Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Kromme Kill Lakes

Indian Lake with iron bridge ca. 1900

The grounds of the Albany Rural Cemetery were, in the past, dotted with a number of small lakes.  Most of these ornamental lakes were made by damming the Kromme Kill and Moordanaers Kill, two streams which cross the Cemetery.  Another was made by draining a swampy area on what is now the South Ridge.

The image above shows one of them - Indian Lake - circa 1900.  This was one of two lakes formed by the Kromme Kill in the ravine dividing the North and Middle Ridges.   Initially, Indian Lake was one large body as shown on the map in Henry Churchill's 1858 guidebook and in a later map dated 1871:

A still earlier view of the Cemetery shows another series of smaller lakes (Chieung Water with a tiny island romantically called Dreamer's Isle, Grassmere Lake, and Gloamm Water) further west along the Kromme Kill, but these all vanished between 1846 and 1858 as improvements and changes were continually made to the new Cemetery.

1846 map showing early lakes, including two on Moordanaers Kill

At some point after 1893, Indian Lake was divided into two separate lakes;  Indian Lake to the west and the larger Lake Bethesda to east.  A bridge crossed the water where the two lakes met, allowing visitors to easily stroll from the North Ridge to the Middle Ridge.  The bridge, with its lattice-like railings, appears in the photo above.  The water visible in the photo is Indian Lake, Bethesda would have been just beyond the bridge.

 1912 map showing the two lakes

In the mid-20th century, all but one of the lakes were removed by demolishing their dams and allowing them to drain.  At the time, there were concerns about the expense of maintaining the lakes and the possibility of damaging erosion along their shores.  Even after their removal, a combination of heavy rain and erosion caused a landslide along part of the North Ridge near the former site of Indian Lake.  Cypress Water is the only one which remains. 

There is very little left of the Indian and Bethesda Lakes now.  In the ravine, there are still hints of paths which followed the shores and vegetation has filled in much of the lakes' beds.  There are still remnants of the old dam and, if one looks down into the ravine from the Middle Ridge in the vicinity of the Delavan and Olcott lots, the twisted iron lattice of the bridge can still be seen.

See also:  Consecration Lake

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Mourners

The broken tympanum of a headstone in the Church Grounds lot features an eroded, but lovely relief of a mourning woman beside an obelisk-style monument.  The headstone is dated 1810 and the lady's dress certainly reflects the fashion of the era.  She leans towards the grave of her loved one in a pose of grief while a stylized willow tree (a classic symbol of mourning) frames both her and the monument;  the tree's trunk is to the right of the obelisk and its branches arch gracefully over the obelisk to her.

Willow monuments are quite common, especially on late 18th and early 19th century headstones and there are several headstones which feature tiny carved monuments (usually obelisks, but occasionally a broken column), but there are only a few which feature these diminutive mourners in addition to the willow and monument.

A second example can be found in the Spencer-Townsend lot.  While this one is not broken, it is badly eroded.  The

The mourner's upper body is completely erased, as is the upper part of the monument.  There is no willow here, but a swag of cloth frames the figure from above.  Such draperies often represent veils or shrouds, also symbols of mortality and mourning.

These images are quite similar to popular mourning artwork from the same era.  Paintings, prints, and lockets were produced which typically features one or more female figures in mourning attire contemplating a gravestone.  Willows were often included and many had a church in the background.  Prints were often customized by adding the deceased's name, date of birth, and date of death to the monument which usually figured prominently in the foreground.  The Albany Institute of History and Art has a number of objects of this type in their collections, some of which are attributed to Ezra Ames.

A few examples from the AIHA collection:

Mourning locket ca. 1794
Mourning locket ca. 1800
Mourning locket ca. 1800
Memorial oil painting by Ezra Ames

Monday, March 23, 2015

James MacNaughton Thompson

The plaque affixed to this granite headstone reads:

 James MacNaughton Thompson President Class of 1894 Princeton University - Erected In Loving Memory By His Classmates and Friends.

The burial card on file gives the usual information:  Mr. Thompson was thirty-six years old, married to Florence Jones, the father of three children, and a resident of 166 Chestnut Street when he died of "acute dilation of the heart" on December 26, 1908. 

An article in the New York Times tells a bit more about him.

James MacNaughton Thompson died in the office of the Albany Embossing Company, of which he was Secretary, while engaged in conversation, this afternoon.  He was born in Albany thirty-six years ago, and was graduated from Princeton in 1894.  He was the manager of the successful football team that year.  He was admitted to the bar, but became interested in mining and manufacturing companies.  When the Champlain and Sandford Railroad was organized, Mr. Thompson was made its president.  He was a lover of drama and wrote the successful play, "Patons of Virginia," and several comedies.

This granite monument is located in a family plot not too far from that of Chester A. Arthur on the South Ridge and the flag beside the Presidential grave site is visible in the background of the photo.

Friday, March 20, 2015

James N. Clarkson

Standing on the first rise of the Middle Ridge opposite the Cemetery's chapel, this pretty white headstone features a lyre surrounded by a somewhat eroded, but rich garland of flowers.  This marble funerary wreath has a variety of flowers, including roses, lilies, and bleeding hearts.  Like the harp on the headstone of Samuel and Helen Pruyn, the lyre has a broken string.  On the pedestal, it reads, "Peacefully Asleep."  The base is signed by the carver, J.J. Young of Troy, N.Y.

This stone marks the grave of James N. Clarkson who died on May 23, 1863 at the age of 39.  As with some of the older records, the burial card gives little information.  Census records show he was born in England and, as of 1860, lived in Troy with his wife, Sarah, and two children (Sarah, aged 9, and James, age 6).  His wife is buried in the adjacent plot where the headstone has fallen.  Her burial records indicate that she was born in England and, at the time of her death in 1881, resided at 331 Clinton Avenue in Albany.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jeremiah Field - A Mystery Solved

Look closely; can you see the vague outlines of a winged skull?  Ever since I came across this weathered slab of sandstone in the Church Grounds, it has intrigued and frustrated me.  I was certain there had been a soul effigy carved on it, but identifying the inscription was difficult.  The letters had eroded and distorted.  I tried photographing it from every possible angle, I tried photographing each letter individually.  I knelt in the grass in awkward positions on a stiff  knee. I enlarged images in Photoshop, tweaked the brightness and the contract, and even experimented with Instragram filters.  Still, I just didn't have enough to form a full name or date.

In many cases, I can match a fragment of an inscription from the Church Grounds to the Cemetery's burial records or to an inventory of graves moved from the State Street Burying Grounds to the Albany Rural Cemetery.  Unfortunately, there are certain stones - a cache of very old ones in the Dutch Reformed section - which are simply not documented in those records for various reasons.

A couple of months ago, an 1888 newspaper article caught my attention.  It recounted the discovery of old remains and gravestones on the site of the former Dutch Reformed graveyard on Beaver Street just off South Pearl Street. 

The description of one stone was especially interesting - a sandstone slab carved with a grinning skull.  It belonged to one Jeremiah Field.

And that's when the connection was made.

Jeremiah Field and The Headstone That Was Believed To Be Lost

A mystery was solved and it turned out to be even more interesting than I'd expected.