Friday, September 26, 2014

Correspondence of the Boston Traveller

The following account of a visit by "The Boston Traveller" to the Cemetery appeared in the Albany Argus on July 31, 1845.  The account was dated July 22 and signed only "A Son of the Pilgrims."

I have just visited the new Cemetery, about three miles from Albany. It is in the township of Watervliet on the Troy road, and a little more than halfway to that city. It affords a drive, inside the fence, of five miles. The entrance and grounds are not yet completed, but they certainly bit fair to excel any similar ones in the country. Soon after entering, you pass through an oak filled opening, filled with gradual mounds, and approach to ravines suitable for burial places. These glens are among the most picturesque that can be conceived. In crossing them, and the streams which flow through a portion of them, you traverse bridges built of the trunks and limbs of tress, cut from the grounds. These rustic structures are strongly put together with railings formed in various shapes, adapted to the place. It is intended to plant trailing vines at each end, and thus cover their upper sides with foliage.

The views from these natural passage ways are some of the most charming the eye ever beheld. The gentle sloping or steep banks – the shady coves, hidden away among the overhanging trees – the palisades of mossy rocks, wreathed with rude crowns of bending bought – the opening river in the distance, with its dotted banks and vessels – present a scene of rural beauty rarely equaled. Intermingled among the bridges and winding paths are several of the most delightful lakes and cascades. Sufficient wood has been cleared away from their borders to admit the light of the sun and moon to the greatest possible advantage, affording the sky, clouds, trees, and hillsides a perfect reflection in the limpid waters. Here, overlooking mimic seas, burial spots have been already selected. Most cordially do I commend the good judgment of those that choose them. – Several open knolls and eminences are to be found, from which the river, Troy, and the public road are finely commanded. On one of these is admirable site for an observatory to overlook the enclosure. A large lot in the rear is intended for a flower garden and shrubbery nursery, where those who wish to obtain such memorials for their loved ones, can be readily supplied – the avails to be devoted to improving the Cemetery.

There have been, as yet, no burials, but it is probable, there are some bodies to be removed from other grounds. The place cannot but be a favorite with the Albanians, and all who pay visits to its sacred, silent shades. The movement was first suggested in a sermon preached by one of the clergymen of Albany – Rev. Dr. Welch. He is now on the Board of Manager, and is one of the most efficient members. Should you ever visit Albany, gentlemen, be sure to drive through this very sweet spot.


The author of the article states that there were no burials yet, but records show that David Strain was buried here in May of 1845.  There was likely no monument in the Strain lot yet.  The rustic wooden bridges described were later replaced with iron and stone bridges;  most of these are long gone, too. 

The photo above shows an old monument hidden away in one of the picturesque glens the Boston Traveller expressed admiration for.  It stands near the remains of Consecration Lake.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Cemetery and Its Waggon

From the July 1, 1879 edition of the Albany Evening Times, news of a more affordable and less fatiguing way to visit the Cemetery.

In accord with the recommendation of the Evening Times, Mr. Thomas, the superintendent of the Rural cemetery, has made arrangements whereby a careful driver and a comfortable waggon await the visitors at every train. Those who desire it are taken to their lots and brought back for only ten cents the round trip. As it becomes better understood, – the number of visitors will doubtless greatly increase; for delicate women who can hardly walk to the upper or more distant parts of the cemetery, can now reach such portions of the grounds without fatigue. Mr. Thomas deserves the thanks of all those who cannot afford to pay five dollars for carriage hire to enable them to make a trip from Albany to the cemetery. We hope enough patronage will be given to this new method of conveyance to make it a success, as it well deserves to be.

The cemetery, since the recent rains, is a very beautiful place. The vegetation is in the very height of June verdure; the views, varying with every different stand-point, are simply superb. It is recognized by every lover of the beautiful in nature as the loveliest situation of all the cemeteries in the country.

See also:  The Trolley To The Cemetery

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pye The Englishman

Around 1800, an Englishman named John Pye opened a tavern on the road between Albany and Troy.  It stood just a little south of the present entrance to the Rural Cemetery along Route 32.

Born in England around 1752, he first appears in local records after the end of the Revolutionary War and was known to be a good friend of General Philip Schuyler and his family.  The Schuylers were, of course, his neighbors; their large farm known as The Flatts lay just a few yards northwest from the Pye Tavern.

John Pye is best remembered for a robbery at his tavern on a wintery night in 1808.  Robert Johnson, later described as "a highwayman," entered the tavern seeking $1,000 in cash and gold that Pye was rumored to have beneath his bed.  He surprised the sleeping innkeeper and his wife and, drawing a pistol, demanded, "Your money or your life."  When Pye hesitated, Johnson fired and wounded him in the neck.  Some accounts say that Pye's wife, Elizabeth, then fired at the highwayman with her husband's own pistol.

Johnson fled, racing back to Albany on horseback.  He attracted attention when he jumped his horse across a toll barrier and escaped across the river.  By then, the alarm had been raised and William Winne, a letter carrier and watchman pursued the highwayman through the snow.  When Winne confronted Johnson, the robber pulled a knife on him and managed to knock out Winne's front teeth.  Winne, however, was able to subdue him by seizing his bandana and choking him with it.  Johnson was apparently wounded by Mrs. Pye's shot and died shortly after being taken into custody.  His skeleton was reportedly kept in the office of an anatomist in Troy for some years after.

John Pye survived the attack and continued to manage his tavern.  The incident caused quite a sensation in the local papers and an account was published in 1836 with the lengthy title, "The robber, or A narrative of Pye and the highwayman, Being a detailed and particular account of an attempted robbery of the inn of John Pye, between the cities of Albany and Troy, N.Y. in 1808, and of the outlaws' final capture and end: as related by Mrs. Pye herself, and others who were most intimately acquainted with the whole tragical affair..."  The story was not without embellishments, some contributed by William Winne himself.

Pye died in 1817 and was buried among his friends in the Schuyler family burial ground at The Flatts.  His widow married their bartender, William Nutt, and continued to manage the tavern.  She died in 1846 at the age of 90 (or 97, according to some sources).  She and her second husband were also buried at The Flatts.

In the 1920s, all of the graves at old Flatts burial ground was removed to the Rural Cemetery.  A number of headstones were brought over from The Flatts with the remains, but most are now illegible.  One of the worn stones above may be that of Pye The Englishman.

More on the original Flatts burial ground here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Boyd Family

When this impressively tall white marble shaft was raised, it was at the very edge of the Albany Rural Cemetery.

At the time, the Rural Cemetery had only been open for two years and this lot on the Middle Ridge was close to its western boundary.  A map published that same year shows the section was then called Wildrose Bank;  at the time, the sections were known by such fanciful names as Kelpiesford, Songbird's Bower, and Poetry Glen.  Later, the Church Grounds would be laid out just beyond this point and a lodge built here.

Before the Rural Cemetery was founded, most residents of Albany were laid to rest in the municipal State Street Burying Grounds.  Once the new Cemetery was consecrated in 1844, however, there was increasing interest in closing the old municipal graveyard and removing its burials.  By the end of the Civil War, the City's Common Council had begun that process in order to redevelop the old Burying Grounds into a public park. 

Some families, however, didn't wait for the City to disinterred their dearly departed en masse.  They made their own arrangements to have their loved ones' graves removed to newly purchased lots at the Rural Cemetery.

James and Peter Boyd, sons of a prominent Albany brewer also named James Boyd, purchased this lot in 1846.  That June, the remains of their parents and six siblings were exhumed from their graves in the First Presbyterian section of the State Street Burying Grounds, an event noted on the monument itself.  A month later, they were laid to a final rest on Wildrose Bank.  Also buried with them was Peter Boyd who himself passed away just before the re-interment.


James Boyd (the elder) was born in Scotland, but settled in Albany before the Revolutionary War.  In 1776, he married another native of Scotland, Jane McMaster.  In 1796, he founded the Arch Street Brewery (later known as the Albany Breweing Company) on a site near South Pearl Street and the outlet of the Beaverkill.   He died in 1832.

Another member of the Boyd family is buried just down the Middle Ridge Road beneath a large and elaborate monument.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Drawings by George Hubbard

This blog by George Hubbard features some of his pen & ink drawings of monuments and buildings at the Albany Rural Cemetery, as well as other nearby landmarks.  Do take a look!

George Hubbard

The drawing above is of Little Georgie;  his white marble headstone is a familiar site along the Cemetery's South Ridge Road.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Event: Wreath Laying At President Arthur's Grave

On October 5, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of President Chester A. Arthur at 11 a.m..  The ceremony is in honor of Arthur's 185th birthday.

That afternoon, the Cemetery Trustees will be holding a special event at Schuyler Meadows.  More information on the event, which will feature journalist and author Paul Grondahl, can be found on the Cemetery's site:

Events at Albany Rural Cemetery

See also:

The Presidential Grave
Ellen Herndon Arthur

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Boy Injured At Cemetery

This story serves as a serious reminder that one should definitely keep a close eye on children in cemeteries.

Times Union - Police: Tombstone falls on, seriously injures boy - Boy injured from falling tombstone at Albany Rural Cemetery

There are so many potential hazards in a cemetery, ranging from holes caused by wild animals or sinking old graves and Old headstones which can be very unstable; leaning on them or pushing them can easily cause a stone to topple.  Every year, I come across stories (local or national) about children who are injured by climbing on stones, too.  Of course, it's not yet known just what caused this boy's injuries and here's hoping he makes a complete recovery.  But it is also reminder that everyone - children and adults - should be careful in cemeteries.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

John Kolkanis

This tiny headstone on the North Ridge (not far from the G.A.R. plot) is fairly unique.  It includes a photograph of the deceased;  such headstone photos are not common in the Rural Cemetery, though I have seen a few other examples in other local cemeteries such as Calvary in Glenmont.

The grave belongs to one John Kolkanis, though his name is spelled "Colcanis" on the stone.  He was born in Greece and, at the time of his death, resided at 469 Delaware Avenue (near the corner with Whitehall Road).  The burial record lists his cause of death as "Drowned in the Hudson River," but search of local newspapers didn't reveal any any additional details.