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Peoria Riverfront Museum unveils first Moffatt Cemetery memorial plaque

The display at the Peoria Riverfront Museum showcases the first of three plaques for the Freedom and Remembrance Memorial for Moffatt Cemetery.
Collin Schopp
The display at the Peoria Riverfront Museum showcases the first of three plaques for the Freedom and Remembrance Memorial for Moffatt Cemetery.

The first part of a memorial for a forgotten piece of Peoria history is on display at the Riverfront Museum.

At a small ceremony Thursday, resident Bob Hoffer unveiled a plaque to the public, honoring 52 Civil War veterans buried at the lost Moffatt Cemetery.

Hoffer first rediscovered the cemetery while researching his wife’s great grandfather in 2015.

“He actually died in the wagon crossing the bridge into Peoria from East Peoria, where they lived at the time,” said Hoffer. “The coroner's abstract had him buried at Moffatt Cemetery and I had not heard of it, nor had most people I ask. You think about it, that was 2015. And it had been since 1905, when it was closed. Any last remembrance of it would have been only about 1955. So quite a number of years had gone by, many generations. So most people had forgotten about it.”

Moffatt Cemetery was established in the 1830’s and was used up until 1905, when the city ordered it closed. Over the next few decades it fell into disrepair, until it was rezoned and paved over for industrial use in the 1950's.

Over years of research, Hoffer has determined that more than 2,600 people were buried at Moffatt Cemetery. Among them are Civil War veterans, the first slave freed by Lincoln in Illinois, and people who were present for the first-ever Juneteenth in Galveston, Texas.

Peoria Riverfront Museum curatorial intern Jordan Miller assisted Hoffer in putting together a display case that includes the first plaque and some general information about the cemetery. The display case currently hangs in the hallway that leads to the museum’s planetarium.

“It’s funny because I drive past the cemetery all the time,” said Miller. “You would miss it if you didn’t know it was there. And even if you did know it was there, it’s really tough to know it, you drive right by it. There’s nothing to denote it except a very sun-bleached little marker there.”

Eventually, the Freedom and Remembrance Memorial will stand at the corner of Adams and Griswold streets, near the original cemetery site. It will include three plaques detailing the history of the cemetery and some of the notable people buried there.

The Illinois State Historical Society, Peoria Historical Society, Peoria Genealogical Society, Abraham Lincoln Association, and William G. Pomeroy Foundation all contributed to development of the memorial. Other funding has come from national grants and local donors, though Hoffer is still raising funds to include a lighted flagpole at the memorial.

The local roofers’ union donated the land to the City of Peoria for the memorial. The city will maintain it, and it will be installed by the Peoria Park District. It’s expected to be done by the end of 2022.

“It has been a great community effort, and everyone recognizes the value of this,” said Hoffer. “That will be the value that will be here for decades. As people find out more about all of these stories. Every person there has a story.”

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.