Theft of rural cemetery fence evokes 'disgust'

RURAL PENFIELD — Maureen Hughes felt only one thing — “disgust” — when she realized that large sections of an ornate wrought-iron fence had been stolen from one of Champaign County’s oldest cemeteries late last month.

“It’s just uncalled for that somebody could desecrate a cemetery like that,” the retired one-time police officer said.

It was mid-morning on Saturday, Jan. 30, when Steve Klein, a Paxton photographer, drove by Patton Cemetery north of Penfield and noticed some of its fence had been torn down. Klein stopped to take some photos before he noticed Hughes burning some items on her property some 100 yards to the west of the cemetery.

Klein said he then drove to Hughes’ property and notified her of the apparent vandalism. Hughes’ husband, Dale, for several years has mowed the grounds of the privately owned cemetery, which holds the graves of some of the earliest settlers of Champaign and Ford counties.

Hughes said that after driving to the cemetery, she saw that about 60 to 70 feet of the cemetery’s fence had been removed, with some of its remaining sections damaged.

What was once a “beautiful, very decorative wrought-iron fence” sat in shambles — likely a victim of vandals in search of scrap metal, Hughes said.

“About three-quarters of it was pushed over, and five to seven sections had been removed,” she said.

Hughes immediately reported the crime to the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, which, as of Friday, had not developed any suspects.

Lt. Brian Mennenga said that other than some tire tracks from “an unknown type of vehicle” that were found at the cemetery, investigators were unable to retrieve any evidence. In the meantime, Mennenga said, investigators have notified scrap yards in the area and asked them to “keep an eye out.”

According to Mennenga, Hughes estimated the sections of fence that were stolen had a value of $15,000, and there was an additional $5,000 in damage done to the remaining sections.

Besides the monetary value, the fence has historical significance to the area and sentimental value to the Patton family, which owns the cemetery, Hughes said.

The cemetery, located in Kerr Township north of Penfield in the 2700 block of Champaign County Road 3475 North, is among the oldest in Champaign County, Hughes said.

The cemetery’s graves all belong to members of the Patton family — hence, the cemetery’s name — with the last burial taking place there in 1985, Hughes said. The largest gravestone is that of Jane Patton, whose husband, David, was one of the largest landowners and most extensive farmers in eastern Illinois in the 19th Century.

It is believed that Jane Patton bought the fence for Patton Cemetery, Hughes said. On Memorial Day, some descendants still visit the cemetery to put flowers on graves, Hughes said.

Ruth Ann Fisher of Urbana said she took photos at the cemetery in May 2014 and found a name plate on one of  the fence’s gates, showing it was made by Champion Iron Fence Co. She later looked up information about the company.

Fisher said it was incorporated as Champion Fence Co. in 1876 by William L. Walker, James Young, William H. Young, B.G. Devoe and Henry Price. The company had a factory on Franklin Street in Kenton, Ohio.

Fisher said she learned that the business moved briefly to Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1877, returning to Kenton in 1878. In 1878, the company was incorporated as Champion Iron Fence Co. Fisher said she did not learn the date of the company’s dissolution, but she said the company did provide a fence for the Iolani Palace in Honolulu in 1892.

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call Champaign County Crimestoppers at 217-373-TIPS or the sheriff’s office at 217-384-1213. Informants may be eligible for a cash reward if information leads to an arrest and conviction.


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Ruth Ann wrote on February 07, 2016 at 12:02 am

In May of 2014 when I took pictures at the cemetary, I found a name plate on one of  the gates and looked up information on the fence company. 

Champion Iron Fence Company -- Incorporated as Champion Fence Company in 1876 by William L. Walker, James Young, William H. Young, B.G. Devoe, and Henry Price with a factory on Franklin Street in Kenton, Ohio. The works moved briefly to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1877, returning to Kenton in 1878. In 1878 it was incorporated as Champion Iron Fence Company. Date of dissolution not know, but is post 1884. In fact, the company provided the fence for the Iolani Palace in Honolulu as late as 1892.

The cemetary its self may be 200 years old, but I believe the fence is not that old.

Regardless, this is just heartbreaking.


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