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The State Street Burial Grounds

Albany, NY

An engraving from Joel Munsell's "Annals of Albany" showing
monuments in the State Street Burying Grounds
.

The State Street Burying Grounds, was opened by the City of Albany in 1801 to alleviate the overcrowded churchyards and private family graveyards. It was located at the eastern end of what is now Washington Park and was enclosed by a ten-foot high wooden fence.

Most churches were given their own sections of the municipal cemetery and many of the interments from previous church grounds and in the city cemetery at State and Eagle Streets were moved here. The grounds were divided into four large sections for the various churches, as well as an area set aside for strangers, African-Americans, and deceased persons not connected with any religious congregation.

Within a few decades, however, the State Street Burying Ground was already in decline. With the high mortality rate of the early 19 th-century, along with epidemics like the 1832 cholera outbreak, the graveyard was extremely overcrowded. The fence had suffered from neglect and vandalism, livestock wandered freely among the graves, headstones were stolen or damaged and immigrant gangs used the forlorn spot for violent brawls.

In 1841, in response to a growing problem with flooding at the State Street Burial Ground, and continued deterioration of church cemeteries, a public movement was undertaken to purchase and develop a “Rural cemetery,” beautifully landscaped and outside the city. This led to the incorporation of Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, New York on April 2, 1841.

After the opening of Albany Rural Cemetery in 1844, the State Street Burying Grounds became so pitiful that is was deemed “in the highest decree discreditable to the city authorities and the churches interested.” A future Superintendent of Albany’s parks later recalled that there was “a mouldy and neglected air about the place.”

In 1866, Albany’s Common Council addressed the matter of the Burying Grounds and passed a resolution to close it. All graves in it would be removed to the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands and reburied in a special lot set aside for that purpose. Before removal, “competent persons” would be engaged to copy all inscriptions from the monuments. A complete list of these inscriptions – which range from merely initials or first names to short epitaphs – would later be published along with a complete copy of the Common Council’s resolution.

Permission was sought from and granted by the various congregations with sections in the State Street Burying Grounds for the transfer of the graves at the city’s expense. The total cost to copy the inscriptions, exhume the remains, provide new coffins, remove all headstones, and transport the coffins and monuments out to the Albany Rural Cemetery was about $45,000.

A section at Albany Rural Cemetery called the “Church Ground” was set aside and marked out by church name to receive the re-interments. Among those transferred were original interments from:

African Methodist Episcopal Church

Albany Society of Friends

Baptist Church

Catholic Church Grounds

Ebenezer Lutheran Church

First Presbyterian Church

First Universalist Church

Garretson Station Methodist Episcopal Church

Methodist Episcopal Church

Potter’s Field

Reformed Protestant Dutch Church

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church

Second Presbyterian Church

Third Presbyterian Church

United Presbyterian Church

A section at Albany Rural Cemetery called the “Church Ground” was set aside and marked out by church name to receive the re-interments. (and because some graves lacked headstones entirely), the markers were laid out in flat rows over the field. These monuments range from simple slabs bearing only names to more elaborately carved stones featuring willow trees, angels, winged cherub heads and skulls.

Note: St. Agnes Catholic Cemetery in Menands was founded at this time and disinterments from the Catholic Church Grounds Section of the State Street Burial grounds were brought to St. Agnes.

 

A row of headstones in the Church Grounds section of the Albany Rural Cemetery

The Church Grounds section is one of the fascinating sections of the Albany Rural Cemetery. Located deep within the Cemetery just beyond the western end of the Middle Ridge, the Church Grounds can be easily missed since, from a distance, it looks like an empty field. But it is well worth a visit. It appears on Cemetery maps as Section 49.

In 1868, the land formerly occupied by the State Street Burying Ground became part of the newly created Washington Park, which is one of Albany’s most popular outdoor spaces.

Modern Washington Park near the old location of the State Street Burying Grounds .

The granite monument pictured below is near the south side of the Church Grounds marks the lot set aside for The Society of Friends.  According to the Special Report published by the Common Council at the time of the removal of all graves from the State Street Burying Grounds, the Friends required “not less than one-fourth of an acre for the future want of that Society.”

An inscription on the lower part of the monument reads,
“ Be still and know that I am God.”

The information in this data base, which covers 3,685 names, was obtained from a file provided by Kelly Ann Grimaldi, Historian, St. Agnes Cemetery, Menands, NY, data recorded on Betty Fink’s wonderful website and information in a document in the New York State Library in Albany, NY.

Many of the middle names listed for individuals in this data base are more than likely to be “family surnames”, and these “likely surnames” have been included in the index as a cross reference. Also, in those instances where the parent’s names of a married woman were mentioned in the comments section, a cross reference to the parents surname was also included in the index.

The individual Church files cover the names identified as belonging to that Church and the “All Denominations” file is a master list of ALL names.

Click here to link to the index of names

 

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at jkeefe@nycap.rr.com

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