Greens Prairie Cemetery
GREEN’S PRAIRIE CEMETERY
David Green, Director GPCA
Green’s Prairie Cemetery is a time vault of our cultural and natural history – truly a pioneer prairie cemetery. It has been listed with the Wisconsin State Historical Society since 1996. The cemetery sits on a ridge along the Postville road about three quarters of a mile north of the village of Postville. Its use as a cemetery began in August of 1845 when Polly Crowel, wife of William H. Crowel died. Three more graves were added in 1846, and in 1847 William C. Green sold about a tenth of an acre to Green County for use as a cemetery. Originally there were no churches in the area so people continued to be buried in the cemetery. In 1866 an additional acre was sold to the Town (Township) of York. The cemetery came to serve not only the Town of York but also the Towns of Adams and Primrose. By about 1900 people preferred being buried in the cemetery associated with their local church and burials in Green’s Prairie virtually ceased. The last know burial was in May of 1917 when Anna Walker, wife of Joel Walker, was interred. Her husband had been buried in Green’s Prairie in 1894.
The cemetery is a virtual buried village containing a link to our cultural past. Buried within the Cemetery are both the famous and the not so famous residents of the surrounding area. William Comstock Green, for whom the Cemetery is named, was the second settler in the Town of York and the first Superintendent of Schools of Green County. James Biggs fought in the Black Hawk Wars of 1832. Josiah La Follette, father of former WI governor and U.S. Senator Robert M. “Fighting Bob” La Follette was for many years buried here until his body was moved to Madison in 1894. Three veterans of the War of 1812 were buried in Green’s Prairie Cemetery and there are tombstones for eight veterans of the Civil War. All share space within the cemetery.
The stones document interesting details of the less famous. Christopher Bowman was born in Virginia and had three wives, all Irish. Nancy Ann Hamilton was his first wife. Nancy was born in Ireland in 1828 and died in 1880. In 1881 he then married Margaret Hamilton who was born in Ireland in 1833 and died in 1884. Nancy and Margaret were sisters and share a tombstone in Green’s Prairie Cemetery. Finally Christopher married Susan McGonigal in 1886. Susan was born in Ireland in 1867. Christopher died in 1899 and his tombstone is just to the right of that for his first two wives. Susan did not die until 1945 and her name is to the right of his on Christopher’s tombstone. However Susan did not reside with Christopher in death. She is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Argyle, WI along with several of her children.
The stones also tell of tragedies. In February of 1864 Clarissa Ellis lost her husband John to a heart attack. In June 1864 her two-week old son Edward died and in October she lost her six year old son George to disease. The loss of her husband and two sons was apparently too much for Clarissa and following George’s death she returned to New York with her two remaining daughters. She remarried in New York and had an additional six children.
Green’s Prairie Cemetery is a genetic time vault of the prairie species that once covered some 5,000 acres of prairie in northeastern York Township. Because it was used as a cemetery the ground was never plowed and the land was fenced to protect the graves from cows. Today the cemetery is still covered with prairie plants just as it was when our local pioneers were retired, one by one, to their repose beneath the compass plant and bluestem. Over 60 plant species have been identified in the Cemetery, many with ancestors that far predate the arrival of the white man. University of Wisconsin classes have visited the cemetery to see a tiny slice of native prairie. Some visitors return several times throughout the year to see the prairie change with the seasons.
Green’s Prairie Cemetery is managed for the Town of York by the Green’s Prairie Cemetery Association, with the assistance of the Prairie Bluff Chapter of the Prairie Enthusiasts. The prairie is burned every year about a month before Memorial Day to help control invasive species and to make it easier for people to find the graves of their ancestors. When burned, metal shields and the liberal use of water prevent damage to the gravestones. Weather permitting a service is held in the early afternoon every Memorial Day to honor the veterans, and others, buried in the Cemetery. Presentations tell the tales of the veterans and others buried within the fence. While the Cemetery Association is mostly dependent upon volunteers and donations for funding, progress is being made to restore the cemetery. Recent projects have included resetting fallen tombstones and eliminating invasive plants from cemetery grounds. We have also obtained a new stone for a War of 1812 veteran who was documented to have been buried in the cemetery.
For those interest in learning more about the history of the Cemetery and those buried within the cemetery, a book published by York resident David Green is available at the New Glarus, Monticello, and Blanchardville libraries and the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison. A few copies are still available for sale by the author. The green box near the entrance to the cemetery has information on the names and grave locations of those buried in the Cemetery. Those interested in making donations in support of cemetery maintenance and upkeep may send them to Nancy Anderson, York Town Clerk, N8791 York Center Rd., Blanchardville, WI 53516.
100 Years of Postville – click for PDF