1965 Aerial View of the Fort Hill Cemetery

by Vernon B. Paddock

I spend a lot of time doing research of the area in hopes of discovering information about the Fort Hill community.  I was made aware of a website by Vintage Aerial, Inc. where I discovered photos around the area between the towns of Volo and Hainesville.  To my surprise, I located a photo that looked familiar and upon closer look, I realized it was a photo that included the Fort Hill Cemetery.

This 1965 aerial view is the earliest known view of the Fort Hill Cemetery.

1965 Fort Hill Cemetery Vintage Aerial original.jpg

The original 1965 photo was of a house located on Route 120, just east of the Fort Hill Road (Fairfield Road) intersection.  Included in the photo in the upper right hand corner is a portion of the Fort Hill Cemetery.  I have identified all the gravestones with my current records.  Since 1965, another house has been built between the above house and the cemetery and the trees surrounding the cemetery have grown in size and numbers quite dramatically in the last fifty-six years.

2021 Fort Hill Cemetery satellite Google map.JPG

The current (2021) Google satellite map of the house (left) and the Fort Hill Cemetery.  Since 1965, there has been an increase in the volume of trees and also the number of burials in the cemetery.

1965 Fort Hill Cemetery Vintage Aerial original edit.jpg

This is an edit of the original 1965 photo that was cropped and enlarged to provide a closer view of the northwest section of the cemetery.  This portion of the cemetery is the original section that was established in 1847.  The vast majority of the stones are made of marble dating back to the 19th century.  Since 1902, an addition to the cemetery (out of the photo to the right) was added.  In 1920, an additional parcel of land (adjoining east of the Fort Hill Cemetery) was designated for the St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, a parish from Round Lake.

The photo was from the vintageaerial.com website.  The Vintage Aerial, Inc. company has a collection of over 18 million photographs with aerial views.  The Fort Hill Cemetery photo (roll 22-BLA-8) was discovered in the 1965 Lake County, IL section of the website.

Additional Aerial Photos Discovered

In August 2022 I have discovered, on the Lake County, Illinois GIS and Mapping website, an aerial view of Lake County for certain years from 1939 to 2018.  By zooming in I located the Fort Hill Cemetery and could compare how the area changed over the years.  Viewing these photos gave me a little insight as to when and how the cemetery was maintained.

When I first saw the condition of the cemetery in November 2015 and again in August 2017 I began to realize, other than the mowing of the grass, very little effort was made to remove the underbrush that had crept into the older section of the cemetery and the trees were destroying gravestones.  I noticed what looked like several family members had attempted to clean up around their loved ones grave site.  

Other than that, I felt Fort Hill was left abandoned.  Viewing these photos gave me a better idea on when the lack of maintenance was beginning.  

Here is a sample of the aerial views from the Lake County GIS and Mapping website: 

1939 – Fort Hill Cemetery (center left half), St. Joseph Cemetery (center right half). The entrance to Fort Hill is not very visible.  Notice there are very few trees in the area except around St. Joseph which was established in 1922.  Over the 95 years, since 1844, about 140 burials have taken place in Fort Hill Cemetery.

1946 – A gravel road has been put in to connect the two cemeteries.  The increase in burials were beginning to take place with the population growth in the surrounding area.  Over a 10 year period between 1940 and 1949 there were 49 additional burials.

1961 – The top one-third portion of Fort Hill Cemetery was the original 1847 parcel with burials dating mostly in the 1800’s.  A second  parcel was added in 1902 that bordered the highway.  By this time the largest number of burials were taking place.  Between 1950 and 1969 there were 144 burials.

2002 – The trees and underbrush become more dominant.  The cemetery continued to have activity between 1970 and 1999.  Over this 30 year period there were 93 additional burials but the rate began to slow down.

2007 – The Fort Hill Cemetery was still being maintained even though there has been indications that underbrush was beginning to take over parts of the original parcel.  The rate of burials continued to decrease with 20 burials between 2000 and 2007.

2014 – Evidence is beginning to show that sections of the original portion of the cemetery were showing signs of underbrush growing.  At this point the number of burials dwindled to 4 between 2008 and 2014.  After this year only three additional burials have taken place in the Fort Hill Cemetery.

2018 – This final photo shows the Fort Hill Cemetery after the removal of trees and underbrush that had impeded the gravestones.  Grass seed was added in those same areas of the older section of the property.  Since then, the grounds have been properly maintained, the broken and leaning gravestones have been restored and the gravestones have been cleaned.  Thank you to Lake County and Avon Township for aiding in the restoration and preservation of the Fort Hill Cemetery.

(Lake County, Illinois GIS and Mapping link – https://maps.lakecountyil.gov/historicaerials/)