Thomas Clarence was born in Kentucky in about 1877. He and his brother William were a Baptist family who had come north looking for work. Married and divorced he had worked many jobs, at the shoe factory, as a steelworker, and even as a carpenter. Previously he had lived in St. Louis, but had come to live with family in Gilmore, a railroad town in St. Charles County west of O’Fallon. He had been ill with pneumonia for over three months when he died of a lung hemorrhage on October 23, 1923. Served by the Keithly Funeral Home, he was laid to rest in Sage Chapel Cemetery at 8500 Veterans Memorial Parkway in O’Fallon, Missouri. He is among the 117 African-American burials there who shall not be forgotten. May they rest in peace.
Mary Edwards passed away of tuberculosis on November 20, 1921. She was born enslaved on June 18, in about 1855 or 1856, to Charles and Martha Stone, who were both born slaves in Missouri. She grew up in north Saint Louis County along the Missouri River near Baden. She and her husband Jim Edwards, grew up together, were childhood friends, and they married at the close of the Civil War. Mary bore eleven children, ten of which survived. They were Marshall (who preceded her and is also buried at Sage Chapel Cemetery), Diane (1875), John (1877) Sophia (1881), Louis (1886), Alvin “Trevy” (who preceded her and is also buried at Sage Chapel Cemetery) George “Sedell” (1891), Lena (1895) Mamie (1910) and Slater (1898). She moved to today’s O’Fallon right after James and she married, and they made their home on St. Peters Road, later referred to as “the hill”, today known as Sonderen. She was buried by the Keithly Funeral home. Mary lays buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 documented burials, only 37 of which have headstones (2018), at Sage Chapel Cemetery. May they rest in peace, because they may be gone, but they are not to be forgotten.
[Mary’s broken headstone was first documented by historian Lucille Wiechens in 1988 in the same condition it is today. It has been identified and documented today by research into death records, census records and other genealogical data.]
Eldora Abington, wife of Liberty Abington, passed away on March 28, 1921, in her home, next door to Sage Chapel, in O’Fallon. She was born June 15, 1868, the daughter of Alex Welch. She leaves behind Jessica born 1887, Bessie born 1889, Allie born 1892, Todie born 1896, and a son Eddy born 1903. E.A. Keithly of O’Fallon served as the undertaker for the Abington family. She is buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 known burials at Sage Chapel Cemetery that we honor this day. May they rest in peace, because they are gone but they are not to be forgotten.
Mary Elizabeth Sallee, aged 11 months and 22 days, died of colic on May 26, 1919. She was born June 4, 1918, near O’Fallon, the daughter of Charles and Ardelia (nee Abington) Sallee. She leaves behind two sisters, Georgia Mae and Leola Sallee, both still at home. E.A. Keithly of O’Fallon was the undertaker. She is buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 known burials at Sage Chapel Cemetery that we honor this day. May they rest in peace, because they are gone but they are not to be forgotten.
Nine-year-old Florence Beatrice Vardeman, died of pneumonia on February 28, 1911. The daughter of John and and “Lovie” (Mary Truelove nee Luckett) Vardeman, she was born August 8, 1902 in St. Paul. E.A. Keithly of O’Fallon was the undertaker. She is buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 known burials at Sage Chapel Cemetery that we honor this day. May they rest in peace, because they are gone but they are not to be forgotten.
She was born enslaved in 1849, and died January 25, 1908. She was united in marriage to Walter Burrell in 1867. Their only surviving child was their daughter Lena Burrell, born in 1868. She is buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 known burials at Sage Chapel Cemetery that should be honored. May they rest in peace, because they are gone but not forgotten.
Alvin Edwards, who everyone called “Trevy”, died tragically at age 19, on June 19, 1907 when his injuries proved fatal after being run over by a train on the M.K.&T. Railroad above St. Charles. According to the June 19th, 1907 issue of the St. Charles Cosmos-Monitor (see below) there were no eye witnesses to the accident. He worked for the sand plant in Klondyke, in southern St. Charles County, and perhaps he had hitched a ride on a boxcar to get home. On the north side of St. Charles, he had jumped, perhaps he fell or slipped, and both legs were severed in the accident. Trevy had been born November of 1889, the son of James and Mary J. (nee Stone) Edwards, and grew up on “the hill” in O’Fallon. He was preceded in death by his brother Marshall and nephew Roman who are also buried at Sage Chapel Cemetery. He left behind his grieving parents and several brothers and sisters, Sedell, Mamie, Lena and Slater. He is buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 known burials at Sage Chapel Cemetery that we honor this day. May they rest in peace, because although they are gone, they will not be forgotten.
The broken pieces of Alvin Edwards stone (shown above) were recovered during a canvas and probing of the cemetery done through the efforts of a large team of local volunteers on October 29, 2017. The newspaper (below) was supplied by historian Justin Watkins.
Winston Davis died in 1907. He had been born enslaved in Missouri in 1830. His parents though were property that had been brought from North Carolina. He and his wife Adelaide had ten children, of which only four were still living in 1900. Their youngest son Walter, who was born in 1871 was still living with them when Winston died. Walter had a sister named Laura, and a brother named John. Winston was buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 known burials at Sage Chapel Cemetery that we honor this day. May they rest in peace, because they may be gone but they will not be forgotten.
The broken pieces of Winston Davis’ stone were recovered during a canvas and probing of the cemetery done through the efforts of a large team of local volunteers on October 29, 2017. Photo by Dorris Keeven-Franke with Mary Hogan Smith and Rick Dotson. Mary came that day and shared several stones that she knew the location of. The preservation efforts of Sage Chapel Cemetery is a community wide effort.
Hilda Abington Claiborne who died September 23, 1903 in Saint Charles County was born Hilda Abington on October 14, 1869. On August 1, 1889 she was united in marriage to Sandy Claiborne. She left behind her loving husband and three sons, Ollie born May 1890, Pitman born December 1892, and Sidney born February 1896. The family lived on “The hill” in O’Fallon, Missouri. She is buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 known burials at Sage Chapel Cemetery that we honor this day. May they rest in peace, because they are gone but they are not to be forgotten.
Hilda Claiborne’s headstone reads Here I lay my burden down turn the cross into a crown.
Marshall Edwards died June 26, 1902. He was born the son of James and Mary J. (Stone) Edwards on February 3, 1874 in O’Fallon, Missouri, and grew up on the hill. He was the oldest son and left behind several brothers and sisters,Diane,John, Sophia, Louis, Trevy, George, Lena,Mamie and Slater. He leaves behind his wife Mabel, formerly Mabel Tucker. His daughter Martha will be born eight months after he died. Marshall is buried with his five year old son Roman, who preceded him in death, in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 known burials at Sage Chapel Cemetery that we honor this day. May they rest in peace, because they are gone but not forgotten.
Priscella Admire Ball, formerly of Monroe, in Lincoln County Missouri died on 25th of May 1900. She was born enslaved in Kentucky in 1811. On February 6, 1866, she wed David Ball, born 1810 in Virginia. She left behind a grandson, David Clement, also born in Kentucky in 1865. She is buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 known burials at Sage Chapel Cemetery that we honor this day. May they rest in peace, because they are gone but not forgotten.
Roman V. Edwards, age 5 years and 3 months, died 29 October 1898. He was born May of 1893, the beloved son of Marshall Edwards, and dear grandson of James Edwards and Mary J. (Stone) Edwards. He left behind several aunts and uncles in O’Fallon, Missouri. He is buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, at 5700 Veterans Memorial Parkway and is one of the over 117 known burials at Sage Chapel Cemetery that we honor this day. May they rest in peace, because they are gone but not forgotten.
Sage Chapel Cemetery is an African-American cemetery located on Veterans Memorial Parkway, just east of Highway K in O’Fallon, Missouri. (Just west of the VFW Post 5077) This is the only African-American cemetery still in existence in the City of O’Fallon; it most likely began as a burial ground for the former enslaved members of the Samuel Keithly household. It contains at least 117 burials that have been documented by headstones, obituaries, death certificates and/or living family members. Of these at least 17 were born into slavery. It became a formal one-acre plot when deeded to the African-Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in 1881. The earliest visible gravestone is Priscilla Ball in 1900. African-American families have used this cemetery for well over 100 years. The church that is known to be associated with it, which was located further on Sonderen, as Sage Chapel no longer exists. African-Americans that attended Wishwell Baptist and Cravens Methodist were also buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, and neither of these churches exist anymore either. Despite exhaustive research there are no records to any of these to be found. This continued to be used as a community cemetery for African-Americans and their families until 2015. Efforts are underway to list the Sage Chapel Cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places. That hearing will be held on August 10, 2018 at the State Historic Preservation Office in Jefferson City and is open to the public.
In today’s world, the sight of an African-American Cemetery whose roots go back to slavery, is rare. This significant historic site with well over 100 burials we call Sage Chapel Cemetery is well cared for by the City of O’Fallon, with two beautiful signs proclaiming its existence to the world, but was for many years… O’Fallon’s biggest mystery. According to O’Fallon Historic Preservation Commissioner Jim Frain “Its a mystery that people have been working on for years.” The recent history of the cemetery is as important as the story of its’ beginning. Today, Sage Chapel Cemetery, would perhaps not even be here, if it were not for the love of the community that surrounds it. Nestled along Veterans Memorial Parkway, this historic site pays tribute to a difficult time for the African-American members of the O’Fallon community. Its history which was once shrouded and mysterious is slowly revealing itself thanks today to the efforts of many of its’ residents.
For decades, the families of those who were buried at Sage Chapel Cemetery had taken care of their own. Many of the families, whose family names go back in O’Fallon’s history as far as the 1800’s, can be found on the thirty headstones that stand there today. Approximately 20% of those buried at Sage Chapel Cemetery were born enslaved. Names like Abington, Claiborne, Dierker, and Dryden, go back to the 19th Century. The families
of Edwards, Thomas, Luckett, and White still have descendants living in the area today. Mary Patrick Stephenson moved to O’Fallon from St. Paul in the 1940s so that it would be easier for her to catch the bus to Franklin School in St. Charles, which was the only school for African-Americans that Mary could attend in order to receive an education. She recalls going by Sage Chapel Cemetery every day when she was young. The families placed flowers on Memorial Day and cared for the cemetery throughout the year. As writer Pat Swinger noted when she wrote about the cemetery, there was a small sign that her husband Lewis Swinger, with David Hinman had built, on their own, and erected there. Sometime between 2005 and 2009, former City Administrator Robert Lowery insisted the City should take on the responsibility of Sage Chapel Cemetery.
Damage to cemetery in 2012 draws community attention
In the late summer of 2012, an incident brought the cemetery to the attention to the City of O’Fallon when someone allegedly crossed the cemetery with some landscaping equipment, maintaining that he did not know there was a cemetery there. The damage done to the cemetery was major! The entire community was outraged that
the resting spot for all of its African-American members could be vandalized in such a horrible way. The O’Fallon Police Department needed more information in order to pursue their case against the vandals. They visited the location that many of the St. Charles residents do when they are looking for answers and history, the St. Charles County Historical Society on Main Street in the City of St. Charles. There they asked archivist Dorris Keeven-Franke “who owns the cemetery today?” The St. Charles County Assesor’s records did not show any owner on record even then. She enlisted the aid of a volunteer who specializes in deed research, Justin Watkins. A flurry of emails followed. From Keeven-Franke to Watkins on September 12, 2012, “Great work Justin! I spoke with Tom Stephenson yesterday. Apparently that person …decided to make his own easement and took a bulldozer through the cemetery! When you have a chance, can you go get pictures please??? I am going to go back to the County… All because NO ONE can find a deed for who currently owns it.We have to save this cemetery!!!”
A lot of people agreed! And although no deeds were located, a community came together and more people became involved. Three local residents banded together to see what they could do. Local historian Mary-Hogan Smith passionately pleaded with the City of O’Fallon, trying to raise awareness. Then, in 2013, long time resident and O’Fallon’s Historic Preservation Commissioner Jim Frain was drawn in by the history of Sage Chapel Cemetery, when he met Phyllis Hayden, who had been born in O’Fallon and grew up there. Her father, well-known and well-loved O’Fallon resident Bill Hayden, had maintained the cemetery for years. O’Fallon TV Producer Joe Meier interviewed Frain, Hayden and Hogan in March of 2014 where they shared their passion for the cemetery.
Recognition of O’Fallon’s only African-American cemetery was growing, thanks to the efforts of these three people. More great things were happening for Sage Chapel Cemetery. Local Boy Scout’s Eagle Project, by Jim Pepper, brought a newer and larger sign to Sage Chapel giving it more visibility. Still veteran’s like Sheldon Hartsfield, whose V.F.W. Post 5077 neighbored Sage, weren’t really aware until Jim Frain drew his attention to one very very special stone. Howard Morris, the Great-Uncle of Phyllis Hayden, was a World War I
Veteran. According to Jim Frain “Howard Morris served our country in World War 1 as a Private in the Head Quarters Company of the 65th Pioneer Infantry…The Pioneer Infantry built roads, fortifications and created lines of approach for the US Army.” That’s when Jim Frain and Sheldon Hartsfield formed a mission, to replace the broken headstone of Morris. They would not stop until not only was Howard Morris’ stone replaced, but the family would be honored by a full military funeral due this important Veteran of the Great War. (Morris will also be honored in the new St. Charles County Veterans Museum opening in 2019.)
Nine months ago, O’Fallon TV once again visited Sage Chapel Ceremony, when the entire community came together to honor Howard Morris. Hundreds of citizens, watched a deserving family receive the tribute they had not received in 1957, a time still troubled by segregation. This beautiful ceremony brought a community together on the afternoon of August 12, 2017, demonstrating the love of the O’Fallon, Missouri community, and the exact same time as the Charlottesville Massacre. The City of O’Fallon maintains and takes care of the cemetery today, making certain the grass is cut and trees trimmed. Many local citizens care about this special place.
Sage Chapel Cemetery today
Today, the history of Sage Chapel Cemetery is better known than it was years ago. Today, efforts by several local residents, are seeing that families like the Stephensons, the Thomas, and the Haydens, are recorded for history. These families can still identify where their loved ones reside. O’Fallon’s Joe Meier has been helping with that. Family photographs are being combed for pictures of Howard Morris and other African-American families buried at Sage Chapel Cemetery. Their voices, and these stories, need to be heard, and recognized, if we are to confront a difficult past. These were families whose lives were a separate and difficult experience from most other residents. Growing up on “The Hill” meant something different than it did on Main Street. Sonderen Street had been home to the town’s African-American families as far back as the 1800s. There was the school for the black children at the northwest corner of Elm and Sonderen. Next to that was Cravens, a Northern Methodist Church, which many families attended. Behind that was the former Williams home, later Billie Hayden.
Across the street from the black school and Cravens Methodist, on the northeast corner was the home of Willis Thornhill at the turn of the century. In the early 1900s, when German emigrant Henry Obrecht bought the property, it was where the O’Fallon Colored Oddfellows Lodge was meeting. Further down the east side of Sonderen, by the creek, where the culvert is today, sat the Wishwell Baptist Church, an outgrowth of the earlier Hopewell Baptist Church in Wentzville on Highway N. Behind Wishwell, to the southeast sat the small little church of Sage Chapel. From these three churches, came the families that were buried up the hill at the little one acre cemetery we call Sage Chapel Cemetery.
Only by acknowledging the voices of these people, and listening to their stories, can we begin understanding. These stories explain why we have different perspectives due to
difficult and challenging life experiences. We need to tell the hard stories. We need to listen to the hard stories. We need to understand the hard stories. Hopefully with an open dialogue and understanding will come compassion and healing. As the story of Sage Chapel Cemetery has slowly been revealed, many documents explaining its history give us part of the story. In 2016, O’Fallon Historic Preservation Commission President Karolyn Terpstra presented a history of Sage Chapel Cemetery to the O’Fallon City Council. But this wasn’t the whole story, and efforts are being made today to see Sage Chapel Cemetery nationally recognized and listed on the National Register of Historic Places by Public Historian and writer Dorris Keeven-Franke, also a member of the O’Fallon Historic Preservation Commission.
Next time you drive down Veterans Memorial Parkway, just a half mile east of Hwy K, across the street from Ethyl’s you will pass by Sage Chapel Cemetery. Stop by and say hello. You will find yourself transported back to a time in history in a way no building can ever do. You will meet a community, that was once separate, but for no longer. Today it is being embraced by all, hopefully to be preserved for future generations to explore and learn its stories as well.
For more information or if you want to share your story of Sage Chapel Cemetery
When researching the Sage Chapel Cemetery’s history one can be amazed at the wonderful relationship the entire community has had for years! So many people have been involved over the years, caring about this special place, and wanted to see it preserved. Sage Chapel Cemetery is a testimony to the number of people who have cared about it. Here is an excerpt from the O’Fallon Community News, 18 February 2004 by a writer named Patricia Swinger:
“Several months ago now, I got a note from Judge Earl Drennan asking me if I knew anything about the Sage Chapel Cemetery. I didn’t know anything about it, except that it was situated next to the VFW Hall on Veteran’s Memorial Parkway. To be perfectly honest, I’d never even noticed the sign “Sage Chapel Cemetery” and had never heard of the Sage Chapel. Since I’m one of those strange people who like to walk through cemeteries in historic cities, Lewis and I decided to take a look for ourselves.
What I saw on the headstones were the names of many of the black folks who lived along Sonderen Street when I was a child. Among them were Simon and Cora White, Elizabeth (everyone knew her as Grandma) Hayden, Slick Thomas and his mother. Edward Dierker who was a Blackfoot Indian … according to his granddaughter, Arlene White.
It’s been quite a task, tracking down the story behind Sage Chapel and the cemetery that took its name. I talked to Mary Stephenson whose family lived in St. Paul and then moved to O’Fallon so the children could go to Franklin High School in St. Charles. Mary went to the little white church that sat next to the creek on Sonderen, the Wish Well [sic] Baptist Church. Most of her family, though, went to the Methodist Church that was next to the black school at the corner of Sonderen and Elm. That’s the church she remembers as Sage Chapel.
I got a slightly different story, though, when I talked to Tommy White, Simon White’s son who, by the way, will turn eighty-nine this Valentine’s Day. Though the Sage Chapel he
heard tell of was before even his time, it was his understanding that Sage Chapel was originally located midway on Sonderen, approximately where Pitman meets Sonderen.
All of this took place even before Sonderen Street was given its name. The Sonderen family owned a strip of farmland that stretched from Old Highway 40 all the way up to St. Joseph St., north of the railroad tracks. Frank Amptmann’s grandparents, Gerhardt and Elizabeth Sonderen, built the original Wildwood Saloon that is now Ethyl’s. According to Arlene White, the church was named Sage Chapel after the sage fields that grew wild on the middle portion of the Sonderen property. Black folks used to gather in those sage fields to worship and later on, pooled their resources to build the church. Some people understood that the land had long ago been given to the black community for a cemetery; some thought that the black families also pooled their resources to buy the land. Exactly how the land for the cemetery was transferred and where Sage Chapel was may have to remain a mystery.
It should tell us something, I think, that so few records and photographs remain to tell the story of O’Fallon’s black community. Before Sonderen Street got its name, Mary Stephenson
tells me that this street, where most of the black folks lived, was referred to as simply “The Hill.” Arlene White told me that, in 1922, a deed for one of the properties was filed with an address that had a racial pejorative before the word “Hill.” If we’re all going to be honest enough to admit that that’s what Sonderen Street was sometimes called, let me also say that I never heard any animosity associated with the name, probably because the folks who lived there were all respected and well-liked. You couldn’t have asked for better people than Simon and Cora White who raised eight children and made sure all of them had an education. Never was there a kinder, gentler and more respected man in O’Fallon than Billie Hayden. And let’s not
forget Louie Dierker, who was crippled since childhood. The story, as Arlene relayed it to me, was that he wanted to go along with the men when they rode out to the fields to work. So he jumped on the wagon and as it bounced across the field, he fell off, hit a tree and broke his back. With no medical care, the bones in his back fused as they were broken and for the rest of his life he walked with a cane, his body bent at an almost perfect ninety-degree angle. Despite that, I doubt he ever missed a day of work.
Anyone who in any way attempts to record history must at some point face the dilemma before me as I write. If this is part of O’Fallon’s history, and it is, it needs to be told and not glossed over just to make it more palatable. Yes, there was segregation, particularly where the churches and schools were concerned. Still, as Mary Stephenson said, “Most folks treated you all right—not all.”
So, to the people who now take their rest in Sage Chapel, I’d like to say a few things. To Simon White: I saw you often as I walked to school and thought to myself what a wonderful grandfather you must be. To Elizabeth Hayden: I will never forget your son’s smile and friendly wave as he drove by our house. To “Slick” Thomas: Mary Stephenson told me you were an incredible artist. I’m sorry I never knew that.”
There will be a program at the O’Fallon Historical Society with more history of Sage Chapel by Dorris Keeven-Franke, on Monday, June 4th at 6:30 p.m. and the public is invited. Please come and bring a friend.
Near the center of the largest city of St. Charles County sits a quiet little plot of ground that transports a visitor to an earlier time when many of its residents were enslaved people. Samuel Keithly brought his family and property to what is today’s City of O’Fallon, in the early 1800s while the friends and followers of American pioneers like Daniel Boone, Jacob Zumwalt and Francis Howell were settling the area. Keithly was one of the largest slave owners in St. Charles County according to the U.S. Slave Schedules of 1850 and 1860. Among those slaves were John Rafferty and his sisters Ludie, Elsie and Lizzie according to oral history.
In 1855, Arnold Krekel, a German born attorney purchased 320 acres of land on which he platted a town named O’Fallon, naming it after the railroad magnate John O’Fallon in hopes that it would become a stop on the westward push of progress. He set up his younger brother Nicholas as the Station Agent and Postmaster, giving him credit as the town’s founder. This created the unlikely neighbors of the Keithly and the Krekel families, with yet one common denominator. Both Samuel Keithly and Arnold Krekel owned slaves in 1860. Yet there their stories parted. Arnold Krekel, President of Missouri’s Constitutional Convention would go on to sign its’ Emancipation proclamation ending slavery in the State on January 11, 1865.
Samuel Keithly didn’t free any of his slaves. Oral tradition states that he gave the land that we call Sage Chapel Cemetery to his slaves, where they worshiped in a field of Sage. We do know that in 1881, his daughter Mahala and her husband Jasper Castlio legally transferred property that included a small church building of the African Methodist Episcopal Church on today’s Sonderen Avenue and the cemetery which lay at its southern terminus to three trustees of an A.M.E. Church. During that time there was a traveling minister with the St. Charles A.M.E. Conference, Jefferson Franklin Sage, preaching in towns along the route of today’s Interstate 70 between the city of St. Charles all the way west to Jonesburg. He would do so for many years before moving to Kansas in the late 1890s. By that time, there were two other African American churches along today’s Sonderen Street, where a large African-American community lived.
Wishwell Baptist Church had begun in 1891 and was a plant of Hopewell Baptist Church that had begun in the 1850s south of Wentzville on the Boone’s Lick Road. Wishwell was near the creek, on the east side of Sonderen, very close to the Sage Chapel Church building. The other African-American Church was Craven’s Methodist, begun in 1871, near the corner of Elm and Sonderen. Next to Craven’s, directly on the corner, was the town’s African-American school, and across the street was the “Colored Odd Fellow’s” lodge that met in Willis Thornhill’s house until Henry Obrecht purchased the property in 1910. All of these lay on what is today’s Sonderen Avenue, which ran north to south from the Wabash Railroad to Sage Chapel Cemetery near the former Keithly plantation. This was also the dividing line between the property of the Krekel Addition and the former Keithly family plantation until 1951 and the City’s annexation of property. This was the line for segregation.
Even though all three of these African-American Churches are no longer standing, and the buildings that once housed the black school and the Odd-Fellows lodge are largely
remodeled, Sage Chapel Cemetery still exists. Significant in today’s world simply because such places are so often lost and forgotten. A peaceful and quiet testament to a difficult time and families such as Hayden, White, Edwards, Thomas, Rafferty and Ball. While many of the community of African Americans left O’Fallon in the late 1950s and early 1960s in search of better job opportunities for their families, some remained. And while many of Sage Chapel’s residents died living in St. Charles, St. Louis or even as far as New Orleans, they were brought home to Sage Chapel when they passed. Eventually all three churches would use Sage Chapel to bury their families, making it a community cemetery.
Today the City of O’Fallon sees that the grass is cut, trees cut, and that Sage Chapel is well maintained. The City truly understands that this place has a collective memory that is an integral part of its’ City’s rich history. Its’ Historic Preservation Commission shares in this mission and is working to see that Sage Chapel is preserved for future generations.
Members of the community are working to see Sage Chapel Cemetery placed on the National Register of Historic places. One of the largest cities in Missouri, O’Fallon is setting an example of how to honor its history, even one of the more difficult stories. This in turn has led to a greater understanding in the community and a richer dialogue of the City’s history for everyone.
Today’s research tells us that Sage Chapel Cemetery has 38 marked burials yet is estimated to have 115 grave sites on this small one acre which lies next to O’Fallon’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5077 at 8500 Veterans Memorial Parkway in O’Fallon, Missouri. It is estimated that nearly twenty percent of its burials were former slaves. To watch a video by O’Fallon’s Communications about Sage Chapel Cemetery CLICK HERE.
Today, along Veterans Memorial Highway, tucked in next to the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars Post 5077, sits the special place we all know and love, Sage Chapel Cemetery. This African-American Cemetery holds at least 111 burials that are researched, documented and identified by either a tombstone, a family marker, or research by local historians. But they only tell part of the story. Each person is like a puzzle piece in the history of the O’Fallon community. And as awareness of this special place has grown, so has the love.
There are 111 documented burials in Sage Chapel Cemetery, but only 30 headstones still remain. There are more documented by family members that are buried there.The oldest stone in the cemetery is Priscilla Ball, born an enslaved person, and buried there in 1900. There are 17 others documented that were also born as enslaved people. We know there are earlier burials, as the deed tells us that the African-American Church trustees purchased it from the Castlio/Keithley family in 1881. The Keithley family had many slaves, probably buried there as well. But research of these burials is difficult, and extremely hard to document. Sometimes we have to rely on more than headstones, death certificates, and obituaries. Sometimes we have to go to the people themselves.
Many of these families, the Hayden, the Thomas and the Whites have shared their stories with us, but we know that there is more work to be done. A Nomination of Sage Chapel Cemetery to the National Register of Historic Places, which is over 60 pages of documentation only shares a bit of the history! The O’Fallon Historical Society has shared its many photographs in its wonderful collection. The City of O’Fallon’s Historic Preservation Commission is working hard to see that the cemetery is preserved for future generations.
Sage Chapel Cemetery needs you. The City of O’Fallon currently maintains the cemetery by seeing that the grass is kept cut, and the toppled trees are removed. The VFW has placed new headstones in honor of the Veterans buried there. Historians like Justin Watkins have worked hours to see that the Nomination to the National Register is successful. Now we must look to the future for Sage Chapel. Hopes are for more to be done that can preserve its stories.
This means everyone can now get involved and help #Preserve Sage Chapel. If it means supporting the City of O’Fallon and the O’Fallon Preservation Commission you can get involved! But it also means that those whose families lie at Sage Chapel can help too now. Please, if you know you have an ancestor at Sage Chapel Cemetery, you can help the story to grow now! We need you! We want to see markers for everyone that is buried there as so many rely simply on the memories and the markers placed there by families. Then we want to see a sign at Sage Chapel that shares its story and identifies everyone for eternity. While nothing should ever disturb its peaceful tranquility, the stories of its people still need to be told. Please help.
If you have family, information, photos or love for Sage Chapel, please share it with us!
Sage Chapel Cemetery is a very special place. More than just a cemetery, it is a place of peace and solace, and the final resting place for the African-American community of O’Fallon, Missouri. For so many it is the only place that they can speak of as “home” and “family” and “my ancestors”. Many of these family members lie in an unmarked grave, where the location is one only known to “Aunt Phyllis” or “Cousin Mary”. And to walk this ground and hear “this is my mother’s grave” and this is where my father is, and to see only the flowers on one, is so sad. To know that with this person, the memory of where his father is, goes with him, is hard to understand in today’s world. But of the one-hundred eleven known burials in Sage Chapel Cemetery, of which at least seventeen were born as slaves, there are only thirty-five graves marked. And some of those are only marked by flowers and a memory.
Back a few years ago though, that began to change. A small group of O’Fallon residents took notice of this place, where the grass was high, and some people did not even realize there was a cemetery. At first the group was small, but they worked to make a change. They involved the community whose ancestors were buried there.The City began to cut the grass and it looked better. Someone bought hundreds of flowers at Dollar General and asked their friends for help in spreading them across the cemetery. Another did research and dug into the family histories of those that were buried there. They talked to their friends at the V.F.W. Post 5077, the neighbors to the east. Word spread and the city featured the story on the local TV channel. An Eagle Scout project brought a bright new sign trying to ensure that everyone in O’Fallon recognized that this was Sage Chapel Cemetery and this is a very special place.
In the past year, there were many more great things that happened at Sage Chapel Cemetery. There was a wonderful new stone placed on a World War I veteran, obtained by Post 5077 to replace the former headstone which was cracked and broken. When trees were blown down, the City was quick to take care and mend fences. Volunteers donated fertilizer and grass seed, and worked to spread that love. Other volunteers helped clean and clear brush. Another spent time searching with a metal detector hoping to find remnants of the old metal funeral home signs. Other volunteers catalogued and photographed, did research in deeds, newspapers and death certificate files. Others surveyed the cemetery carefully recording the names. Volunteers came together to carefully prod in search of any headstones that may have fallen over the years, hoping to find more markers. Flowers were planted at grave sites and under the sign. And there was even more love given to this very special place. And a community began to come together, with a common bond.
Because our color does not matter when we are united under the common bond of our love for family. Our love for our ancestors crosses that boundary, and is shared, whether we are black or white. Love for our family – and a connection to our ancestors – transcends all of that. We can each understand each others need to have a place such as Sage Chapel Cemetery. A place filled with the love even though it may not look like a cemetery, because that is what makes it such a special place. A place where one can say “that’s my family” and share that love with their family and friends.
To the many friends – both old and new – of Sage Chapel Cemetery there is a very big Thank You for everything everyone has done this past year. You know who you are. Everyone is so grateful, and appreciates the community involvement. We are looking forward to 2018 and a wonderful new Chapter, and invite you to visit for yourself, this very special place. We are ending 2017 grateful for the many blessings that Sage has had this year, and looking forward to the beginning of a wonderful 2018.
Historic Sage Chapel Cemetery lies west of the V.F.W. Post 5077 on Veterans Memorial Parkway in O’Fallon, Missouri and is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by Dorris Keeven-Franke, Justin Watkins, and Amber Cox. This early cemetery, comprised of 117 documented burials many of whom were former slaves was officially established by Trustees of an African-Methodist Episcopal Church in 1881. At that time Jefferson Franklin Sage was a Minister of the Gospel with the St. Charles A.M.E Conference. Today, only 37 burials still have headstones to document this cemetery and there are at least 80 additional burials, documented by research found in Death Certificates, newspapers and genealogical research. Other documentation found by local historians Mary Hogan Smith and Karolyn Terpstra has assisted the writers as well.
On August 10, 2018, the nomination will be heard at the hearing of the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in the Lewis and Clark State Office Building, La
Charrette Conference Room, at 1101 Riverside Dr., in Jefferson City, Missouri. Watkins serves on the Board of the St. Charles County Historical Society and is head of the society’s Cemetery Committee. He received the Heritage Award for his “Baptists on a Mission” article in the St. Charles County Heritage. Watkins is also secretary of the board of the Ambassadors of Harmony, a barbershop harmony chorus, and wrote the chorus’ history for the chorus’ website in 2013. Keeven-Franke is Executive Director of the Missouri Germans Consortium, serves as a member of O’Fallon’s Historic Preservation Commission (CLG),
Curator for the St. Charles County Veterans Museum, and is a well-known author, preservationist, and public historian. Amber Cox is a National Register and Architectural Survey Missouri’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).
The process of nominating the cemetery began in 2017, when an Eligibility Assessment was presented to the SHPO. The next step for Sage Chapel Cemetery began in December of 2017 with preparation of the actual nomination. According to the SHPO website “The National Register of Historic Places includes districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering and culture. These resources contribute to an understanding of the historical and cultural foundations of the nation. Missouri, where the program is administered by the Department of Natural Resources’ State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), boasts more than 2,000 listings (= more than 35,000 individual resources) in the National Register, all nominations are reviewed at the state level by the SHPO staff and the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The Missouri Advisory Council is a body of preservation professionals and laypersons appointed by the Governor to review National Register nominations and provide input on preservation issues.”
“Once a nomination has been approved by the Missouri Advisory Council and any required changes made, it is submitted to the National Park Service (NPS)… a decision on whether to list the property is made within 45 days of receipt by the National Park Service.” The Agenda for the hearing by the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (MOACHP) can be found at https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/moachp-agenda.htm where more information and a PDF of the Nomination can also be found and downloaded for the public’s review.*
For further information: