Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The House of Shelter Lot, Middle Ridge

A small gravestone that reads simply Little Willie resting against a tree just off Ravine Side Way is the only marker in this small lot belonging to the House of Shelter.  The lot is on the south side of the path and overlooks a narrow, deep section of the Moordanaers Kill ravine between the remnants of Consecration and Tawasentha Lakes.

The House of Shelter was an institution founded in 1868 with the intent of "reclaiming and reforming women who had strayed from the path of virtue and were living in vice."  The House of Shelter owned two such lots at the Rural Cemetery.  There is a much larger one overlooking an overgrown area between Sections 104 and 121.

There are forty-six recorded burials in the House's Middle Ridge lot.  The earliest was in 1875 and the latest was in 1889.  There are also three burials for which no date is listed.  Of the forty-six burials here, most were children less than two years of age.

The sole headstone here may have marked the grave of one of three infants named Willie who were buried here:  Willie Critz (died June 1, 1765 - the first burial in the lot), Willie Gray (died July 20, 1877), and Willie Fry (died June 12, 1885).  The stone is undated and has no last name so it is not possible to further identify Little Willie.

Monday, December 29, 2014

From The Albany Daily Evening Journal - January 24, 1873

The January 24, 1873 edition of the Albany Daily Evening Journal published the following article looking back at the state of the Cemetery the previous year.



Latest view of the City of The Dead

Incidents in its History – New Monuments and Tombs – Improvements During the Year 1872 – Gov. Dix Once a Trustee

Among the many public institutions of our city there is none in which Albanians generally manifest more interest, nor which they point out to the stranger with a greater degree of pride, than that silent academy of art and conservatory of nature, our peaceful Rural cemetery.”

Only a few years ago the “Rural” was not extensively known as one of the finest cemeteries in the country – a distinction which it certainly merits, but latterly the daily concourse of summer visitors is largely composed of summer visitors who have heard of the wonderful natural beauties of the place, and hearing come to see.

Of course, the great mass of the visitors are residents of the surrounding cities and villages. It was supposed that the opening of the new park would tend greatly to keep away from the cemetery the large number of Albanians who had been accustomed to visit the grounds merely for a pleasant stroll; but thus far such has not proved to be the case. Together with the annual devotees who during the season of flowers, go regularly to decorate the mounds of their loved ones, are to be see crowds of persons, in all conditions of life, who can have no higher purpose than a quiet, recreative ramble among the leafy meandering paths, and limpid lakes, and through the shady, cool ravines which combine to lend so much of the picturesque to this enchanting garden of graves.

Because we speak of persons visiting the cemetery for “recreation,” it must not be supposed that applications for admission are indiscriminately entertained. Far from it, as the utmost vigilance is employed to guard against the entrance of rough and improper characters. Again there are doubtless persons who object to the bare idea of “recreation,” even of the contemplative sort, in such a place. Washington Irving was of a different opinion. Another author says that a cemetery should not be exclusively devoted to scenes of sorrow, and another that such institutions should be made “schools of instruction in architecture, sculpture, landscape gardening, aboriculture and botany.” The author of “Thanatopsis” and kindred poems of the serious order, would seem to be decidedly partial to “meditation among the tombs,” by those who meditate in congenial pairs, for he says:

And what if, in the evening light,
Betrothed lovers walk in sight
Of my low monument?
I would the lovely scene around
Might know no sadder sight nor sound.

The increasing celebrity of the Albany Rural cemetery is principally due to the extensive improvements of the last few years. During the year recently closed a great deal was achieved toward enchancing the architectural beauty of the grounds; and here we propose to notice a few of the principal monuments and tombs erected or finished in 1872.

On the south ridge Mr. Robert L. Johnson has erected a very costly and handsome sarcophagus of granite. The lot of Douglas L. White has been ornamented by a massive granite monument, and attendant memorials of unique design, in the same material. A most attractive and creditable addition to the architecture of the place is the tomberected by Stillman Witt. This is constructed of the attractive Cleveland sandstone. On either side of the door are three Scotch granite columns surmounted by highly wrought marble caps. The combination of the pure marble, the dark, rich granite, and the delicate colored sandstone produces a very novel and happy effect, and the Witt vault is certainly destined to be greatly admired. The fine Scotch granite obelisk of S. & B.F. Watson – the fourth monument of this material which has been erected here – is very attractive. Judge William W. Reed and George W. Hoxise have also placed fine memorials upon their respective lots. Another noticeable structure is the marble cottage monument reared by J.J. Austin to the memory of his father.

On the middle ridge the monuments erect by Stephen Paddock and Lawson Annesley of Albany and George B. Fraser of West Troy appropriately ornament that locality, and the Townsend vault on the north ridge is one of the finest erections of the last year.

While the lot owners have been doing so much to add to the attractiveness of the grounds, Superintendent Thomas has not been idle during the past season. The large and romantic Tawasentha lake has been deepened and otherwise improved. Unsightly portions of the ground have transformed into nicely graded sections of desirable and valuable lots. Unoccupied spots, not available for burial purposes, have been planted in evergreens, artistically grouped, and various other evidences of progress are visible.

A glace at the cemetery records shows that one by one the fathers of the institution are passing away. Last year one of the most efficient of the trustees and the cemetery lost one of its best friends by the death of Wm. H. DeWitt. Dr. Welsh, who first brought the project of a rural cemetery for Albany prominently before the public preceded the former to this garden of graves by about a year. John I. Wendell, whose monomania was the improvement of the cemetery, is long since dead.

The two gentlemen last named were members of the original committee of twelve oppointed on December 31, 1840, to seek out and locate suitable grounds for a rural cemetery. This statement suggests to us a historical reminiscence, which at this juncture may be of interest to our citizens: One of the most ardent advocates of the expediency of founding a rural cemetery for Albany when that question was first agitated, is now governor of the state of New York. Gov. Dix was one of the original committee of twelve previously spoken of and one of the trustees of this institution in the year 1846. An unusual record appears upon the register of interments for last year – that of the burial of Diana Mingo, a colored lady aged 106 years. She was the oldest person ever buried in the cemetery.


A bit more on Diana Mingo can be found in this article on the town of Schodack where she was born in 1766.  Her grave does not appear in the Cemetery's on-line records or index cards, but it might still be possible to locate it by checking the 1872 burial records in person. 

The image at the top of this post is from an antique stereoview showing one of the old bridges which linked the South and Middle Ridges around the time this article was published.  The bridge no longer exists.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Harp With A Broken String

Located on the South Ridge, this small, ornate marble headstone features the beautiful symbol of a harp with a broken string and delicately carved lettering.  It was signed by the maker, James Gazeley.

This beautiful stone marks the graves of Samuel Pruyn and his first wife, Helen.  Helen died on October 28, 1833 at the age of thirty-three.  Originally interred in the Dutch Reformed section of the State Street Burying Grounds, she was reburied here after Samuel Pruyn's death.  A small, plainer stone visible just behind this one marks the grave of Anna, a daughter of Samuel and Helen who died at the age of sixteen.  Like her mother, she was buried at the old municipal cemetery and reburied here.  There are a total of twenty members of the family buried in this lot and one adjacent.

As for Samuel Pruyn, the Albany Evening Journal provided a long and detailed death notice in the February 19, 1862 edition:

Sudden Death of Col. Samuel Pruyn.

Our citizens were startled this morning by the announcement that Col. SAMUEL PRUYN was dead. The announcement came with paralyzing suddenness to those who met him, in his usual robust health and spirits, last evening--rejoicing with his fellow-citizens over the good news brought to us from the seat of war. No man was happier, or seemed more likely to pass on healthfully into a green old age.

Col. PRUYN was one of our most estimable citizens. Descended from a family which has been identified with the city from a period long anterior to the Revolution, no man was better acquainted with its local history, or with the men or incidents of the past. He was himself, in all his habits, thoughts and associations, an Albanian -- linking the past with the present, and partaking of the highest and noblest qualities of both periods.

Although greatly absorbed by business cares from early manhood, as merchant, Bank Director, Supervisor, Inspector of the Penitentiary from its inception, and the prudent guardian of his own large estate, he devoted many hours of every day to the careful study of standard literature. He was profound in chronology, history and biography, and his library is adorned with many of the best and rarest works in these several departments. Those who shared his literary tastes will miss him.

Mr. PRUYN leaves a large family to weep over his sudden decease. 

The cause and manner of his death is unknown. It has been his custom to spend his evenings in his office, which is detached, by the space of the garden, from his dwelling. Last evening Mrs. PRUYN was from home, at the sick bed of a niece dangerously ill. She remained there during the night, and other members of the family supposed that he had, as usual, come in from his office and retired. Nothing different was known until this morning, when one of the servants discovered the dead body at the foot of the stairs leading up from the garden to the house. He had fallen heavily, for his nose was broken and his face lacerated. Whether he merely slipped and fell, and so received fatal injury, or fell in an apoplectic fit, is a mystery. During the day, he had complained of a slight headache, but deemed it so trifling as to require no assistance. All that is known is, that he is dead -- having reached his 63d year.

Several other monuments in the Rural Cemetery feature a harp.  The broken string symbolizes that the song of this life has ended and this instrument will never play again.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cornelius and Anne Van Vechten

The elements have been very unkind to this little headstone on the South Ridge.  The face is quite eroded and covered with raised streaks as if the marble melted and then solidified again.  The inscription is almost completely illegible;  the most that could be deciphered was part of a name which appeared to be Knickerbocker and, just below, what appeared to be the name Cornelius

There is, of course, a Daughters of the American Revolution plaque at the base and it might have been easier to identify the grave by contacting the local chapter and inquiring.  However, I usually prefer to do things the hard way (and I found a few other interesting things to pursue along the way).

The lots in a given section aren't numbered sequentially on the maps, but it was easy to look up the names of the adjacent lots to pin down the number.  With that lot number, I was able to identify the names of every individual interred there.  Two matched the legible bits of the inscription;  Cornelius Van Van Vechten and his wife, Anne Knickerbacker Van Vechten.

Born in 1735, Cornelius Van Vecthen was the son of a Schagticoke landowner who also served as a firemaster in Albany for a time.  At the age of twenty-two, Cornelius married Anne Knickerbacker.  Though they married at the Dutch Reformed Church in Albany, both were then residents of Scahagticoke.  Like his father, he also had ties to the city of Albany and also served as a firemaster.  He was among the signers of the constitution of the Albany Sons of Liberty in 1766 and, in October 1775, he received a commision as Lieutenant Colonel of the Eleventh or Saratoga regiment of the Albany County militia.  He served for the duration of the war.  At the time of the Saratoga campaign, his family home at Coveville (Saratoga County) was burned by the advancing British under General Burgoyne.  Following the Revolution, Van Vechten served in the State Assembly and, later, as the town clerk in Schaghticoke.  He died at the age of seventy-eight on October 20, 1815.

Anne Knickerbacker was the daughter of Wouter Knickerbacker and Elizabeth Fonda.  Two years young than Cornelius, she died in 1809.

Both Cornelius and Anne were likely buried in the Dutch Reformed section of the old State Street Burying Grounds and moved here to the Rural Cemetery by family members before 1868 as they do not appear on the list of graves transferred to the Cemetery by the Albany Common Council.

Maria Van Vechten, the oldest daughter of Cornelius and Anne married Enoch Leonard who is buried adjacent.  It was the Leonard monument that particularly helped to identify the Van Vechten headstone on the lot map.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Snowy Eagle

With all the snow we've had, this photo of the eagle-topped Edward Frisby headstone (with the Dalton cinerarium in the background) could have been taken this afternoon.  It is, however, a wintery Throwback Thursday since it was taken around 1993. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Then & Now - The Cutler Lot

One of my favorite resources on the early history of the Cemetery is Henry Churchill's 1858 Guide Through The Rural Cemetery Containing Illustrations of All The Principal Monuments, Tombs, Etc.; The History of Its Formation; The Rules and Regulations For Its Preservation, Etc. With A Steel Engraved Plan of The Grounds.  The title is quite self-explanatory and the book itself deserves a future post of its own.  The last several pages include the aforementioned "principal monuments," some of which no longer exist and some of which are greatly altered.

One such engraving which caught my attention was the lot of T.R. Cutler.  It shows a simple shaft with what appears to be a bit of carved drapery atop.  There is a little evergreen tree beside it and the whole is enclosed with a variety of ironwork;  a chain with tassels stretches between low stone posts, an arched arbor or trellis frames the monument, and there is a marvelous little gate with a spiral design. 

A search of the Cemetery's burial records placed in one of my favorite sections to explore these days; that secluded little hollow between Consecration Lake and Ravine Side Way (see the previous post on Solomon Van Rensselaer and Correspondence of The Boston Traveller). 

The Cutler lot has changed greatly since the engraving above was published.  Like many lots in the Cemetery, it has long since lost its iron adornments.  As expected, the arched trellis and that lovely spiral gate are gone.  The marble shaft lies flat on the ground, but small boundary markers with the letter C help to identify the lot.  The inscription is not visible and there are thick patches of green moss growing on the stone, though one can still see the carved drapery.  The evergreen in the engraving is also gone and a twiggy bush is growing wild beside the topped stone.

This lot was the property of Timothy Rockwood Cutler.  The first burial here was of Rebecca Hillman. Cutler.  She died on December 23, 1853 at the age of twenty-six.  She was the first wife of the lot owner.  The second burial was that of Timothy R. Cutler, whose trade was listed in the city directories as "millinery and bonnet bleaching" at 536 Broadway.  The son of Martin Cutler and Sophia Rockwood, he was born in Holliston Massachusetts on May 3, 1822 and died in Brooklyn on April 4, 1891.  His second wife, Mary, was Rebecca's sister.  She died at the age of sixty-eight on December 17, 1897 and was the final burial recorded for this lot.  

The 1880 census indicates that Timothy and Mary H. Cutler had three sons residing at home;  William (age twenty, a clerk on a boat), John H. (age eighteen, a store clerk), and Timothy (age seventeen, a student).  The household also included a twenty-eight year old Irish-born servant named Laura Shaunessey.  By his first wife, Timothy R. Cutler had at least one child, a daughter named Ida.  

Newspaper clippings also note that Mr. Cutler was a member of the Albany Burgesses Corps, a private military company founded by Captain Thomas Bayeux in 1833.