Bringing Their Stones Home
A plan to return misplaced headstones to the Dane County Hospital & Home Cemetery.
The Dane County Hospital and Home Cemetery
...is a small rectangular plot of land on Verona, Wisconsin's east side, surrounded by modern development. Built to serve as a burial ground for residents of the former Dane County Poor House, Poor Farm, and Asylum from the 1880s to around 1950, approximately 440 people are known to be buried there. People were admitted to these institutions due to reasons such as mental or physical illness, family abandonment, old age, being poor, homeless, or otherwise not being able to care for oneself. Over half of those buried here were born outside of the United States in places such as Norway, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, or England.
Both a 1949 photograph and the memories of longtime Verona residents recall rows of numbered headstones originally being present. In the 1950s, all headstones were removed and discarded. The exact reason is unknown, but the local belief is this was done to facilitate easier maintenance. The actual burials are still present.
Free of any obvious marking for decades, the cemetery became overgrown and largely forgotten. In 1993 a group of Verona residents, several with connections to the Poor Farm and its former patients, erected a commemorative plaque (seen above) and corner markers to the plot. Headstones were still absent and unaccounted for.
It has since been discovered that after the headstones were discarded, an employee of the Poor Farm recovered and reused a quantity of them for landscaping pavers at his built in 1959 on Verona's southeast side. This house is on its fourth family now, and the current family is working with the Verona Area Historical Society to return these stones to the cemetery. The family has been able to locate and recover 80 headstones - some buried under decades of accumulation. One additional headstone that had been saved by a different local family was also donated to be returned as part of our project.
Putting Them Back, Righting a Wrong
Thankfully, plot maps still exist detailing the layout of the cemetery and the locations and names of each burial. The most recent map made in 1945 also indicates the presence of buried iron stakes for reference. We located three of these stakes with a metal detector in 2017 and have used their positions on the map to measure out the location of each recovered headstone's grave as closely as possible.
The Verona Area Historical Society's "Bringing Their Stones Home Project" began in 2016 by securing the appropriate permissions necessary to work in this historic cemetery. We also learned non-destructive ways to re-install the old marble headstones above each grave using small ground holes filled with compacted gravel to facilitate drainage, resist winter cycle heaving, and not damage the headstones. Small pavers are loosely placed around each stone's base to assist with grounds maintenance. Some of the stones had been broken in their half century away and have been carefully repaired with approved methods.
The entire project is being done with volunteer labor and donations. As of November 2023, five volunteer "Dig Days" have been held. 80 of the 81 recovered stones have been reinstalled, and the final one is in the progress of being repaired.
The final effort will be to commission an on-site plaque listing the names, birth and death dates, country of origin, and grave number of each known burial.
(Above Image: A 1917 Fourth of July event at the Dane County Poor House in Verona, WI.)
Maps and Burial List
The parcel that contains the Dane County Hospital and Home Cemetery actually houses two cemeteries combined into one rectangular plot. The southern 3/4 is "Cemetery B" for the Poor House and Poor Farm. The northern 1/4 is "Cemetery C" for the Hospital/Asylum. A 1945 map created by local surveyor W.G. Kirchoffer lists the names and plot numbers of burials (as did an older map from the late 1800s that was updated into the 1900s).
Cemetery Map: We have kept a PDF copy of the 1945 Kirchoffer map updated with our progress of returning headstones, as well as other observations. You can download a recent version of the map here.
Names of Burials: Katherine Weaver worked at the County Home starting in 1990. She came across index cards containing names of people buried in these cemeteries, and took it upon herself to type them up into a list. When asked about this in September of 2016, Katherine said that she was in to genealogy and wanted to preserve the names for others to remember in the future. As part of our effort to create a marker onsite with the names of people buried here, we are compiling names from Katherine's list and comparing them to names on the two burial maps that still exist. You can download Katherine's list of burial names here.
Below are a few resources to learn more about the cemetery, and the Dane County Hospital and Home.
"Local Project Returning Grave Markers to Old Hospital's Cemetery", a Verona Press article by Jim Ferolie about the project, written in May of 2018.
"A Grave Situation", An article written about this cemetery by Melissa Seymour and Jim Ferolie, Verona Press, July 24, 2008.
"Dane County Hospital and Home, Verona, Wisconsin" by Walter Kietzke, et al. 1993. A collection of research related to the Dane County Poor House / Home, Poor Farm, and Asylum/Hospital done by longtime Verona residents in the early 1990s. This was the group who organized erecting the plaque that still stands on the site today. Many of them have passed on, and we proudly carry their torch. Included in this collection are names of people buried in this cemetery and another lost cemetery "A".
Questions or Comments?
Please email us at: SaveVeronaHistory@gmail.com. Thank you!
A 1949 photo looking south from the far end shows the cemetery as it looked before stones were removed.
Image Credit: Vinje, Arthur M. 10/19/1949. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Image ID: 61718.
The same perspective in early 2018.
Image Credit: Verona Area Historical Society.