Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - Door County Tombstones

Northeast Wisconsin is the largest settlement of Walloon speaking Belgians in the United States. Walloon is a French dialect from southern Belgium and Flemish, a Dutch dialect from northern Belgium and is Belgium’s other official Language. In the late 1840’s the economic conditions in Northern Europe took a downturn. With this economic downturn coupled with the potato famine which intensified food shortages, families were forced to leave the Belgium country side for the city in hopes of finding work. But upon their arrival, they were to find that factories had no jobs.

Across the Atlantic conditions were very different, so the Belgians crossed the ocean and settled in Wisconsin. They would arrive in Sheboygan area near the end of July in 1853. Soon after their arrival it would become clear that they would need to go further north to find available land to settle on. In the early months of being in America while the men were looking for land to purchase, one of the children in the Phillip Hannon family died.

This child’s death caused the settlers to seek out a French Catholic Church for a funeral. They would go to Green Bay where Father Edouard Daems was visiting the St. John’s priest at the time of the funeral. Father Daems was a Crozier priest who had been born and raised in Belgium. He spoke Walloon and he was also the priest of a new Catholic church at Bay Settlement, a small community just northeast of Green Bay. Since practically all the pioneers were followers of that faith, they followed Father Daems and settled near by.

They settled in the counties of Brown, Kewaunee and Door counties near the water of Green Bay. Land would be purchased for $1.25 and acre as promised when they were still in Belgium. For the next ten years many Belgium immigrants would settle in the area of Door County which is known as Namur, Wisconsin today. Many of the original wooden structures of the Belgian Americans were destroyed by a firestorm which swept through the area in 1871. A few of the stone houses remain but you will see the more common red brick house built in the 1880’s. This cemetery is located on State Highway 57 , 0.2 of a mile east of county Highway N. It is known as Our Lady of the Snows Cemetery which is located adjacent to the red Brick Church of the same name.

These tombstones are grave markers from the early settlers in Namur, Wisconsin. Namur is named after an area of Belgium similar to a state or province near the French border which these settlers originated from. Upon investigation, I learned that some of the buildings in this settlement were moved to allow additional lanes to be built in the highway. I am not certain if this is the original location of the burial grounds or if it was moved here. I found it interesting how they placed these stones. When ever I have seen them like this before, it usually meant that the remains where moved. Most of the stones are written in what at first looked like French to me. Having taken French in High School, I was able to translate some of it. It would be through my investigation that I would learn what the language really was.

I just knew the first time I saw this cemetery that there had to be a story behind it. It has been fun investigating it. My husband and I like to go camping in Door County in the fall. We have not driven by this cemetery for a few years because we have been taking a different route. We will have to go visit the cemetery again. Now that I have learned so much about the Belgian’s who settled in this area, I will need to be more observant. Eighty percent of the land originally settled by these Belgian families’, remains in these same families today. They were known to build small chapels on their property. These chapels are never locked and open to all. Many of these Chapels are lovingly maintained by descendents of the families who built them. The Belgian Wayside Chapels are evidence of the historic faith of these Belgian settlers and the determination of their modern descendents to preserve the culture of their families.

Sources of information are:
“ Door County Living” by Katie Lott Schnorr

“ Belgian Settlement in Wisconsin Marker “ from HMdb.org or the Historical Marker Database.

“Aux Premiers Belges : Remembering Northeast Wisconsin’s First Belgian Settlers”

written by Cletus Delvaux

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