Albany’s Dutch Stones – John Wolcott

This article originally appeared in the short-lived Washington Park Spirit on July 29, 1971. ALBANY’S DUTCH STONES by John Wolcott Albany has one of the most interesting and unique histories of any community of Colonial foundation, in America.  But in terms of physical vestiges of its early heritage, the City has virtually nothing to show.  The following is a quotation from a Hudson River Guide published in 1867: “the ambition of the people of Albany seems to be to get rid of, as far as possible, of everything that can make their town venerable or betray its connection with the past.” This statement still holds true today.  The list of historic monuments destroyed down to this year, even after the establishment of the Tulip Festival, the Mayor’s Historic Sites Commission and the associated publicity given to local history, is too long to be mentioned. One type of historical monument that has escaped our insensitive materialism is found in the old tombstones of early Albany.  One must go outside the City to see these interesting, sepulchral monuments, but not far out.  The form that “progress” took here, unlike in other cities, died not even let the dead rest. Before 1789, the various churches in town had each their own burial ground in the old section East of Eagle Street.  The largest and oldest cemetery being, of course, that belonging to the Dutch Reformed Church, and was located between Beaver and Hudson.  By 1789, the space in the church yards was largely used up, and the space were often coveted for building purposes.  As a result a common burial ground was established immediately West of Eagle Street on the south side of State, where the Telephone Building and the Justice Building now stand. The city must have grown rapidly after this, for by 1801 a new and larger common burying ground was established immediately much farther out along State Street, where that part of Washington Park between Northern Boulevard and Englewood Terrace is.  By 1844, the City was expanding to the extent that, taking potential future growth in view, an immense new cemetery was established in what is now Menands – The Albany Rural Cemetery.  The State Street Burial Grounds continued to receive limited use until 1868, when the Common Council sent letters to various churches asking them if they would release their lots to the City in exchange for space in the Albany Rural Cemetery. The City also offered to remove all the burials and monuments at the direction of the churches.  These terms were accepted by all the churches involved.  This transaction was, of course, preparatory to the creation of Washington Park, and made available a very large proportion of the land given over to the Park. The section of the Rural Cemetery to which the State Street burials were removed is called the Church Lots or Plot 49, laid out, as formerly, by denominations.  Unfortunately, it was not seen fit to reset the headstones and they were merely laid on the ground.  Later, they were partially raised on low blocks.  This caused some of them to break.  Likewise this was also true of the Schuyler headstones which were removed to here from the Flatts in 1920. Most of the headstones are very plain but some bear decorative motifs similar to typical New England examples.  Most of the early examples to be seen and some of the later, have inscriptions in Dutch.  The latest stone to be found with a Dutch inscription is that of Dirck Knock, dated 1865, which date implies it came from what is now Washington Park. Also presumably from the same location is the interesting stone of Yan Peppenck.  The use of the letter “Y” for a name normally spelled Jan in Dutch, betrays the encroachment of English over the Dutch language in the area.  The use of the term “Kinder”, the rest of the inscription being English, on the same stone, may have been self-conscious, while the headstone of Dirck Knock is completely in Dutch and is the longest inscription in that language to be found in the lot. The oldest headstones are grouped separately at the far end of the Dutch Church lot.  These stones came originally from the old Beaver Street Burying Grounds.  These were found in 1883 during the course of construction at the site of the Burying Ground.  They were placed, together with a large number of human remains, in a repository in the tower base of the new Second Reformed Church, at Madison and Swan Streets, whose congregation had, in 1881, vacated their original building in the Beaver Street Burying Ground. In 1938, the Second Reformed Church burned down, and the burials and headstones were then removed forth from the tower base vault to the Dutch Church lot in the Rural Cemetery.  Also in the vault, and possibly still there, were some old stone blocks from the old Dutch Church that stood at the intersection of State and Broadway, with the date 1715 carved on them.  This vault still exists in the South Mall, though now filled with rubble.  It is just outside the Southwest corner of the Motor Vehicle Building, at the corner of Madison and Swan. The number of headstones that had been placed in the Madison Avenue Reformed Church then transferred to the Rural Cemetery, does not account for more than a fraction of all the stones that must have been in the Beaver Street Burying Ground.  Only a dozen headstones and a table tomb  came from the tower base vault, and the oldest dates only from 1721. The following is a suggestive statement regarding the construction of the Second Reformed Church in 1806, quoted from “A Memorial of the Second Reformed Church, 1881”: “For two hundred years, this place had served as a receptacle for the dead… To avoid the desecration incident to the process of building, the gravestones were laid flat on the graves, and the whole space carefully covered with earth to a depth of three feet.”  An open space now existing in the heart of the block by Green, Beaver, and Pearl Streets, and Hudson Avenue, and located immediately behind the Heartland Building, is, in part, coincidental with the space formerly taken up by the Beaver Street Burying Ground and the Second Reformed Church. In addition to being valuable objects of antiquity, interesting specimens of early American art and calligraphy, the old tombstones of Albany reflect cultural and linguistic change.  Their prior and present locations are indications of past urban growth. However, the continued obscurity and neglect of these stones should call for reflection on the fuller dimensions of what we call growth.  An exaggerated concern for the immediate and profitable present, and excessive material satisfaction disregard both the past and future.  It furthermore disregards values that make for a cooperative sense of community or the growth of the mind and spirit. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the Peppenck gravestone.  The Dirk Knock stone is shown in the next post here.  The table tomb mentioned is most likely the Captain Peter Winne stone. See also: Jeremiah Field and The Headstone That Was Not Lost Not The Right Stones


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4 responses to “Albany’s Dutch Stones – John Wolcott

  1. Pingback: The Dirk Knock Stone | albanychurchgrounds

  2. Pingback: The Oldest Stones | albanychurchgrounds

  3. Pingback: The Book of Burials – The Vault | albanychurchgrounds

  4. Pingback: The Captain Peter Winne Stone | albanychurchgrounds

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