Where are Greene County’s oldest cemeteries?

From the Collections of the Vedder Research LibraryThis 1796 map of the Myers/Wynkoop tract of land along the Kaaterskill Creek near Palenville shows lands of both families color coded to denote who owned which sections. A small burying ground is shown in the map owned jointly by both families.

Last week I discussed some of the earliest graveyards in Greene County, noting how settlement patterns and burial customs can be traced by the prevalence of stones of certain ages and artistic traditions. That is all well and good, but where are those earliest graveyards located? As you might suspect, they are primarily located in the “valley towns” of Catskill, Athens, Coxsackie and New Baltimore along the shores of the Hudson — the old cemetery at Klinkenberg mentioned in my last article is one of those early locations which exists now primarily in written accounts. We know of burials happening there as early as 1711 thanks to a description in Beers’ 1884 “History of Greene County.” By contrast, burying grounds like the Overbaugh cemetery on the Embought and the Salisbury cemetery in Leeds which also predate 1750 are well known to us because they were never “lost” like the Klinkenberg graveyard and have been inventoried in the 20th century.

Property surveys of the post-revolutionary period end up being a fascinating place to search for clues concerning other early graveyards. On Route 32 right before the Greene/Ulster line stands a cemetery described in many sources as the Saile-Abeel Cemetery. The name is derived chiefly from the families buried there in the middle and late 19th century. This informal family burial ground can trace its existence back to the earliest years of European settlement in that locale, and first appears on a map of the 1,666-acre “tract of land along the Caters-Kill” owned by the Myers and Wynkoop families. The map dates to 1796, and was likely composed as a reference for lands each family had previously divided amongst themselves. To aid with delineating who owned what the map is color coded: blue sections were owned by Heskia, Tobias, and Peter Wynkoop; red tracts were owned by Christian and Johannes Myers. Even the little burying ground is marked out and color coded. The Salie-Abeel Cemetery therefore seems to be more accurately described as the Myers-Wynkoop Cemetery, as it was marked out in its earliest years for use by those families. Tobias Wynkoop’s burial there is good evidence these places are one and the same.

An equally fascinating early cemetery is described for us in a composite map of the Village of Athens drawn by Caleb Coffin in 1854. Mr. Coffin made a map for reference use which combined four separate early surveys of what became the Village of Athens in 1805. The surveys included in Coffin’s map were the John Spoor survey of 1801, the survey of the Conradt Flaack Estate, the survey of Esperanza from circa 1797, and Leonard Bronk’s survey of the Glebe Lands of the Zion Lutheran Church. Combined they offer a comprehensive reference for the various lots and surveys described in the earliest deeds for the village. Included in these surveys are lots marked off with the description “The Lutheran Church Ground” and the “Van Loon Burying Ground” located next to one another along modern South Franklin Street. Today a small grassy knoll with one mysterious gravestone marks the approximate site of these graveyards. Apocryphal tales state that the Van Loon Burying ground is the burial place of Jan Van Loon, original holder of the Loonenburg patent and patriarch of the Van Loon family. If this is more than simply local legend then that graveyard dates at least to the 1740s, but other sources describe Van Loon’s original home and burial place as being farther north towards Coxsackie. Despite the evidence from Coffin’s map a mystery persists.

On the same map by Caleb Coffin are two other lots on First Street described in the map key as the “Presbyterian Burying Ground.” This graveyard, one of three Mr. Coffin included in the map, occupied land which is now included in the boundaries of the Athens Rural Cemetery at the rear of the First Reformed Church. This clue helps shed some light on the strange conglomeration of graveyards that now comprise Athens Rural Cemetery and Mount Hope Cemetery, and more on these graveyards and the Rural Cemetery Movement will follow next week.

Reach Jonathan Palmer at archivist@gchistory.org.

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