Founded in 1852, Greenwood Cemetery was the fourth cemetery dedicated in Rockford and the oldest remaining. Due to the expanding needs of Galena and Chicago Union Rail in Rockford, Greenwood was conceived as a means of centralizing the existing burial grounds and freeing up space for the railroad’s expansion. Bodies were relocated from the previous three sites, centralizing community burial in a single location. Greenwood therefore contains the burial plots of many of the seminal families and individuals from Rockford’s first few generations and from every tier of the economic and social hierarchy. From Lewis Lemon, Rockford’s only documented slave, to Thomas D. Robertson, one of the early pioneers and wealthy entrepreneurs of the community. Greenwood Cemetery also contains the remains of soldiers lost in every major military conflict in U.S. History. Founders of Rockford College, prominent local church congregations and regional industries are easily found in Greenwood Cemetery.
One such grave in Greenwood has tremendous significance on national history as well as regional history. John H. Manny, an influential inventor and engineer, developed and produced the Northern Illinois Reaper in Rockford. Lured here in 1853 by the potential of burgeoning hydraulic power resources, Manny’s product was successful regionally and then nationally as a rival to the McCormick reaper. This prompted a direct conflict with McCormick, who launched a lawsuit against Manny in 1848 for patent infringements. The result would be a showcase of burgeoning legal and political talent, involving soon to be secretary of war Edwin Stanton and a young Abraham Lincoln of Springfield, recommended for the case by Ralph Emerson, a business partner of Manny’s who is also buried in Greenwood. The case would lead to Lincoln’s one and only visit to Rockford on July 7th, 1855 when Lincoln stayed for half a day in order to inspect and study the Northern Illinois Reaper first hand. Lincoln’s role in McCormick v. Manny was restricted to one of support, as Stanton ended up actually arguing the case in court. Lincoln’s familiarity with the Illinois courts became a disadvantage when the case was moved to Cincinnati. Never the less, Lincoln’s role in Manny’s eventual victory earned him $1,000 dollars, enough to gain the financial freedom to build a new Springfield residence and afford a run for the US senate shortly thereafter. From Lincoln’s experience with the Manny case he also gained a new understanding of law and politics. On their way back to Illinois, Lincoln told Emerson, These college bred fellows have reached Ohio, they will soon be in Illinois, and when they come, Emerson, I will be ready for them.
The impact of Manny’s economic and legal success on Rockford cannot be overstated. Water power became a legitimate local enterprise, and the other firms the Northern Illinois Reaper attracted to the community had a seminal effect on Rockford industry. Like almost every other trend in Rockford’s history, this root-like expansion of a community through economic and social progression is well illustrated in the plots of Greenwood Cemetery. John Pels Manny, also in Greenwood and John H. Manny’s cousin, came to Rockford on John H’s advice. A successful engineer and mechanic, he contributed to Manny’s business and eventually established a reaper manufacturing firm of his own. In 1855, it was reputed that one in every ten citizens of Rockford worked for the Manny’s in some fashion. It’s through the cluster of individuals we find at Greenwood that the roots of present day Rockford are the most evident.
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- Beveridge, Albert J. Abraham Lincoln: 1809-1858, Vol. II. New York: Houghton Mifflin, CO., 1928.
- Casson, Herbert N. The Romance of the Reaper. New York: Doubelday, Page & Co., 1908.
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- Miller, Diane. “Rockford Cemeteries”. Early History and Old Ledger Lot Records of Greenwood Cemetery. Rockford: North Central Illinois Genealogical Society, 1988.
- Woldman, Albert A. Lawyer Lincoln. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1936.