GOSPER COUNTY – Overlooking the Platte River in Northeast Gosper County is a small chapel, a memorial to Wilmina Robb by her father, William Robb.
William Robb came to Gosper County from New York in 1872 by covered wagon and built a reputation for himself as a cattleman and farmer.
His youngest child, Wilmina Robb, was born March 10, 1896, when Robb’s wife, Margaret Jane, was 41-years-old.
Wilmina, a gorgeous little blond girl with curly hair, was plagued by severe throat and ear problems as a child.
William, who took several trips to Omaha a year for his cattle business, consulted with doctors in Omaha and decided having his daughter’s tonsils removed was the best course of action.
Two minutes after anesthetic was administered, and before the May 6, 1911 surgery began, Wilmina died on the operating table.
She had barely just turned 15.
She was buried at the family cemetery four days later.
Now called Robb Cemetery, the burial grounds actually began as Pleasant Hill Cemetery in the late 1800s.
According to Mike Jeffrey, the sexton of Robb cemetery, caskets buried at Evergreen Cemetery outside Lexington had a tendency to sometimes wash up due to flooding.
The Robb family, concerned about the caskets of two of their own relatives possibly surfacing, decided to move their loved ones to higher ground.
The sister of William Robb, Susan, was one of the first persons to be buried at the newly created cemetery in April of 1882.
Although Robb is a neighborhood cemetery with most of its buried citizens in some way related to four families; Hanson, Robb, Wallace or Richardson, anyone can be buried there.
Originally plots were $1 to $3.
Famous residents of the burial grounds include Andrew J. Curtice, a Civil War soldier who claimed to have family members who came over on the Mayflower. Also buried there are five or six other Civil War soldiers as well as seven World War I veterans.
Shortly after her burial, William decided to built a chapel across the road from the cemetery as a remembrance of his late daughter. He hired an architect from Omaha, George B. Prinz, to design the memorial and H. Varley Grantham of Lexington was hired to build it.
Constructed with brick shipped from Omaha, the white domed 30-foot by 30-foot building was completed in the spring of 1917 and cost between $8,000 and $10,000.
Inside, the non-denominational chapel was equipped with an altar, pulpit, choir loft and an organ. It had white plaster walls and arched windows. There were pews to seat about 100 people; some services were standing room only, with attendees flowing out the door onto the concrete steps.
It was an active chapel from 1917 to 1928. The last person for whom services were conducted at the chapel was for Jennie Robb Jeffrey, sister to William Robb and Mike Jeffrey’s grandmother.
The chapel, for 20 years a target of vandalism and decay, was sealed shut in 1948 with two layers of brick blocking the doors and the arched windows.
In late 1950s, rumors were the cemetery was haunted and that Wilmina was buried inside the chapel with gold and other family heirlooms.
In a newspaper article from 1983, the late John Wallace, then-sexton of the cemetery and a driving force behind the Lexington Genealogical Society for 12 years, explained how vandals attempted to dig up Wilmina’s casket in 1960, but were caught before they were actually able to open it.
While the rumors of Wilmina being buried inside the chapel died off, the idea of the graveyard being haunted continued through the 1980s.
The old windmill inside the cemetery, with its sudden creaks that break the peaceful silence and the twilight hooting of the owls in the cedar trees did nothing to dispel the myths.
On Memorial Day weekend in 2005, the Jeffrey family decided to open up the then-87-year-old chap-el to survey damage and invited curious visitors inside the chapel.
Mike Jeffrey used a concrete saw to create an opening in the brick that sealed the doorway. Joe Jeffrey, Mike’s cousin, and the great-great-grandson of William Robb, helped clean out fallen plaster, chipped mortar and brick.
An estimated 100 visitors came to the chapel on Sunday and another 200 on Monday.
Mike Jeffrey, in a presentation on Robb Cemetery last August, said the west side of the building appeared to be settling. To raise the slight tilt of the building, and to re-stucco the damage inside, is estimated to cost about $35,000.
The county gives the cemetery about $1,000 each year for upkeep, other than that, much of the funding comes from private donations and the occasional sale of a lot, now about $250.
What started as a project of love from a father for his youngest daughter has endured.
Two weeks prior to Memorial Day each year, about 15 to 25 people show up at the chapel and cemetery with trimmers and rakes and spruce up the grounds.
Improvements, both big and small are slowly being made.
In memory of their grandparents William T. and Doris Richardson, two Lexington boys, Matt and Nate Richardson, created a directory of the cemetery and a sheltered location in which to place it as part of their Eagle Scout project. Matt constructed the memorial and Nate compiled the directory.
The Richardsons’ great-grandparents are buried at Robb as well, along with several other of their relatives.
Plans are in place to expand the existing three acres of cemetery into a field south of Robb and Mike Jeffrey has been working on a project to restore the creaking windmill on the east edge of the grounds.
While Wilmina’s memorial chapel may never again be host to funeral services, the descendants of the teenager whose life was taken too soon are making sure her family’s love for her lives on.