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Photo by Kathy Turner
Valley View Cemetery’s memorial site for Edward Coles, Illinois’ second governor.
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Photo by Kathy Turner
The entrance to Valley View Cemetery.
EDWARDSVILLE — They dot the landscape of the country. No matter where you travel, you will see tranquil plots of land that represent the final resting place of Americans from our country’s beginning — the cemeteries of the United States.
In our community, they are both large and small, affiliated with churches and public, and interspersed throughout the Edwardsville proper. One of those cemeteries — Valley View Cemetery — has a history that wasn’t always as tranquil as its present surroundings. Established in 1925, the Edwardsville cemetery was selected as a permanent memorial site for Edward Coles, Illinois’ second governor. The cemetery sits along South State Route 157 in Edwardsville, surrounded by upscale businesses, charming residences and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Coles’ memorial and burial plot makes up one-half acre of the 30-acre cemetery.
On almost any given day, visitors will find the Rev. Carl Hackney and his son Tony working to assure those 30 acres are maintained to welcome family and friends of the many Madison County residents buried within. The cemetery reveals a history of Edwardsville, the names on the tombstones well-known to many residents. Though the efforts of the Hackney family are obvious today, the cemetery hasn’t always been a welcoming location.
In 2009, father and son Doug and Brent Cassity owned Forever Valley View. They faced criminal charges when it was discovered that millions of dollars of prepaid funds from residents were being used for a lavish lifestyle rather than care of the property. In 2013, the pair was sentenced to federal prison on those charges.
As a result, the property was placed in receivership under the direction of the Illinois Comptroller’s Office. Today, attorney Sara Wooley oversees the receivership to assure that residents who had made arrangements through the previous owners have those commitments met. She also works with Hackney to assure the property is managed and maintained.
“We are doing about 50 burials each year,” Hackney said.
Those burials are for the pre-arrangements made through the previous owners and the commitments to those families. They are not establishing new burial contracts at the property, though there are acres of unplotted land that will be available under future ownership.
Hackney and his family see the time and effort they spend as both a labor of love and an investment in their future. They have made a financial commitment to purchase the cemetery when the property becomes available. Their paperwork is in order, awaiting approval. This is a process that takes time and sits in the hands of a Madison County judge who must clear the land title and declare the property eligible for sale.
Local residents also have an interest in seeing the cemetery remain an appropriate final resting place. They brought their individual interests together earlier this year to formally begin the process of establishing a Friends of Valley View Cemetery group to support the cemetery’s future. According to Jeanne Carter, a board member and officer of the group, the first meeting in January was attended by 13 people. The group now has 75 local residents who have shown an interest in the group. They are awaiting legal establishment of the group to be recognized by the state.
“My daughter was buried in Valley View in 2005,” Carter said. “I visit her grave often and saw many areas of concern in the years before the criminal charges were filed.”
Carter, however, speaks highly of Hackney’s commitment to the property. The intent of the group is to support that commitment in the future in any way possible.
“The grounds are being maintained by Rev. Hackney,” she said. “However, there are areas of the infrastructure that will require more than they can do at this stage including signage, roadways and repair of the structures at the cemetery.”
Maintaining those areas of the property brings legal problems all their own. The property, after all, stands in limbo relative to ownership. And, just as even the most well-meaning individual cannot move in and repair property of their neighbors without authorization, the more extensive projects must wait until ownership is established.
As with any historical property, there is also concern about preserving the records of the cemetery. Hackney and his family have begun the arduous task of digitalizing written records to preserve their accuracy. The Madison County Historical Society is also working on the digitalization project.
One thing is apparent — there is an entire village of people committed to assure that the cemetery maintains its place in history. The Comptroller’s Office continues to oversee the care of the property, and Rev. Carl Hackney, his family and his church, the Rosewood Christian Chapel, continues to provide the sweat equity needed to honor those buried on the property. And it appears the local residents, awaiting their legal status of Friends of Valley View Cemetery, plan to continue to think of ways to work with Hackney and his family to support this piece of Illinois and Edwardsville history.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Friends group and their efforts can contact Jeanne Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org.