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.
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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.