Peninsula Genealogical Society

   Peninsula Genealogical Society - Door Co. WI


* Memories from Chris ELONICH - Oct 2010 *

of the Town of STURGEON BAY

 Samuelson Cemetery

(Sturgeon Bay Town/South Side Cemetery)

updated 25 Oct 2010

The PGS received an e-mail from Chris ELONICH on 16 Oct 2010 in which he recounted memories of the SAMUELSON Cemetery (later named Sturgeon Bay Town Cemetery and today is the South Side Cemetery).  That e-mail and subsequent e-mails of remembrances and pictures from Chris have been used to create this webpage.  We thank him for sharing them with us.


Please contact the PGS if you have any additions or corrections by e-mailing us at: [email protected].  Anyone having pictures they would like to share as well will be appreciated.





ABOVE:  LEFT: Samuelsons Cemetery abt 1995 - MIDDLE: Svend SAMUELSON-original settler from Norway who used his influence to create a burial ground in this location next to his homestead and Chris's direct ancestor - RIGHT: Samuelsons Cemetery abt 1995 looking East.


BELOW: Grace (KEITH) SAMUELSON, Chris's Grandmother - RIGHT: Grace on TV in a segment of "The Marianne Show" on WFRV-TV, Green Bay.





16 Oct 2010: from Chris ELONICH to the PGS:



     I just wanted to drop you folks a note and tell you how much I enjoy the work you have been doing.  Particularly, the cemetery section on the old "Samuelson Cemetery."  I was only a few years old the first time my Grandmother took my sister and I back into those "woods."  Grandma, Grace Samuelson, felt very strongly about honoring those departed.  She, and her husband Stanley Samuelson, lived immediately next to cemetery and tried to maintain it the best they could.  My two Grandparents had built, and operated Samuelson's Restaurant, and that business shared two property lines with the cemetery.  I can remember going in there on Memorial Day, placing flags on the veteran's graves, and then singing "America the Beautiful."

     My factual knowledge of the cemetery is rather sparse, but at the same time, of greater quantity then most folks.  My Great-Great Grandfather, Svend Samuelson, had homesteaded out on Shiloh Road.  He eventually had sixty acres which he left/sold to his son Albert.  Albert had the farm until he died, at which time, the land passed to his four son's; Stanley, James, Roger, and Albert (Jr.).  As far as I know, the Samuelson's never owned  the land where the cemetery was created.  Originally I thought that Svend had owned the land, and started a family plot,  then turned it over to the Township of Sturgeon Bay.  We have never been able to find any paperwork that showed any ownership or claim to the land.  What we have since surmised is that a burial ground was needed in the neighborhood, and that Svend used his influence to make that particular piece of land available for public burial.  Svend was a Civil War officer (15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Heg's battalion), and while Svend ran the farm he also held some sort of elected office.

     The name "Samuelson's Cemetery" must derive from the obvious.  The cemetery was in immediate proximity, and adjacent, to the Samuelson farm.  Svend used his influence to get it established.  Also, there are at least a couple of family members buried there.  In later years, after my Grandparents built their restaurant, it probably became even more easy to associate the cemetery with the family name.  I think the name "Sturgeon Bay Town," had always been the original name, but local parlance found it easier to say "Samuelson."


     At different times we have tried to track down information, deeds, burial records, etc, but have come up empty handed.  About the time my Grandparents sold the restaurant, they were interviewed for a book on Door County Cemeteries.  I think this may be one of the references cited on your web page.  I remember some controversy surrounding the transfer of the cemetery from the Township over to the Village.  Here the term village becomes cloudy, as we were never sure if the land went directly to the City of Sturgeon Bay, or indirectly by way of "Sawyer."   Some of us had suspicions that the loss of the paperwork may have been deliberate malfeasance, in order for someone to turn that land to private ownership.


     In any case, my knowledge of the land tilts more to legend than fact.  I can tell you of a few stories of the cemetery.  We have always been fairly certain that the plots were laid out in "ovals," as opposed to the more traditional "rows," usually found in cemeteries.  A quick walk through gives credence to this, as the ground cover, and some sunken graves, do not follow a row pattern.  The "Samuelson Plot," is at the corner of the parcel, nearest the restaurant, where the driveway is located.  I heard my Grandfather (Stanley) remark that some of the gravel, from the driveway, went slightly onto the plot.  That driveway became wider when it was paved.  My favorite veteran; Job Sweet, was employed by Svend Samuelson, on the family farm.  When Job died, it was a commonsense move to place him in the cemetery there.  In the early, or mid 1960's, my Grandfather discovered the fresh grave of an infant.  He was very concerned as there had been previous "talk" of clandestine burials, of migrant workers.  That same day, he drove over to see the Sheriff, who after several phone calls was able discover that an infant migrant child, had died, and was legally buried, that very morning.    Another burial was that of a family hired-man, who had frozen to death in a blizzard, while walking between the farm and Sawyer.


     The cemetery has had a series of misfortunes, and times of neglect.  Sometime in the 1950's, during the autumn season, a burning pile of leaves, got out of control and spread flames throughout the cemetery.  My family is very certain that a large number of burial markers, which were made of wood, burned up completely.  Something more ominous, was the day a bulldozer tried to plow a road, directly through the center of the cemetery.  This would have been in the early 1960's and by that time, the four Samuelson brothers had sold the farm.  The old farm, at that time, was being developed as a gravel pit and quarry.  Someone (we do not know who) told a bulldozer operator to put in a service road, from the gravel pit through to Oxford Avenue.  My Grandma, Grace, heard the machine operating as she prepared her daily batch of rolls and pies for the restaurant.  At some point she realized that the noise was in the cemetery, and not the quarry.  She was about sixty years old then, but she ran from the restaurant, to the cemetery, and scolded the bulldozer driver.  She always said later that she was satisfied that the guy did not know it was a cemetery (and the markers were gone or invisible), and also that the man was mortified as to what he had done.  Walking through the cemetery it is still possible to see a wide, straight, scar that stretches through the grass.  At least one marker was ruined/destroyed by the tractor.  That marker, was a "low cost" model, where steel lettering was fed into slots, and then locked down into a frame.  That type of marker was used for one of the infants, and also at least one other person.    When the family had the farm they were able to provide some care for that parcel, but after the farm was sold, and my Grandparents got old, there was almost no landscaping at the cemetery.  Sometime after 1972, when the restaurant was sold and my grandparents retired, the Army Reserve came in and cleared out the weeds, brambles, and junk trees.   The guy who bought, and then improved, the restaurant, Dennis Bastar, started to regularly mow the grass and he deserves great credit in keeping the entire area tidy.


     About twelve years ago, when the veterans monument was dedicated, I was given the opportunity to appear, and say a few words.  There were a few dozen people there, and I know that I rambled and gushed, but I was very glad that a family representative could be there that day.


     A couple of related facts in for that neighborhood.  In 1871, a section of the Peshtigo fire advanced almost all the way into Sawyer.  It came through the back property line where the creek flows.  My Grandmother took me down to the creek bed to see the remains of a giant charred tree trunk.  When she showed it to me she told me of the several family tales of that fire.  That creek is now known as Samuelson's Creek.  My Uncle likes to laugh at that that as he puts it, "When I grew up on the farm, and at the restaurant, we always called it Burton's."  The Burtons owned the parcel on the opposite side of the cemetery from the restaurant.


     I do not get up there very much any more.  I am the first generation removed from Door County.  My Mom, Mary Samuelson, had left the area to find work.  She did make it a point to visit Sturgeon Bay as often as possible.  It was there I really got to know my Grandparents and from them (and Mom) I got my love of history.  I have tried to preserve it a little myself.  I have a YouTube Channel, and I posted this video on the cemetery   You will notice that I do not reveal the location.  I am very nervous that someone may try to destroy what little is left.  Even though the area is now accessible, I am selfish, and want   the few visitors to be respectful.  (That YouTube channel also has the only video, that I know of, for the location of the Ahnapee & Western Railway)  I have also created a website for the restaurant.  If you are on Facebook, you can search for "Fans of Samuelson's Restaurant, Sturgeon Bay, WI."  I have posted many pictures taken during the operation of the business.


      I  have a deep sense of place in association with the restaurant and the cemetery.  This past week I have been analyzing some old aerial photos of that neighborhood.  I am always crawling through the internet trying to find any information about the town.  I am in touch with an Aunt and Uncle, who grew up on the farm, and at the restaurant.  They are usually glad to help out any responsible historian.  I will go through the family archives  (I have Grace's files) and will double check to see if there is any other pertinent information.  Please let me know if you think any of this information is useful.  I am sure that there are other facts in the back of my head, but without some prompting, they are hard to recall." - Chris ELONICH


Above: LEFT: Abt 1949-Samuelson Cemetery shows behind construction of Samuelson's Restaurant-"The fireplace and chimney were all that remained from the fiery destruction of the Kenneth BACKEY home that occurred in the spring/summer of 1935.  Stanley (SAMUELSON) had purchased the land and chose to make the salvaged/restored fireplace a centerpiece of his structure.  One the building was completed he cut back quite a bit of the trees and bushes, and put a driveway through to Oxford Avenue"-Chris ELONICH  -  RIGHT: Chris's mother Mary Theodora SAMUELSON (Theodora after Grandma "Dora" SAMUELSON)-taken about 1951-52 in the parking lot of Samuelson's Restaurant.  The SAMUELSON Cemetery is in the background very overgrown.

18 Oct 2010 - from Chris ELONICH to PGS


"Today, I telephoned an Aunt, an Uncle, and a older Cousin.  Sadly, they were not able to provide much more information.  I can add a few more bits to this mysterious conglomeration of memories.


     My Uncle tends to think that the cemetery was originally part of the farm, but that is a feeling more than a fact.


     The cemetery had almost always been overgrown or neglected.  My Uncle had remarked that, "it was overgrown on the 40's and 50's!"  My Aunt has a author autographed copy of "Pioneer Cemeteries, Door County Wisconsin" 1981.  That had been my Grandma Grace Samuelson's copy.  The author had interviewed Grandma, which is how the author received most of the information.  He had been good enough to give her a copy upon publication.  The bulldozer story is corroborated in that book.  However the timeline is different from what I remember.  It is possible that the bulldozer event did happen in the 1950's.  What I recall, may have been a snowplow blunder.  Factually, two markers were ruined by a bladed vehicle.  It is possible that a snowplow went too far off the driveway and caught the markers.  The date can be placed, here, after 1966, as the ruined markers were for the infants buried in 1966-67(?) 


     The Army Reserve clean up may have come about due to a business relationship between Samuelson's Restaurant and the soldiers.  During the summer, when the soldiers went out on maneuvers, they would stop at the restaurant for dinner.  I have vivid memories of many Army vehicles filling the parking lot.  One moment the lot was close to empty, then a long convoy of Jeeps, trailers, and trucks would pull in.  My Grandparents were expecting them, and had been give about forty-five minutes to feed all the soldiers.  They were paid a flat rate for each soldier.  Since Grandpa was a former Marine, he would mix with the troops and really make sure that they were well fed.  I do not know how the Army Reserve learned of the cemetery, or of the veterans who were buried there, but at some point they decided that cleaning out the area would be a good project.  I feel that somewhere along the way, they found out these forgotten veteran's graves, and decided that as soldiers they would honor them.


     My cousin recalls that there was some sort of rutted trail that skirted along the far side of the cemetery.  This would be the opposite side from the restaurant, or more Easterly.  This road started where the restaurant driveway, and Oxford Avenue intersected.  This "trail" led through that side of the cemetery and then continued on, past the back boundary.  A little further on there was a trash pile, and a small gravel pit.


     There was a gravesite that had a picket fence surrounding a number of plots.  This fence was completely burned up in the infamous "leaf raking fire."  We think this was sometime in the late 1940's, as this was prior to Stanley taking ownership of the restaurant parcel.  (Were you able to find the FaceBook restaurant page?  There is some interesting information on the home that burned on that site, prior to the construction of the restaurant.  Also, there is a Sturgeon Bay native who wrote a local history on her school days.  I think the title is "Return to Westside School."  I believe the author  tells of her walk to the old West Side School, and how she was always nervous going past the cemetery, and the burned down house.)


     I have been unable to unearth any documents.  I do have a very vague memory of a photo of the cemetery.  That photo was a wide shot, looking down into some of the cemetery, and the picket fence is visible in the picture.  I have asked to family to double-check, and try to find it (if it really exists).


     My Uncle believes that the Samuelson family plot has a couple of "Aunt's, or Great-Aunt's," buried there.  My Aunt is not certain who that could be.  She remembers that Emma, and Alice Samuelson, were buried at Bayside.  (Svend, and his wife were also buried at Bayside.  I believe his son Albert (who took over the farm) was too buried at Bayside.  I wonder if the Aunt's could have been from Albert's wife's (Dora) side of the family?)


     I recall my Grandfather, and maybe even my Grandmother, as remarking that "they would like to be buried in the Samuelson Cemetery."  I know I heard them say it, and in the context of the time, that was not possible.  When I would have heard this, the cemetery would have been already "shut down" to any more burials.  The last burial had been in the mid 1960's.  It was about this time that the cemetery "records" became "lost."  The authorities could not chance any more burials as they did not have solid information as to where the graves were located.


     Have you folks referred to Grace's book, " Reflection's On Door County" ?  That book has a wealth of information about the restaurant, and some events in that neighborhood.  It is also a good read! 


     Has anyone up there thought about bringing "ground penetrating radar" to the site?  I know that there has been much success using that technology in various cemeteries around the country.  It would make a neat Graduate project for some student.   Incidentally, it seems I am the only one who "remembers" this idea that the plots were not in rows.  On the other hand, only the 1981 book contradicts the thought.  The book mentions "rows."  I know how memories become distorted and maybe a remark on lack of orginazation, in the cemetery burials, led to a false memory.  For know, I'm going with the ovals until I can again make a field survey.


     Please feel free to contact me as to any questions or clarifications!"




Above: LEFT: Chris ELONICH with his sister Diane and grandparents: Stanley and Grace (KEITH) SAMUELSON - RIGHT: Job SWEET's stone-abt. 1995



19 Oct 2010 - e-mail from Chris ELONICH regarding the above pictures:


This photo is sort of an iconic one.  Pictured is myself, my sister Diane, Stanley, and Grace.  This was taken just outside the east side of Samuelson's Restaurant, near the main door.  Off camera, about eighty feet to the right, would be the property line shared with the cemetery.  This picture was taken during one of those summers when my Grandma would take us over to Job Sweets grave.  There she had us plant an American flag, and we would then sing patriotic songs.  At that corner of the cemetery was a raspberry patch.  We would help pick raspberries (around Memorial Day?) and Grandma would make jam preserves.  I don't know how she fit that into her day.  She was up at the crack of dawn.  She would brew some tea, read her Bible, and then go to work.  She would knock out twelve dozen fresh rolls, two or three dozen pies, make coleslaw, and maybe then start on the chicken.  While she was busy with all that I would be exploring and quite often would go into the cemetery.  I was never afraid of "ghosts," but I did learn a healthy respect for thorns and brambles.  There was some type of long branched thorn bush that reminds me of a rose without any flowers.  These could grow many feet long and I had trouble navigating my way around them.  That "chicken sign" is now at my home.  Dennis Bastar was kind enough to give it to me one year while I was visiting."









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