Recent History

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

Sign in 2004

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

Photo taken in late 1900s

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.

Watch O’Fallon TV: Sage Chapel 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

Broken Howard Morris
Broken stone of Howard Morris

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.)

Howard Morris Ceremony

Watch O’Fallon TV: Remembering Howard Morris

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

New sign
Boy Scout Eagle Scout project

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.

O’Fallon TV Video – Recognizing the Past

Photo 1
Sage Chapel Cemetery  – Photo by Dorris Keeven-Franke

For more information or if you want to share your story of Sage Chapel Cemetery


The story of Sage Chapel Cemetery

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 WoodlawnSeminary2O’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 Jefferson Sage (2)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 orig deed Sageto 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

Simon and Cora White lived on Sonderen Avenue and are buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery.

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.

Howard Morris Ceremony
VFW Post 5077 honored veteran Howard Morris with a new stone when the original had become cracked and broken.


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.




Sage Chapel Cemetery

This small African-American cemetery lies on what was once the Keithly family farm, Tenand today is just west of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5077 on Veterans Memorial Parkway. It has been used by O’Fallon Missouri’s African-American community as a burial ground since 1881,  the year it was conveyed to the Trustees of a former African Methodist Episcopal Church, for a cemetery.  During the 19th Century, O’Fallon was home to three African-American churches, the Cravens Methodist Episcopal (later Williams Memorial)  Wishwell Baptist (a plant of Hopewell Baptist in Wentzville) and Sage Chapel A.M.E.. all were on Sonderen Street. (A list of those buried here is below.)

Burials haven’t been limited simply to members of these churches either, but through the years, as these churches closed, continued to be a burial ground for the African-One

American Community. And, while these churches no longer exist, and likewise there are no records extant, we do know today there are 30 headstones, and some handmade markers, and that there are at least 111 documented burials on this property. At least twenty of these people were born as slaves prior to Missouri’s emancipation of of slaves on January 11, 1865. There are also veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War, and veterans of World War I and the Korean War.

When O’Fallon resident and Historic Preservation Commissioner Jim Frain first visited the Sage Chapel Cemetery in June 2013, he noticed that the headstone for Howard Howard Morris CeremonyMorris, a World War I veteran, was broken and in danger of being lost. Frain approached his friend, Sheldon Hartsfield, also a veteran and Chairman of the O’Fallon Veterans Commission at that time, and they and the Amvets and a few other members of the community came together and saw the headstone with all of the proper ceremony due this veteran, saw that the stone was replaced.

(Watch a video about Sage Chapel Cemetery)

Since then, area historians have researched the cemetery’s history, nominated it for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and all while the City of O’Fallon maintains the cemetery. They have not only cut the grass, but when large trees were toppled, and fences were broken, they addressed the situation and the African-American community took notice. Everyone appreciates this. Sage Chapel Cemetery is significant to more than the African-American community of O’Fallon though.

This is only a portion of O’Fallon’s rich heritage, yet, it is a very necessary and important part. It provides dialogue and discussion and an opportunity to reach out and seek greater understanding of our larger community. It is significant with an educational role, as the stories of over one-hundred of our African-American residents are shared, it teaches a history that isn’t taught in our schools today. Sage Chapel Cemetery is already significant as a burying ground where people’s lives should never be forgotten. But even more important is the role this history has played in our community’s history which needs to be acknowledged and voices heard. If you have a family member buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, we would like to hear from you. Please contact us using the form below.

Phyllis and George
Phyllis Hayden (left) and George Abington discovered their family connection in July 2017.





Endings and Beginnings

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.