An article published on my personal site recently takes a look at the locations of the early Dutch Reformed burial places of Albany from the 17th-century to the removal of graves to the Church Grounds at the Rural Cemetery. Included is the rarely mentioned first burial ground on the north side of Fort Orange.
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Above: George E. Weisenforth, at left, and Harold W. Littlejohn, employees of Stephen A. Scullen, Loudonville contractor, raise the headstone of Philip Hooker, famed Albany architect, in long neglected section of Albany Rural Cemetery, now being improved. Headstones will be cleaned and replaced in a two-acres area of the cemetery.
Seventy-five years after thousands of graves were relocated from the State Street Burying Grounds to the Church Grounds lot at the Rural Cemetery, the condition of this final resting place had deteriorated to the point that a contractor was assigned the task of clearing the badly overgrown field, locating hundreds of historic headstones to be cleaned, identified, and set in rows. An article in the October 29, 1945 edition of The Knickerbocker News gave some details of the project. Markers of Famed Albanians ‘Rescued’ By Francis P. Kimball Burial places of Philip Hooker, noted architect, Gen. Peter Gansevoort, Revolutionary hero, and other famed Albanians, neglected and virtually lost for more than half a century, are being “rescued” and identified as a result of a reconstruction project covering two acres in Albany Rural Cemetery. Work on the project has just been started under a contract awarded to Stephen A. Scullen, Loudonville, on recommendations of Charles B. Heisler, cemetery superintendent. In a special report to the cemetery association, Mr. Heisler asserted the area had fallen into such neglect as to become a “wilderness.” Continue reading →
From the companion blog, Albany (NY) History, a brief look at some (though not all) of Albany’s former burial grounds.
This story from the September 8, 1905 edition of the Albany Evening Journal provides a few details about the old State Street Burying Grounds, its gravedigger, and a crime thwarted by fire. A few words of the scanned article are illegible and indicated byunderlined spaces. Hopefully, an alternate copy will provide the missing words.
Old Jack The Grave-Digger of Other Days”
Man who Dug the Graves in Cemetery Where Washington Park is
Attempt To Rob Vault
Who remembers “Jack the Grave-digger?”
There are Jacks of other trades and callings, and Albany has had a good share of them in her day. But none were so well known as “Jack the Grave-digger.”
“Jack the Grave-digger” lived in the days of yore in a little frame dwelling on the northwest corner of State street and Sprague place, where today stands the mansion of Benjamin W. Arnold. He dug many graves in the old cemetery occupying what is now a portion of Washington park. The Presbyterians purchased “Jack the Grave-digger’s house and grounds for site of Sprague chapel and, as there was no more graves for him to dig in the old cemetery, which had been transformed into park grounds, he betook himself to other parts.
Dominies Buried There
The old burying ground was made such in 1800 and it was used for a half a century. Its boundaries extended along State street on the north, along where Englewood place is on the west, Hamilton street or Hudson avenue on the south and on the east along a line about 50 yards west of and parallel to Northern Boulevard. In the mound included in what is called the children’s playground some of the dominies of the Dutch Reformed churches were said to have been buried.
There were numerous receiving vaults in the old cemetery, most of which extended almost in a line opposite Sprague place. Many of them were private vaults, owned by rich Albanians.
James H. Kelly, a former city detective, tells of an adventure which he had some years ago in the old cemetery. There was a report common among the citizens of Albany that a certain wealthy person had been buried in one of the vaults with a fortune in jewelry, etc. upon the body.
Mr. Kelly got wind one day of a plan to break into the vault under consideration and rob the corpse of his valuables. He reported the matter to his superiors and received permission to attempt the capture of the would-be vandals alone. He said he preferred going along on such a case.
Attempt to Rob Vault
Mr. Kelly had gotten the tip straight, and he knew the night on which the attempt to break into the vault would be made. Accordingly, he made preparations to be on hand to receive the grave robbers. On the appointed night, Mr. Kelly concealed himself in the bushes whence he could command a view of the vault. He carried a stout iron bar. It was his intention to slip the bar through the handles of the doors of the vault when his quest had entered and then he would have them in a trap of his own choosing and he would be able to keep them there until he could obtain help to lodge them in the station house.
The detective waited through the stilly night in his place of concealment and his presence was finally rewarded by the sight of approaching object through the gloom which proved to be men. They advanced cautiously to the door of the vault, and while one kept watch the other set himself to work at the lock. ___ ___ ___ to carry out their ___ ___
Suddenly the sky was ___ the sound of an alarm of the ___ ___ upon the stillness of the night. The vandals were startled out of there work and they stood gazing at the sky. Mr. Kelly was likewise excited by the sudden light and the noise of the thunder. Every instant the sky grew ___ and it was evident that a great fire was raging in the ___ far away. Soon he could see the flames leaping above the tops of the trees. The area in the vicinity of the vault was almost as bright as day. Shouts could be heard in the distance and the citizens were fast awakening.
The vandals gathered their tools together as quickly as they could and disappeared. Mr. Kelly made no attempt to apprehend them as he was sure that he would be able to catch them the next day at a “job” they had scheduled.”
The fire which had so suddenly interrupted the game of the vandals and likewise the detective destroyed a large oilcloth factory in the West End.
See also: The Albany Vault Company
While the actual removal of the graves from the State Street Burying Grounds did not take place until the late 1860s, the call for such a removal was recorded in the Albany newspapers and was brought to the Common Council as early as the 1840s. The letter below appeared in the Albany Argus less than a year after the consecration of the Albany Rural Cemetery. The Boyds are an example of the earliest families to remove the remains of their kin to the new Cemetery.
(The author of this letter refers to the new Rural Cemetery as “Towasentha.” During the first few years of its existence, the name of the new Cemetery was a matter of some surprisingly spirited debate and Tawasentha, meaning “Place of Many Dead,” was among the names proposed. )
REMOVAL OF THE DEAD TO THE NEW CEMETERY
It appears by the report of the proceedings of the Common Council on Monday evening, a resolution was introduced, and laid, by consent, on the table, for the appointment of a committee, “ to consult with the Trustees of the several churches,” possessing burial-places, within the tenth Ward of the city, on the propriety of removing the remains therein interred to the new Cemetery, TOW-A-SEN-THA, in the town of Watervliet; and to report to the board what measures may be within the competence of the Common Council to promote a removal so loudly called for by the health and convenience of the increasing population of the tenth ward.”
Alderman PRUYN deserves commendation for introducing this resolution. The opportunity of the measure suggested will not be denied. The propriety of a general removal of the remains of persons interred in their burial grounds has begun to be agitated in some of our churches. Many members, it is known, have expressed the intention, and are about to make arrangements, to transferr the remains from friends from their present, it may be almost said, desecrated resting places, to the more solemn and suitable depository at TOWASENTHA. It may be safely assumed that the instances will multiply when once the example shall have been set, or the season permit.– The grave-yards of several churches will consequently be almost wholly broken up, and defaced beyond restoration, except at an expence which no prudent body of trustees will be disposed to encounter, in view of the growing disposition of their inhabitants of the tenth ward to insist on their right to as pure an atmosphere as their neighbors, and to apply for a law interdicting the burial of the universal dead of the city in their midst.
It is therefore a question whether it be not wise in our Common Council to prepare the way for a measure which their duty as guardians of the health of the city, and of equal rights of its citizens, must lead them to encourage and must soon oblige them to urge.
Where the beautiful parks of the Capitol and Academy now refresh and delight citizen and strange, was within recollection of many, a vast burial spot, as unseemly and out of place, as the grounds now occupied by the churches in the luckless tenth ward. The Common Council of those day was as little prone to disregard ‘rights,’ probably, as its successors in times when the expression of the public will is apt to be less equivocal and its influence more potent. Yet it was by their actions, as ungracious as it was liberal, that the removal of the ancient grave yards was made to their present site; and the heart of our town from a jumble of shapeless sepulchres and neglected graves, offending sense and corrupting health, has been changed into a square not to be surpassed in the world for spaciousness, wholesomeness and beauty.
With such a precedent in their favour, and supported by the opinions of all enlightened medical men, and the practice of every civilized nation, except the English, the inhabitants of the 10th Ward, cannot be rebuked for impatience or encroachment, but should rather be praised for their forbearance, since they have waited to agitate a measure so nearly concerning themselves, until the the removal, they desire and will certainly claim, could take place to a more appropriate, save, and inviting spot. But for this, peradventure, they would have appealed to a grand jury before they would have consented to allow State-street to be graded along the grave-yards as low as the usual level of the coffins.
A RESIDENT OF THE 10TH WARD
Albany Argus, July 17, 1845
A brief article in the August 2, 1888 edition of the Albany Evening Journal recounts the discovery of remains at the former site of the Dutch Reformed burial ground on Beaver Street near South Pearl Streets. A previous article appeared on July 31 – see Ancient Albanians and The Burying Places.
THE CRUMBLING REMAINS OF ALBANY BURGHERS EXPOSED
Excavations at the Old Churchyard on Beaver Street – Italian Workmen Avoid Contact With the Relics
The four human skeletons that were unearthed today on the site of the old Dutch church burying ground on Beaver street were placed in a sugar barrel. The barrel was about half fill when the last skull was dropped in. The bones were found about 8 ½ feet below the surface, after the three feet of filled-in earth had been removed. The skulls of the four skeletons were towards the west. They were laid out very regularly, the back bones of the arms and legs being held as if in a mould in the grasp of the light loam soil. Under two of the skeletons evidence of the cedar bottom of a coffin was found. There was nothing left, however, of the sides or top of the coffin. The decayed bits of wood were so very small and decayed that even if there had been a cover and sides to the casket, the shovels and picks of the Italian workmen would have scattered them before the bones of the dead were reached.
They Had Sound Teeth
The soundness of the teeth was remarked by all who saw the skulls. In two of the skulls, the teeth were perfect. The Italian workmen were careful not to touch the bones with their hands. They would force the bones from the grasp of Mother Earth with a pick and then toss them upon the embankment with a shovel. When the bones were discovered, the tan-colored Italians jabbered less than usual and seemed more awe-stricken that the few spectators of the scene.
As previously mentioned at the bottom of this post about the Altar Monument in Saint Agnes Roman Catholic Cemetery (adjacent to the Albany Rural Cemetery), there is at least one headstone at Saint Agnes that originated from the State Street Burying Grounds and was most likely misplaced here instead of the Church Grounds.
This small, plain marble headstone is propped against the back of a monument in Saint Agnes. The inscription reads: David D. Winne Son of Daniel D. & Maryann Winne Died April 31st, 1832 Aged 2 years, 1 month and 19 days. Also Rachel Ann Winne Daughter of Daniel D. & Maryanne Winne died December 9th, 1839 Aged 1 year 2 months & 9 days.
(The first date listed on the stone is obviously an error as there is no such date as April 31.)
This stone is listed in the Common Council’s inventory of graves in the Reformed Dutch section of the State Street Burying Grounds. When the stones and graves were removed to make way for the creation of Washington Park, this stone would have been destined for transfer to the corresponding section of the Church Grounds. However, for reasons unknown, it now rests against an apparently unrelated headstone (that of Adolph Bridge who died in 1844) in Saint Agnes Cemetery. One of the two Dutch Reformed sections of the State Street Burying Grounds lay across from the Catholic section divided by a path which ran east to west through the Burying Grounds. This close proximity of the two sections may be a possible explanation for the misplacement of this stone during the mass removal of graves (assuming the Winne children were buried in the southeast Reformed Dutch section and not the northwest one).
There are a number of Winnes listed in the Rural Cemetery’s burial card file and in the Common Council inventory of the old Burying Grounds. There are several Daniel Winnes listed, but none of the dates correspond. The 1844 city directory lists him as a dealer in drygoods at 95 Market Street with a residence at 287 Washington Avenue. Burial cards for graves in the Church Grounds are almost entirely copied from the inscriptions and thus young David and Rachel do not appear in the file.
Below: Front view of the graves of Adolph and Mary Bridge in Saint Agnes Cemetery. The corner of the Winne stone can be seen in the space between them.
The photo above gives a glimpse of the last traces of old St. Mary’s Cemetery which occupied land just off Washington and North Main Avenues. Long since replaced first by the park of the same name and, later, by the present Albany High School. A 1932 article in the Albany Evening Journal profiled Mary Conway, the widow of the cemetery caretaker, who lived in the cottage shown until just before it was demolished.
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. Continue reading →
Saint Agnes Roman Catholic Cemetery was found in 1867 and lies adjacent to the main entrance of Albany Rural Cemetery. About a quarter of the size of its neighbor, it is another example of the rural cemetery style popular in the mid-19th century. In addition to wooded hills filled with elaborate older monuments and a striking avenue of large family vaults, it also includes very modern flat-marker sections and a large community mausoleum ornamented with icons of North American saints such as Kateri Tekakwitha and Isaac Jogues (both of whom had ties to the area now covered by the Albany Diocese).
Like Albany Rural, Saint Agnes Cemetery contains a large number of graves relocated from older cemeteries such as the Catholic section of the State Street Burying Grounds, the Catholic cemetery now occupied by St. Mary’s Park on South Main Avenue, and a smaller Catholic graveyard which appears on 19th-century maps as located on Sand Street (now Sherman Street between Lexington Avenue and Robin Street).
As with Albany Rural Cemetery, some burials were removed from these older graveyards by relatives and interred in new family plots. Most, however, were removed en masse to large common burial plots.
Located in high area of Saint Agnes known as Founders Hill, the granite and marble “Altar Monument” marks the burial place of remains removed from State Street Burying Grounds when the land was cleared to make way for Washington Park.
“This monument is in the form of a baldachino, an altar tomb surmounted by a canopy. It is situated on an elevation in one of the most attractive sections of the Cemetery, from whence there is a beautiful view of the upper part of the Cemetery grounds, especially the new part, which has recently been so extensively developed. It always draws the attention of visitors because of its beauty of design and symmetrical proportions. The monument was erected by the City of Albany to perpetuate the memory of those whose remains were removed from the old St. Mary’s Cemetery, which was on site of the present Washington Park, to St. Agnes Cemetery. It does honor both to the living who erected it, and to the dead who lie beneath.”
— from Saint Agnes Cemetery – Its Past and Present Associations. Edited by Myron A. Cooney. Compiled and published by Frederick S. Hills, 1899.
Several old headstones from the old Washington Park site were laid flat in the hillside leading to the Altar Monument. One of them still bears the carver’s name. Unfortunately, one of the stones has begun to break apart. Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge.
Older headstones such as these can be found (both upright and recumbent) can be found throughout the Saint Agnes Grounds. They generally have death dates prior to the establishment of Saint Agnes and mark relocated graves. At least one small headstone removed from the State Street Burying Grounds and intended for the Church Grounds at Albany Rural Cemetery seems to have been mislaid in Saint Agnes instead. That will be featured in a future post.