CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - One man's passion for history is about to transform a park into a special memorial for some veterans of the Civil War, as well as the earliest settlers in a village in Kankakee County.
Blatt Park, in Bradley, is already undergoing a makeover that will transform what were once tennis courts, into a place where people can connect with their past.
The property for the park was set aside when the subdivision around it was built in the 1950’s. And while people at the time knew there was a run down, overgrown cemetery there, it would later become forgotten history.
Until Dave King uncovered the history as he was researching his own.
“This court has probably got at least one third to a half of the cemetery underneath it,” King said, showing the area of the park where the cemetery once was.
“About 1838 we have record of the first burial and then the last burial was 1919, and there's about 92 people here,” King said.
It was once known as the Van Meter Cemetery, but by the 1950’s it was abandoned, overgrown and most of the tombstones stolen, missing or covered up by the years.
But during research for his family tree, King discovered, in an old Kankakee County Park District building, two tombstones that he’s traced back to the Van Meter Cemetery.
“It's like searching for the Holy Grail sort of, it's something you've always been hoping you'd find,” King said.
Those two tombstones are now kept at the Kankakee County Historical Society.
“This is very important for us, mainly because it's one of our very first cemeteries in the entire county,” said Connie Licon, the Historical Society’s executive director.
A professor at Olivet Nazarene University offered to help King’s research, and along with some students mapped out Blatt Park. Using ground penetrating radar, they discovered numerous burial sites and some are particularly significant.
“I do have documentation and proof of four Civil War soldiers, three of them from Illinois, one of them from Indiana,” King said.
The fence around the tennis courts recently came down and the cement is now marked up and will be torn out starting later this week. The mayor’s plan is to turn this area into a memorial where people can come and sit and reflect on their past.
“I thought it's time to memorialize this ground and set something up so that those people are recognized,” said Bradley Mayor Bruce Adams.
The idea is to mark out where the cemetery was, cover it with grass and add a rock with a plaque so Bradley’s history can be part of it’s future.
The prep work is expected to be done by this fall, but because the memorial was not in this year’s budget, and could cost as much as $5000, the mayor says it probably won’t get done until next year.