'It makes history real': Revolutionary War soldier's grave inspires Mount Rest Cemetery's revitalization
Pavement yields to rutted gravel beyond the I-94 tollway frontage road in far northern Lake County and continues through centuries-old trees to what some consider a mystical place.
Mount Rest Cemetery has been here since the mid-1840s, when local farmers set aside land to bury several travelers headed north.
The names and circumstances of those strangers remain unknown, but visible on a gentle rise near the cemetery entrance, recently gated to deter vandals, is the aged marble headstone of Henry Collins, one of the earliest recorded burials on April 10, 1847.
Collins, a Massachusetts native who lived to nearly 83 years old, has the distinction of being one of only two Revolutionary War soldiers known to be buried in Lake County. The other is Connecticut native Reuben Hill, who enlisted at age 15 and is buried at Wauconda Cemetery.
It was Collins' grave that first led Lake Villa resident Pam Holmes to the secluded Mount Rest in unincorporated Rosecrans in Newport Township.
"That's why we're standing here today," Holmes, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Ansel Brainerd Cook Chapter, said of Henry Collins' participation in the war during a visit to the cemetery last week.
But Collins' grave isn't what has kept her going back. Today her mission is to preserve and enhance the entire burial ground.
Collins enlisted in his hometown of Southborough just two months shy of his 17th birthday. A "levy" had been placed on the town to supply a set number of men to the Continental Army.
The private served two years, but he may not have seen battle. His service is relevant nonetheless, said Heide Olson, secretary of the Mount Rest Cemetery Association.
"It makes history real," said Olson, who has relatives buried at Mount Rest. "That guy did the hard work, and he's right there."
During his long life, Collins lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Canada. He didn't reach Lake County until a few years before he died, moving with his son to an area near where the cemetery would be established.
His grave was marked by the Waukegan DAR in 1928, then marked again and rededicated by various chapters in 2012.
Holmes became enchanted with the history and surroundings.
"When I went up there, it spoke to me," she said.
Holmes also has a personal connection to Independence Day.
"My claim to fame is on my dad's side. My sixth great-grandfather is John Morton, one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence," she said last week during a break from the heat while working at Mount Rest. "He was supposedly the pivotal vote in Pennsylvania, and that's why it's called the Keystone State. He's right under Ben Franklin."
DAR members have to be direct descendants of a Revolutionary War patriot, Holmes said, and documentation is required. She learned Tuesday her connection with Morton was approved.
Though drawn to the cemetery by Collins' grave, the Wheeling native also noticed some areas in disrepair or otherwise in need of attention. Her Libertyville-based DAR chapter decided to adopt Mount Rest and is raising funds for a specialist next spring to preserve, restore and repair 79 stones.
Their goal is $15,000, and donations have been generous so far, despite the coronavirus pandemic, Holmes said. Email email@example.com for information,
More than 550 are buried at Mount Rest and lots are still available. Those buried there include 55 other veterans who served in conflicts such as the Seminole Indian War, the two world wars and Vietnam.
"A lot of history. A lot of interesting stories with the veterans," Holmes said. "I fell in love with this place."
One of the more colorful tales involves veteran James Murrie.
"He took a bullet through the lung in the Civil War and reportedly coughed up, 30 years later, a piece of the flannel he was wearing when the bullet went through," Olson said.
Since they met in April, Holmes and Olson often meet at Mount Rest to clear invasive brush and debris, tidy up, clean headstones and plant shrubs to buffer tollway noise.
"The thing that personalizes this place is the people here are local. They were pioneers trying to make it work," she said.