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Reflections: Montgomery cemetery a link to area’s pioneer era

Late spring is brightening up the Illinois prairie with all the usual wildflower suspects as the seasons once again keep rolling along.

Pick a country road and drive west and you’ll quickly find yourself in farm country, where seasonal changes continue to regulate life just as they’ve done for millennia.

Spring was the season our pioneer ancestors favored for moving west, traveling by wagon from their settled homes in the east, hoping to arrive in enough time so that some sort of crop might be raised as farmsteads were built, fields fenced, and livestock raised.

Many of the names of those old pioneer families, the ones who built the farms and created the towns that dot today’s Fox Valley landscape, are only remembered in the names of area roads.

John Douglas, a Scot educated as a medical doctor in London, first settled in Michigan before arriving in the Fox Valley in 1837.

Douglas settled on rich land near the Great Waubonsie Swamp on both sides of the Kane-Kendall border in northern Oswego Township, as did William Ellis, who became Douglas’ neighbor.

When Jacob Carpenter, Montgomery’s first settler who kept a stagecoach tavern on the east bank of the Fox River, died, Ellis married the Widow Carpenter. She was a sister of the Pearces – Daniel, John, and Walter – who were the pioneer settlers of Oswego.

In Oswego Township, the Collins, Simons, Schlapp and Woolley families came and made their marks – and left their names on area roads – while elsewhere in Kendall County, the Budds, Judge John D. Caton, and others also left their names behind.

The Kecks were one of the largest pioneer extended families that arrived on the prairies along the Fox River near the modern border of Kane and Kendall counties.

Today, their name marks one of the county’s oldest cemeteries, located along Blackberry Creek on the Kendall County side of what is today U.S. Route 30 in Montgomery.

In 1840, the Kecks moved west in a wagon train with members of their large extended family.

The family patriarch, Jacob Keck, and his wife, Nancy, led the way, followed by their three sons, Jacob Keck Jr., Adam Keck and John Keck, plus their seven daughters and their families – the Staley, Bauder, Stansel, Fikes (two Fikes brothers married two Keck sisters), Van Fleet and Young families.

John Keck’s father had fled his native Germany for the New World, immigrating to the German settlement along New York’s Mohawk River, where he raised his sons and daughters. There, in the historic Mohawk Valley, the three Keck brothers fought in the Revolution and raised their own families. Jacob was born to one of those veterans on a Mohawk Valley farm. When he grew up, he married young Nancy Cook, and the couple raised their own family of 10 children.

By the 1840s, it was clear the Illinois prairies were home to the best farmland, a place where so many of their neighbors had moved. Lured by tales of rich, cheap land, the Kecks’ journey to Illinois began.

The Keck wagon train moved slowly west – apparently too slowly for some of the family. Somewhere during the trip, the family split, with half deciding to travel via the Great Lakes to Chicago. The rest moved at 10 to 20 miles a day through the woodlands of Pennsylvania and Ohio, eventually emerging into the rolling, mostly treeless prairies of western Indiana.

The two traveling wings of the Keck family met on the Fox River at Daniel Gray’s small settlement, then informally named Graytown, on the west bank of the Fox River.

Each of the 11 families bought small stands of timber on the east side of the river where the Seasons Ridge subdivision is located today, and each also purchased farmland west of the river along Blackberry Creek.

Members of the Keck clan were, from the beginning, community leaders. Jacob donated land for the Keck School along Blackberry Creek, while his son-in-law, Hiram Bauder, was appointed Montgomery’s first postmaster in January of 1848. In fact, Montgomery was nearly named Bauderville.

According to the area’s oral history, when the new village was finally platted in 1852, Gray wanted to name it after his good friend, Hiram Bauder, while Bauder wanted to keep the name as Grayville in honor of the village’s strongest backer. As a compromise, the pair settled on Montgomery in honor of the Keck family’s home county in New York.

About a year after the family arrived, Jacob Keck Jr.’s 29-year-old wife, Cornelia, died on Sept. 3, 1841. She was buried on her father-in-law’s farm and is said by various sources to be the first burial in the Jacob Keck Memorial Cemetery.

Today the cemetery is the resting places of most of the family members who traveled to the Fox Valley with Jacob Keck more than a century and a half ago, as well as many of their descendants. Jacob and his wife, Nancy, are there, along with their son-in-law, Hiram Bauder, plus Carpenters, Fikes, VanFleets, and a host of other families.

Before U.S. Route 30 was built, the cemetery was situated where Baseline Road – the boundary between Kane and Kendall counties – crossed Blackberry Creek. Today, the cemetery is bounded by the rights-of-way of Route 30 and Orchard Road, one of the area’s busiest intersections.

But now, in this modern age, the historic old cemetery has fallen on hard times, and its upkeep is essentially hit or miss.

Back in the 1990s, group of Mormons reset some of the stones and worked to clean up the historic burying ground, as have various projects conducted by Boy Scouts over the years.

As we celebrate another Memorial Day, a new effort is afoot to clean up the historic old burying ground to preserve its historical significance to Montgomery and the Fox Valley. Christine Hillmann of Chris’s Cemetery Preservation Inc., in cooperation with the Keck family, has begun to raise funds to clean, repair and reset about 49 of the cemetery’s historic grave markers.

For more information, or to donate to the Jacob Keck Memorial Cemetery preservation effort, email

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