetery grounds. (https://www.forthillcemetery.org/)

C:\Users\Vern\Pictures\2020\2020-09-16 DAR Award Fort Hill Cemetery\2020-09-16 DAR Award, Vern Paddock and Steve the videographer 1.JPG
Steve Oakley, videographer preparing to film Vern Paddock
(photo by Ruth Paddock)

A professional video recording by Steve Oakley, a 30 year veteran in production (https://stevenoakley.com/), filmed the award presentation at the Fort Hill Cemetery. The 10 1/2 minute video includes my depiction of the history and preservation project of the cemetery. The plan is to have the video available for viewing to the general public.

I thank Pam, Diane and the Daughters of the American Revolution organization for presenting me the prestigious “Historic Preservation Recognition Award”.  I am truly honored.

Vern discussing his third great grandmother, Lucy Paddock
(photo by Pam Holmes)