Tower Old Settlers’ Cemetery

The Tower Old Settlers' Cemetery, used in the early 1880s before the Lakeview Cemetery was built.

Grounds of what is the Tower Old Settlers' Cemetery, now overgrown with brush and littered with dead fallen trees. The ground is dotted with scattered indentations and holes.


Before the Tower Cemetery Association was created and the Lakeview Cemetery was cleared and built, Tower had a cemetery on the south side of the East Two River, in a swampy area slightly uphill of the river. This was one of the few places around the area that wasn’t immediately thought to have gold or iron, and wasn’t suitable for farming, so was instead used to bury the dead.

Most of the people in the old Tower Old Settlers’ Cemetery were employees of the sawmills and the mines. Newspaper articles described (in sometimes gory detail) the ultimate end of some, usually due to accidents. Many children were also buried there, dying from various issues – usually disease.

A story from a letter featured in the Tower Weekly News in August of 1922 (replicated below) details how the area was swampy and often that the grave attendant had to bail the water out of the grave before the casket could be put in. In evidence, some of the now sunken graves hold standing water.

When the Tower Cemetery Association was formed, the Lakeview Cemetery was built, and many of the caskets were moved from the old cemetery to the Lakeview Cemetery. has asked individuals involved in the workings of the Lakeview Cemetery and discovered that the records were not well-kept from that time period, and that there is no clear record of how many occupied graves remain in the Tower Old Settlers’ Cemetery besides the two that are still marked with stones. There are many areas of graves that have been transferred, by’s observations, but also some areas where there are indentations that look like they have never been dug and the dirt above them has settled.



The Tower Old Settlers’ Cemetery is located on lands now occupied by the Marina Road and St. Louis County garage and stretch to the east toward the river, near what was the old Highway 1 route coming into Tower from the southwest. (The powerlines now follow this route.) According to the record, no formal layout was adopted and no system of plots was created, so people generally were buried wherever they wanted to be, with the typical separation of groups of people into their own areas.



Old Tower Cemetery

This map from the St. Louis County Land Explorer, composed using photos from 1937-1941, shows the cemetery from the center of the photo, stretching to the west. Of special interest to is the rows of sharp white dots that very much resemble the placement of rows of headstones or footstones, and seem to resemble crosses, in the middle left area of the map. has visited the area and can confirm there are old sunken casket holes everywhere, and at least two graves that still have their stones and occupants: Sophia Carlson, and Wm. Purdy.

The letter replicated below mentions a lumber mill that funeral attendees often had to cross the river from to get to the cemetery. According to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Tower from 1888, the lumber mill belonged to C.L. White & Company and was located right off the west end of Main Street, directly across the river from the cemetery.



The old Tower Cemetery, used in the early 1880s before the Lakeview Cemetery was built. The old Tower Cemetery, used in the early 1880s before the Lakeview Cemetery was built. The old Tower Cemetery, used in the early 1880s before the Lakeview Cemetery was built. The old Tower Cemetery, used in the early 1880s before the Lakeview Cemetery was built. The old Tower Cemetery, used in the early 1880s before the Lakeview Cemetery was built. The old Tower Cemetery, used in the early 1880s before the Lakeview Cemetery was built. The old Tower Cemetery, used in the early 1880s before the Lakeview Cemetery was built.

These photos show many of the old graves that have sunken in – isn’t sure whether they were exhumed and refilled with dirt, or if flimsy wooden caskets were used that have since decayed. The dirt has settled and sunken in over the course of time, and the indentations look distinctly like sunken graves or the remnants of graves, based on their shape and size.

See the Cemetery Records entries for Sophia Carlson and Wm. Purdy for locations and photos of their headstones and plots.


Newspaper Articles

Tower weekly news, Vol 23, No 13 – August 11, 1922

Relates Facts Concerning Local Cemetery Association

Just now at a time when everyone appears to be at sea as to who is at its head and just what the status of the Lakeview Cemetery association are, the following from the pen of W. N. Shephard, early day Tower resident, will be of much interest. Mr. Shephard’s letter follows:

Pursuant to promise made the other day as I was leaving Tower, you will find herewith appended a little data relating to the Tower Cemetery association, which subject, from present indications, seemingly belongs to the “Dark Ages.”

About 12 o’clock P’ M. July 7th, 1884, I arrived at Tower and was informed that the first Tower funeral services were held that afternoon over the remains of a man named Brown who had been killed in the Breitung pit.

The first Tower cemetery, if such it might be called, was located across the river from the Minnesota Iron company’s early day saw mill. At first and for a considerable time there was no bridge across the river leading to the said cemetery, and when we had a funeral, if there were a sufficient number of logs in the boom we laid boards across them and made a temporary bridge for the use of the funeral procession, but if there were not enough logs in the boom to permit this, we made a temporary raft by fastening a sufficient number of logs together and used pike poles to propel same.

The usual mode of procedure was to take across on the raft the remains and the bearers, and if there happened to be an officiating minister, he was included. Next we took over the mourners, and then such of the friends as were not afraid to risk themselves on the raft.

I remember on one occasion when Billy Bonathan were returning for another load, Billy pushed a little too long, big pike pole stuck in the bottom of the river and when he attempted to pull the pole out it pulled him into the river.

On another occasion one of those newly arrived Italians with a velvet coat, green hat and red feather saw the lumber jacks ignoring the plank walk and going across on the logs. It of course looked easy and he tried to follow suit but unfortunately soon struck a loose log and the monkey show began. It was the only time in my life that I saw a funeral procession forget the gravity of the occasion and indulge in uncontrolled laughter. The lumberjacks went to the rescue or the undertaker would have had another case.

The said burial ground most certainly was not a desirable one, being somewhat swampy as was much of the land in and around Tower at that time. Not infrequently the party in charge of the grave would have to be on the watch and as soon as the funeral procession came into view, he would proceed to bale the water out of the grave and sometimes he would have to throw himself into high in order to get the water out before the funeral arrived. I recall more than one instance when the water had risen and covered the rough box by the time the minister had finished his service.

This, was, to say the least, a very deplorable and distressing condition, but the old time pioneers in new districts often were compelled to bear and put up with conditions and things that in after years seemed, even to themselves, almost incredible. In some cases, for the better protection of the remains, the rough box was lined with zinc and after the coffin or casket was placed therein, the zinc cover was soldered on. Sometimes the casket contained an airtight metalic lining, and in many instances the remains were shipped outside for interment.

The ground was not laid out in lots, in fact there was no system whatever, and with the exception that one side of the plot was used exclusively by the Catholics, the friends selected for the grave any spot that seemed to them the most desirable.

Of course there was a very strong desire among the people in general for a more suitable location for the interment of the dead and it was the prevailing idea that it should be located somewhere between the village and the mining location where it might be conveniently accessable to both places, but in those days of exploration and excitement, when 99 per cent of the inhabitants, including the Indians of course, were prospective millionaires, almost every forty acres of land was supposed and believed by some one to conceal beneath its surface a most valuable iron mine, and consequently we were unable to get a suitable location until it had been explored.

In 1888 a meeting with Neil McInnis as chairman and Geo. West as secretary was held, an organization to be known as the Tower Cemetery association was formed, articles of incorporation drawn up and duly recorded in the office of the register of deeds. But this, like many other wonderful and promising schemes of those days, landed abruptly on the ground as soon as the wind played out, or became totally effaced from the minds of the organizers as .soon as the first saloon was reached. At least nothing tangible resulted from the organization.

On October 3, 1890 a meeting attended by 32 citizens was held in the municipal building of which Neil Mclnnis was chairman and W. N. Shephard secretary. An organization was affected to be known as the Tower Cemetery Association, articles of incorporation were drawn up pursuant to the statutes, and signed by the 32 citizens, and the same duly recorded in the office of the Register of Deeds for St. Louis county.

The articles of incorporation provided for a board of nine trustees, to be elected by: the association three to be elected each year and the annual meeting for the election of trustees to be held in October. The lot owners are the legally qualified voters.

The trustees elect their president, secretary, actuary and treasurer.

Neil Mclnnis was elected the first president, W. N. Shephard secretary and actuary and James Tippet treasurer.

The Minnesota Iron company of which D. H. Bacon was president donated and deeded to the said association for burial or cemetery purposes only the tract or parcel of land now constituting Lakeview cemetery.

Lots were sold in advance to obtain the necessary funds, the land cleared, fenced, plotted, and staked. A large number of bodies were immediately disinterred and removed from the old cemetery to the new. The purchaser of a lot was furnished with a deed to same which deed was duly recorded in a book for recording of deeds and a duplicate of said book was provided to be kept in the bank vault so that in case of loss or destruction of the secretary’s, book, the records will still be available. A book of burial records was also provided and a duplicate also to be kept in the bank vaults.

In 1895 having sold my mercantile business and being absent from the city at frequent intervals and sometimes for protracted periods, I resigned as secretary and actuary and W. H. Congdon was elected to fill the vacancy.

After an absence of 22 years, Will Congdon’s death and my duties as executor of his estate renders it necessary that I should make frequent visits to Tower, and my attention has been directed to the Tower Cemetery Associaion affairs both by its condition and the frequent inquiries of the citizens. It appears that the association has ceased to function and this condition has existed so long that no one seems to know much about the organization, who constitute the board of trustees or who may be the officers except that Will Congdon was presumed to be the secretary. Knowing that there must be some records somewhere, when time and opportunity permitted, I made search and found the original articles of incorporation, minute book, book of deeds, book of burial records, etc.

From these it appears that the last meeting of the board of trustees was held in 1909 and the last meeting of the association was held in 1908, and that the association had not been extremely active for a considerable time prior to 1908. Also that S. Nichols was its president at that time and being about to leave Tower permanently called a sort of impromptu meeting and appointed 10 trustees. Althoug the articles of incorporation and regulations call for only nine trustees, I suppose Ste. wanted to be generous and appointed ten as follows: J. Jeffrey, W. H. Congdon, O. W. Akerson, J. D. Murphy, Carl Howe, Gunder Peterson, C. C. Campaigne, Fred Merrill, Albert Kitto, and Elisha Hill. As to whether these parties were informed of their appointment of course is unknown to me.
J. H. Jeffrey Was appointed president; W. H. Congdon secretary; O. W. Akerson treasurer. J. D. Murphy and W. H. Congdon are dead; O. W. Akerson, C. C. Campaigne and Elisha Hill have left the city. This however, still leaves five resident trustees.

I have delivered to J. Jeffrey the said books and records. The above is of course only a brief review of the matters relating to the association and for more specific details I would refer you to the officers records and papers now in the hands of the president. The articles of incorporation and the minutes will inform you of the section and chapter of the statutes under which the said association was incorporated and from them you can learn the powers and duties of the association and its officers.

Yours truly,