ROCHELLE — Rochelle Police Chief Eric Higby said human remains found Wednesday are believed to be from an old cemetery in town.
Police were called around 3 p.m. by a homeowner in the 700 block of North 7th Street that was having sewer work done when what looked like a partial skull and rib bones were found, Higby said.
“It was difficult for officers to tell,”’ Higby said. “We checked with the library and a few other people and found out there was a cemetery there. We called the state police and the county coroner. We ended up putting the bones back in the ground. As far as we could tell, they were part of a cemetery.”
Higby said the experience was new to his department and he wanted to make sure everything was done right. Digging ceased while the situation was sorted out. Higby doesn’t anticipate any more news will come of the situation.
“They certainly didn’t look fresh,” Higby said. “And they weren’t down a foot or two in a shallow grave. They were down there a ways.”
Higby said if they weren’t sure that the cemetery used to be there, the situation would be different. The homeowner said he was advised when he moved in that it was near an old cemetery site.
Flagg Township Museum Historian Tom McDermott said the cemetery that used to be on the site closed down in 1874. That’s when the last burials were done there.
“That says if the body was originally there, it could be up to 175 years old,” McDermott said. “We can’t know anything for sure, but that’s if they were the first person there. The first person I can find that was buried at 7th Street was 1846.”
McDermott said he’s found one old issue of a Rochelle newspaper that said a man in 1915 found remains when building a house on North 8th Street in the area. That was the only other time he could find news of remains being found in the area.
Houses were first built in the area in 1906. When the cemetery closed, bodies were moved from the old cemetery to Lawnridge, McDermott said.
“I think it was left up to families to move them,” McDermott said. “I think there was a lawsuit. I don’t know how it turned out. A lot of them weren’t marked well. I’m sure a lot of what they used was wood.”
“Obviously they didn’t get them all.”