NEENAH – Cemetery officials spent Thursday morning, June 15, assessing the damage in two Catholic cemeteries after a violent storm swept through the Fox Valley Wednesday afternoon, June 14.
The storm, which brought tornado warnings, high winds and heavy rain, took down headstones and trees in St. Margaret and St. Patrick cemeteries in Neenah. While it was too early to give damage estimates, the damage was significant.
Funds for the repairs will come from the cemetery’s maintenance fund, said a spokesperson.
The cemeteries are owned by St. Patrick, Menasha, and St. Margaret Mary and St. Gabriel parishes, Neenah, and managed by a board made up of members from the three parishes. The cemeteries were closed Thursday for officials to assess the damage.
Both cemeteries and neighboring Oak Hill Cemetery, which is owned and operated by the City of Neenah, have long histories in the Neenah-Menasha area. The oldest of the three is St. Patrick Cemetery, located on a ridge at Green Bay and Ridgeway Roads. It is across the street from St. Margaret/Oak Hill Cemetery, located on Oakridge Road and I-41.
What is now called St. Patrick’s Cemetery was first referred to as the Old Irish Cemetery. The earliest date on a headstone is 1854. It is where the early Irish and German settles were buried. In 1870 the cemetery was sold for $300 to trustees of the Catholic Church in Menasha. It was known as St. Charles Borromeo at the time and later renamed St. Patrick’s. Two years later, the cemetery was sold to the bishop of Green Bay. It continues to be used for burials today.
When parishioners became interested in adding a mausoleum, St. Patrick’s Cemetery did not have adequate. On Oct. 6, 1913, Frank J. Sensenbrenner sold eight acres of land for $1 to St. Patrick’s Congregation for a cemetery, which was named for his wife, Margaret. Initially, the lots could be purchased by any practicing Catholic, but particularly members of St. Patrick, St. John and St. Mary churches in Menasha.
Later, as St. Margaret Mary and St. Gabriel churches were established in Neenah, they replaced St. John and St. Mary parishes as joint owners of the two cemeteries. St. Margaret Cemetery is adjacent to Oak Hill Cemetery.
Oak Hill Cemetery was established in 1847 when Harvey Jones gave the first five acres to the City of Neenah for a cemetery. More land was added in the 1800s and early 1900s. It is the second oldest public burying ground in the United States and the first in Wisconsin.