Early Cazenovia Village Cemeteries, Madison County, NY
written October 22, 1995, slightly revised 1999
posted 11/26/1999
 
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        The cemeteries that have remained in use tend to be at the centers of population such as Cazenovia, Erieville, Perryville, or New Woodstock, others such as those on Hardscrabble Road, or several in Fenner, haven't had any burials since around the turn of the century.  Still there are cemeteries such as one on Balina Road, one on Burlingame Road, and a few others here and there that no one even knows are there but for which some evidence of them has been found.  The problem is that there are hundreds of individual burying places, primarily dating from the 1790s to 1850s which are unknown to us as there is no written record of their existence.  It was common in the early days of settlement or in rural areas, before community cemeteries were formally established, to bury the deceased family members in the back yard or upon their own property.  These early burials were often impermanently marked with wooden markers, field stones, or they were not marked at all.
        Some cemeteries have even had the bodies removed when it was seen that they were no longer functional as cemeteries.  If the cemetery is an old one it should be the project of an archaeologist who might learn something from the burial, but the known relocated cemeteries of Cazenovia had the bodies carted away long before there was such a thing as an archaeologist.  In several instances, as in the Poltergeist movies of several years ago, the stones were moved but the bodies were not.  Numerous examples from other communities show that not all of the bodies are always moved, and every once in a while some bones pop up in the garden or during construction work.  Several small cemeteries, like the one represented by two stones that can be seen in a fence row on Fenner Road, have had only the stones moved and the bodies still peacefully repose somewhere in the middle of a vast field.
        The village of Cazenovia, like many communities which had a relatively large population from its earliest days, had an organized or at least established burying ground to place the dead of the community.  It has been thought that there was only one such early burying ground available for the residents of Cazenovia Village before Evergreen Cemetery was opened in the spring of 1814, but this is now seen to be incorrect.  With out any new information, but by simply looking at the data differently, it is clear that there were two earlier cemeteries, with one succeeding the other before Evergreen was opened.
        Traditionally the one early cemetery was that which is known to be associated with the Presbyterian church when it stood at the head of Hurd Street.  The church and cemetery occupied the ground which is now the lawn and drive in front of the Middle School and also the property of Doug and Jeanne Keefe next door at 9 Emory Ave..  As far as I am aware no one has attempted to locate precisely the bounds of the church yard and cemetery and that was my exercise.  In doing so I kept running into some strange bits of information that just didn't fit although they were obviously dealing with the same general area.  Suddenly it occurred to me that the information was not about a single cemetery of the church, but that there was an earlier cemetery nearby!
        The historical bits which have been floating around for nearly a century and a half (we have no "contemporary" description of the cemeteries) were just sort of compiled into a neat little package that dealt with only one neat little cemetery.  In looking over these records once more it is obvious that the original inhabitants of the village were talking about two cemeteries, but the problem is they never mentioned them at the same time so that we of the future could correctly understand them.
        Three pieces of the puzzle just weren't fitting together.  The first piece was that Otis Ormsbee had advertised in The Pilot of June 10, 1811 that he had purchased the "Old Burying Ground, to the east of The Presbyterian Church" and was "about to occupy the same."  Second, the Village Trustees didn't officially close the cemetery until March 20, 1814 after "sundry inhabitants of this Village" stated that "the burying ground near the Meeting House (Presbyterian Church) in this Village has become a public nuisance."  And third, that although Otis Ormsbee owned the cemetery site, as noted above, the Presbyterian Church owned it also - but until 1828!
        The clue that tipped me to the two cemetery theory was that Otis Ormsbee sold a 1.2 acre lot to the east of the Presbyterian Church to Walter Colton in 1813.  This made it clear that Otis Ormsbee's "Old Burying Ground" did lay to the east of the Presbyterian Church and was separate from the church grounds.  Today this land lies along the north side of Emory Ave. running from the Sullivan Street corner to (but not including) the Keefe property just east of the school grounds.  The lawn, gardens, houses, and driveways of 39 Sullivan Street, and 1, 3, 5, and 7 Emory Ave. now sit on the site of the "Old Burying Ground."
        In looking back at what little is known of how Cazenovia looked in its first few years several things come out as being particular to this area.  John Lincklaen had purchased the whole northern section of the village, from Seminary Street to the Village line, from Peter Smith shortly after it was acquired from the Oneida Indians in 1794.  The purpose of this acquisition was to allow the village to grow northward along broad ridge between the lake and Chittenango Creek and primarily upon the eastern shore of Cazenovia Lake.  As early as 1798 Lincklaen had a schoolhouse, 26 feet square, built at what is now the northwest corner of Sullivan Street and Emory Ave..  The small building shows on the painting of Cazenovia made in 1798, and is noted in the history books and early newspapers as being used as a carpenter's shop by James Springstead as early as 1851.  The small shop building is shown on historic maps as late as 1859, but is gone by the time the map of 1875 was made.  The 1852 map, very precisely made by Henry Hart, shows the old schoolhouse / shop and its position relative to today's features is easily determined.  Its place, at the back corner of 39 Sullivan Street, is at the center of the eastern end of the lot that was owned by Otis Ormsbee in 1811.  As Ormsbee was also a wood worker, being the carver of much of the interior woodwork of Lorenzo, Lakeland, and Willowbank (not imported Italian carvers as the late Helly Kennard always believed), it is likely that he used the old schoolhouse as a work shop.  The cemetery would have been situated on the remainder of the lot, primarily on the properties at 1, 3, 5, and 7 Emory Ave.
        The dates of this cemetery is not known.  The schoolhouse is seen on the 1798 painting, and it first shows up John Lincklaen's inventory of the "Cazenovia Establishment" in December of 1799 (an inventory for 1798 has not been seen) so it is likely to have been built in 1798.  Although a second schoolhouse was built on Sullivan Street at Seminary Street in 1805 the old school was still noted on the inventory of January 1807 (the latest year seen).  Since the school and burying ground were community property there would be no initial deed.  Ormsbee purchased it from Lincklaen but no record of that purchase has been found and thus the year is not known.  We only know that it was before May 4, 1813 when Ormsbee sold it to Walter Colton.
        What happened with the bodies that were in the cemetery at the time of Ormsbee's purchase?  That we do not know, but we can assume that at least some may have been moved to the Presbyterian Church cemetery next door.  In 1811 Ormsbee requested that "relatives and friends" come and remove the remains of those "deposited" on his land, but can we be certain that all the bodies were claimed?  Probably not.  Ormsbee gave his legal notice and that was probably as far as his concern extended.  Those poor dead souls whose families had moved on or could not afford to have them reinterred in another graveyard probably stayed right where they were.  It has been seen in other communities where cemeteries have been moved that not all of the burials get exhumed, particularly the unclaimed, unmarked, and the elderly and children.  Maybe they just moved the headstones and left the bodies where they lay as is also often the case.  Since we have no list of those buried there it is impossible to tell how many, if any, might still be there.
        It is probable that they were moved to the Presbyterian Church burying ground, from whence they would have soon been moved to Evergreen Cemetery.  Only two persons buried in Evergreen died early enough to have been buried in this first Cazenovia Village Cemetery: Esther Raynor, who did in 1799, and Susannah Roberts, who died in 1804.  Whether they became "secondary burials" in the church cemetery between 1811 and 1814 before finding their way to Evergreen is not known.
        Although houses were built on the Emory Ave. lots almost immediately after Ormsbee's sale to Walter Colton in 1813 (the house at 3 Emory is incredibly old and may have been Ormsbee's own residence), there have been no reports of burials being encountered during construction.  Who knows what may still be found in those yards!
        The small schoolhouse on the corner of Sullivan Street and Emory Ave. was also used for village functions, meetings, social events, and church services (the town and village Trustees preferred to meet in Ebenezer Johnson's Tavern on the Public Square).  False tradition has placed the first school of the village at the intersection of Ledyard Ave. and Rippleton Road, but there was no school at that place (it was to the Sullivan Street school that Jonathan Forman was wont to lead his young daughter over a log so that she would not be harmed on her way to her lessons).  It is possible that the little building was built to accommodate not only the need for a school, but also to give a place for the religious minded to worship.  Since John Lincklaen was intent on forming a church he may have built the school with that particularly in mind, and 1798 was a good time to build it.  The following year the varied persons who had been coming to the little school to worship formed themselves into the First Presbyterian Church of Cazenovia.
The congregation used the school for the next few years, and by 1803 decided that they needed a meeting house of their own and began deliberations regarding the construction of their own house of worship.  By November 8, 1803 the church Trustees had voted to build a Meeting House "near the Lake."  Construction of the church was begun in the spring of 1805 on the design devised by Albany architect, Philip Hooker, and Nathan Smith was the Master Carpenter.  It is likely that Hooker had little to do with the construction, although the work specifications are in his handwriting, but it is likely that the form and beauty of the church can be more rightly assigned to Nathan Smith.
 In the cold of a February day in 1806 the church was dedicated, and some time later that year the building was completed.  It was not until 1808, however, that the land upon which the church stood was given to the congregation.  In the deed from John Lincklaen, dated May 3, 1808, the church received a parcel 370 feet along Emory Ave. and 305 feet deep, to be used solely for the church and burying ground.  Lincklaen reserved for himself and family a 50 foot square plot in the back corner of the cemetery but an apparent error in the wording of the deed places it at both the east and west corners of the burying ground (it was likely at the northeast corner where the land was the highest).
        This lot, for church and cemetery, was located directly in front of where the Middle School now stands and upon the Keefe property next door.  The west line passed along the east side of the present High School building, the north side was along the face of the Middle School class rooms, and the east side is the same as the east side of the Keefe property.
        The Meeting House was situated upon a high stone foundation, faced directly down Hurd Street, and was set just six feet off of the street line.  This location is now along Emory Ave at the head of Hurd Street just inside the entrance to the circular drive to the Middle School.  After the church was moved from this spot the land seems to have been used for pasturage until 1889 when Percy Emory bought it and built his family estate there.  The Emory "cottage" was located about 150 feet from the street (to the east side of the school ground (the driveway now passes over the site of the house) and the Emory carriage house is now the Keefe's house.  Since it seems that there has been little disturbance to the ground here it is probable that considerable archaeological evidence of the church (and cemetery) still remains at the site.
        The cemetery probably occupied the back (northern) 2/3 of the church yard, perhaps very much like the cemetery which lies around the Delphi Fall's Baptist Church.  That cemetery is smaller and the church sits partially within the cemetery, but the general situation with the cemetery behind the church is what the Cazenovia cemetery must have been like.
        When the old cemetery to the east was closed is not known, and it is also not known when the church burying ground was opened.  It may have opened when construction of the church was begun in 1805 but this is not likely as such a large construction project would need much of the church property for preparation of the timbers and other materials.  It may have opened in 1806, but this again is not for sure, and the most likely date is when the land was actually sold to the church Trustees in the spring of 1808.  We do know that the burying ground was in use until the spring of 1814 when the Village Trustees ordered that all burials be ceased due to health concerns.
        The situation at the head of Hurd Street may have been excellent for the church, but it was not very good for a cemetery.  The soils here are very clayey and impermeable shale bedrock is only about ten feet below the surface.  One historian wrote that the cemetery "was found to be highly objectionable as in some seasons of the year, they would have to bail the water out of the grave before the corpse could be lowered into it.  This act made it exceedingly desirable with many to find a more suitable place to deposit the remains of their friends.  Very few felt they would be willing themselves, to be thrust into the mud and water as it had been necessary to do so often."  It was also felt that the cemetery, located uphill from the village, was affecting the village water supply.
        The matter was brought before the Village Board in the spring of 1814 and they decided that the cemetery should be closed and that no burials were to take place after May 20th of that year.  In about three weeks a new cemetery site was found and purchased by the Trustees and the sale of burial plots began on April 9, 1814.  The lot on Fenner Road was purchased from Reuben Bryan whose wife, Dorcas, had died the year before.  She (and Village founder, John Lincklaen) is buried at the very center of the original part of Evergreen Cemetery, but since she died before that cemetery was opened she may have been buried elsewhere first.
        Again there is no list of who was buried in the Presbyterian Church Cemetery, and any records were probably disposed of long ago after the cemetery was closed.  The church records (as compiled by Christine Atwell) list only 11 deaths in the time that the church cemetery was in use, but some of these people lived in other parts of the township and are buried in New Woodstock and elsewhere.  Twenty-three persons in Evergreen Cemetery have death dates which fall between 1806 and 1814 and it is likely that these persons were buried in the church cemetery.  Two others, as noted above, died during the use of the earlier cemetery and would have been moved to the church cemetery only to be moved again to Evergreen.
        No record has been found to indicate any effort to move the bodies from the church cemetery.  Because the Village Trustees had some concern with the health issues they may have taken the responsibility of the move.  As the cemetery was upon the church grounds the church may have seen to it that the bodies were moved, or, like the earlier cemetery removal, there may  have been an open request for those with family or friends buried there to take care of the matter.
        In looking at the pattern of the early burials at the Delphi Falls Baptist Church it is found that the early graves did not cluster together in any particular part of the cemetery (except the unfortunate Sweet family).  The older graves were found throughout the cemetery and it appears that family plots were established from the first days of the cemetery's use.  If this is the case then burials could have been made on any portion of the back part of the church property.  For the Lincklaen plot in the corner it is probable that Mary Ledyard Forman, died 1806, and Jonathan Forman, died 1809, were originally buried there before being moved to Evergreen Cemetery.
        Since this cemetery appears to have been used for only six to eight years there may have been only a small number of people buried there.  As noted there are some at Evergreen that could have been here, but there may be others that did not have headstones or who were buried in Potter's Field.  It is probable that some bodies were left behind on the school grounds or under the Keith property and that they may still be there today.  Even if the bodies were removed there would be considerable archaeological evidence that would help us understand how the dead were treated and how they were buried.  Cemeteries that have been excavated in other communities reveal not only the empty graves (which can tell much about how the dead were buried), but often bones are found that fell from skeletons or partially decomposed bodies that fell apart when they were moved.  Children, the elderly, and the poor and forgotten are often left behind.  And there is no guarantee that the bodies were ever moved - for today we only see the headstones standing in Evergreen Cemetery!
        It is not clear what happened to the church burying ground after it was closed in 1814.  The church Trustees allowed members of the congregation to build sheds on the old cemetery site after 1816, but that is the extent of what we know of the property until the church was moved.  The church stood here until 1828 when it was thought necessary to move it closer to the center of the village (Lincklaen had envisioned the village growing north along he lake and had thus placed the church in what seems to us to be an out-of-the-way pace).  The story of how the church was moved is again something that we know nothing about.  We do know that the building, still in use today, was moved some 1200 feet to its present location (downhill), perhaps using log rollers and oxen.  Church records do state that Samuel Rice was the one who did the moving, in the month of July 1828 - his cost for the moving - $19.00 and the value of a broken shovel!
        Following the removal of the bodies about 1814 and then the church 14 years later in 1828 the property reverted back to John Lincklaen's successor, Jonathan D. Ledyard.  Ledyard soon sold it to Perry G. Childs and Charles Stebbins in 1832.  Eventually the western 1/3 of the church lot was owned by Childs with the remainder owned by Stebbins.  Sidney T. Fairchild, an heir of Perry G. Childs', acquired his portion and eventually John Stebbins acquired Charles Stebbins' portion.  The Childs / Fairchild piece, plus other land, eventually ended up being sold to the school about 1928 and the school was built just to the west of the former cemetery grounds in 1932.  The Stebbins part was sold to Percy Emory in 1889 and Emory built his family home there.  The Emory house was sold to the school in 1948 and the carriage house was sold to John and Catherine Vogt in 1958.  The Keefe family has lived there for more than a few years now.
 
 END of Early Cazenovia Village Cemeteries History by Daniel H. Weiskotten