From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Bluebird houses ring the eastern edge of Hubbel Hill Cemetery. Two old friends, Tom Robb and Mary Frances Krull, look out upon Tonganoxie and the Stranger Creek valley just beyond the bird houses. The pair inherited their interest in what was once known as the Tonganoxie Cemetery.
Robb is the third generation of sextons; Mrs. Krull is the unofficial historian. They agree about most of the facts, but questions arise when it comes to the first burial.
"There's still some debate about those four little graves for the Collins family," Robb said Wednesday afternoon. "It's here in the first section, but some think they might have been moved here from another cemetery."
Alida Collins died May 20, 1868. Her headstones bears the earliest date in the cemetery. The death, however, of Edward Hubbel, gave the cemetery its name.
In the spring of 1869, Ezra Hubbel faced a parents' terrible sorrow. He was forced to find a plot of ground to bury his small son. Atop a hill not far from his homestead, he found a "verdant" spot.
The land belonged to James and Catherine McKeehan, across-the-road neighbors of the Hubbels. Once permission was given, friends and neighbors helped dig the grave. Soon others began to ask for burial lots.
Those making their way up the steep, rocky road to Hubbel hill, couldn't help but notice the panaramic view. Before their eyes layed the great expanse to the east that incompasses the bluffs and valleys leading to the Missouri River.
Mrs. Krull says 20 years after the first burials, a cemetery association was formed. Arrangements were made with the McKeehans to transfer the property. Hubbel was elected chairman with C.O. Olsted serving as secretary.
"They say the cemetery was getting run down," Mrs. Krull explained. "So James McKeehen assisted by a number of citizens cut off all the timber and undergrowth. They pulled all the weeds."
Records from those early days indicate lot owners would put in a few days every year. A women's auxiliary formed and assisted in the upkeep.
"Their methods of using hand sickles and scythes were a far cry from the power mowers and grass trimmers that are used todcay," she said.
One tradition remains today. That's how much the sexton is paid.
"It's free gratis, I'm afraid," Robb admits. "My grandfather, Dad and me, we all did it because there was H to pay if we didn't."
The headstones of J. H. Leighty and George Robb get special attention from the third generation. Another headstone commands the attention of all who enter the cemetery.
"The thing about the Thompson stone is the size," Tonganoxie funeral director Calvin Quisenberry said. "They say there are only two others like in the United States. I know the day they brought it in, they had one of those Belger lifts because it weighed 30,000 pounds."
George Thompson paid for the "Risen Christ Shrine" wanting to memorialize his parents. Robb says to the parents' great sadness, the son died first.
"After his son was killed up there in Alaska, the old man would come out here every morning and sit. He just never missed a day. He lived over there in Overland Park, but he would be here first thing in the morning," he said.
Getting up the hill to the cemetery has become easier over the years. The original road that lead west out of Tonganoxie was strewn with rocks and afforded difficult going after a rain storm.
Construction in the 1930s of County Road 14 finally made the trip up Hubbel's hill much safer, Robb remembers, but Mrs. Krull says it also took some graves.
"My father helped build that road and he remembers them digging into graves. They even open the casket of an old man," she said.
Today's Hubbel Hill Cemetery is well thought of throughout the community, Robb said.
"You won't find a prettier cemetery in the state than this one on Memorial Day. People think a lot about it and they are proud of how it looks. It's just that in the earlier days, before all this genealogy stuff began, I didn't have many inquiries about past burials. Now, I'm getting letters from people all over the country. But that's good, because people are not forgetting."
FIRST HEADSTONES -- Tom Robb, longtime sexton of Hubbel Hill Cemetery, looks at the Collin's headstones, believed to be one of the oldest in the cemetery. (Times Photo)
PANORAMIC VIEW OF LITTLE STRANGER VALLEY -- The view looking east from Hubbel Hill Cemetery takes in the Little Stranger valley and Tonganoxie. The early-day southern Leavenworth County cemetery was first used just after the Civil War. (Times Photo)
There's a choice bit of real estate
Overlooking Kansas, Tonga Town.
Where dust thou are - to dust return:
May someday, lay me down.
Th' dwellers there are quite content,
No toil, no pain or strife.
Each has quarters undisturbed;
Often contrary to former life.
To paint a picture of this place,
'Twould take an artist evermore.
With pillar pines spread about-
an' blue-grass carpet on the floor.
When the birds sing sweet lullabys,
As gentle breezes whisper low.
Tis a privilege to reside here,
An' those who enter, never go.
Yes, there our friends an' neighbors lie,
Thru' Summer, Winter, Spring an' Fall.
Each season brings its beauty,
To comfort one an' all
No spot on Earth is more serene,
Quiet, peaceful and still.
As th' place where my family rests,
Atop O' HUBBEL HILL.
J. P. "Doc" Brown