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Greene History Notes: Graveside chats

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Mansion Street Cemetery, Coxsackie.
August 28, 2018 11:33 am Updated: August 28, 2018 11:42 am

 

I have been spending a lot of time this summer helping the Coxsackie Cemetery Restoration Committee and the Village Historic Preservation Commission with the “Graveside Chats” event scheduled for Sept. 15 at the Coxsackie Mansion Street Cemetery. Fourteen characters representing people buried in the cemetery will be on hand to regale visitors with stories about their lives. One hour tours will depart every 20 minutes from the Coxsackie Senior Center between 2 and 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 and children are free. Call the Heermance Memorial Library at 518-731-8084 for more information.

The Mansion Street Cemetery, sometimes referred to as the Village Cemetery, was established in 1826 “to accommodate the inhabitants of the Village of Coxsackie and the Landings and those in the vicinity.” The committee of citizens spearheading the effort included merchant Epenetus Reed, Dorrance Kirkland who served in Congress and prominent attorney Abraham Van Dyck.

The plan to finance the purchase of the plot of ground and carry out necessary improvements such as brush clearing, grading, seeding and fencing was the sale of shares of stock at a price of $5 each. As soon as the stock was fully subscribed, the plan called for shareholders to take title to the plot from Simeon Fitch and his wife Lydia. Interestingly, the Fitches lived in a mansion next to where the overpass is now located in Coxsackie. The home later became the Park Hotel and the foundation is still visible in what is locally known as the Firemen’s’ Park.

The purchase price was $193.50 and the size turned out to be about one and a quarter acre. The property was not purchased in the names of the committee members, but rather “Minister, Elders, and Deacons of the Reformed Protestants Dutch Church.” One hundred lots were laid out, each measuring approximately 30 feet long and 9 feet wide. Any lots unsold would revert to the shareholders in proportion to the number of shares purchased.

The first Treasurer was attorney John L. Bronk. Little did he know that he would be one of the earliest burials after he lost his life in a steamboat boiler explosion in Coeymans. Bronk and his widow are two of the characters visitors will meet on the 15th.

My predecessor, Raymond Beecher had this to say about the old burial ground: “The names on the tombstones reflect the history of Coxsackie in the pre-Civil War era, as well as subsequently. The laborious task of copying the inscriptions was completed by Vedder Research Library volunteer Mrs. Louis Messenger in 1987. It required various hours of the day to take advantage of sunlight on the stones, many of which are much weathered.”

By 1952 most local burials were taking place in Riverside and St. Mary’s Cemeteries and the ownership and care of the old cemetery was transferred to the village. The municipality has done its best to keep the grounds groomed, but maintenance of the stones falls to the families of the people buried there. Sadly, the descendants are hard to locate at this point, and if they can be found, likely have little interest in restoring tomb stones of relatives they never knew that died over 100 years ago.

Enter the Mansion Street Cemetery Restoration Committee, a committee of the Coxsackie Historic Preservation Commission. The committee has already spearheaded cleanup efforts, tree removal, upgrading the path to the back of the property and cleaning grave markers. The committee has also initiated an “Adopt a Grave” campaign to raise funds to meet long range goals such as stabilizing gravestones that are broken and/or tipped over and restoring the wrought iron fencing around the property. The goal is to raise $50,000 over the next two years. Proceeds from the “Graveside Chats” event will be used to meet the goal. The committee’s efforts should contribute to the overall beauty of the village.

Reach David Dorpfeld at gchistorian@gmail.com.