Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
May 25, 2021

Honoring the Dead: Cemetery Stories from Delaware County

Honoring the Dead: Cemetery Stories from Delaware County

This Memorial Day week, we visited two area cemeteries where historians are taking steps to memorialize former Catskills residents in the towns of Delhi and Roxbury. At the Roxbury Methodist Church cemetery, gravestones obscured by years of algae and lichen growth are being restored with a special cleaning agent and some good ol' historian elbow grease. And in Delhi, a poorhouse cemetery lost in time is finally getting the recognition and care that it deserves. 

County historian Gabrielle Pierce is working with Christa Schafer's Delaware County Office, to restore stones to hundreds of graves in Delhi, NY. And in Roxbury, historians Diane Galusha and Anthony Liberatore scrub 80 years of grime to renew a marble headstone.

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Welcome back to cats cast, the BI weekly podcast featuring local interviews, arts and culture and history in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley. This memorial day week, we visited two areas cemeteries, where historians are taking steps to remember former Catskills residents in the towns of del hai and Roxbury, at the Roxbury cemetery, gravestones obscured by years of algae and lichen growth are being restored with a special cleaning agent and some elbow grease. And in Dell high, a cemetery last in time is finally getting the recognition and care that it deserves. And 1824 New York state mandate specified that a poor house was to be established in each county. Four years later, in November of 1828. Delaware County built its first poorhouse and a cemetery to serve that population. But most of the grave markers have long since disappeared, and sunken grassed spots are the only remaining indicator of the bodies buried beneath. Plans are underway to identify and mark those graves and to establish public access to the site. And that's where we begin our story at the office of Delaware County's Clerk of the board, Krista Schaffer. She's been working with the county historian and town officials toward this goal. You can see here these are sunken graves right here. Sure I can see him. Yeah. And that's what we're running into. Is this. My name is Krista Shea from Clerk of the Board of Supervisors. I'm part of the project of getting the poorhouse cemetery renovated back to where people can see it. And hey, honor to those that are buried there. The county did not own the property. Apparently it was sold way back to the college. And because the college sold some of the property to the city. The city cannot own a cemetery. So the college deeded us the property back. And since that point in time, we've been looking at trying to renovate it. It's sad because a lot of these people that were there were either living at the poorhouse because they had mental problems. They were poor, they were destitute or had no place to go. And it's just sad. And it's time now that we pay tribute to them because we're a lot more fortunate than they are, you know, and it's just sad to see the state that it's in right now. County historian Gabrielle Pierce showed us around the site just a couple miles south of crystal Shaffer's Delaware County Office in del hai New York. in 1824, New York State passed a mandate that every county had to have a poor house for the poor and the indigent, and that also kind of veered off into housing for what was then legally known as feeble minded, insane and lunatics. And there would be court proceedings that would say, yes, this person is a lunatic and needs to be housed in this place. So every county New York State, had at one time, a poorhouse. The Delaware County Courthouse cemetery ran from about as far as we know, 1828 to 1963. The most recent burials we know about would have been in the 1940s. And there's about 402, buried here that we know of for sure. A lot of the markers were stolen from the graves probably, I would say six years ago, I went for a walk across the street from the hospital and my friend and I were just looking for some reason we looked at this driveway, and she saw a stone and I said cheese were the numbers on the stone. And she said, I have a gut feeling I know where they came from. And back then Sheriff Tom Mills was involved in the project, assisting Gabrielle and trying to get this restoration done. When we contacted him. There were cemetery markers. There is one small section of the cemetery where there are still existing stones. And all the stones from just about every poor house has only numbers, no names, no dates, just numbers. Gabrielle Pierce explained further with the team at the county building. I have several record books that are called keepers registers, some of them the ones that make me happy, noted down the number of the stone that that person was buried with, but of course in the sunken area with no stones at all. We have no way of knowing who is buried in any of Those graves. So I do have a list of eight names out of 402 can be matched to stones which is, which is very sad. For example, we have stone number 14. In Section C goes with Thomas Scott, who was admitted into the poorhouse January 20 1936. died two days later, age 54. He goes with stone number 14, stone number 84, stone number 9096 and so on are just unknowns. So we have a handful, literally 402 that we know of who were buried there, as opposed to doing individual markers Has anyone talked about doing like a monument that's true all of them are actually is one it says there are no recognizable stones which is not true. It gives a slightly different number of those buried there. But it is a tribute stone that Maryanne Greenfield she is the town of del hice historian, she on her own dime, had the Board of Supervisors approved that and to set it there. But having the individual stones like this, the markers is important to show us all those graves, I don't think that would be a bad idea somewhere down the road to do that, to honor those that we can't find that can't be marked where we know definitely there's grades there. We want markers there. Yeah, the stones as they sit are in the right spots. And I'm sharing the ground there, there's more that are covered over with her if we go poking, or you can go poking, because I wouldn't know where to poke. And if I poked inside Do I have nightmares see smoke coming off the bottom of my sneakers, I run the president of the board for the Croton union cemetery and Treadwell. And whenever we do a burial, we got to poke to make sure where the edge of the neighboring vault is. And then we measure out to put the new burial. So we poke it is a little odd. But you're poking the top of the vault in that case, not the actual casket here. Of course, there's no balls, which is why all the grapes or something. That's why modern cemeteries most of the time require cement vaults, so the graves don't sink. There's no place for people to recognize where to go or anything. And that's one of the things that Shawn is a landscape architect, he's going to design for us. My name is Sean laddie. I'm a landscape architect, I work for the county, and I'm at this meeting to learn what my role will be in this project. I'm just factfinding and gathering an understanding of the project and look forward to assisting in proposing solutions for accessibility and signage, and whatever else may come out of the project. I'm Jen medalist, Thomas, Meredith supervisor. He's also a professor up at the college. And he has worked on this project with us for a while now and is very well versed on it and knows a lot more than I do, that's for sure, we definitely want to make sure that we have our, if you will geographic points on on the different corners of the cemetery. We also want to make sure that where we're going to do work is within the boundaries of this piece of property that we now have possession of Mr. Leddy is here from the county planning office. So he's going to help us with planning a reasonable walkway up to the cemetery area, something that's a little more accessible, and also look at helping us doing some design around the now sheep barn, which will be basically the pavilion for the kiosk and for visitors to enter the location and then possibly go on up to the cemetery. So that's kind of where we're at. We're very infant tile on our stage of development here. And you know, we're just at this point, bringing everything together. There's a lot of different parts to this puzzle. And every part of this puzzle is important because without it, we don't have a complete puzzle. So we've got to pull all the parts together, we've got to make a really good design and we've got to pitch this out so that it is acceptable and palatable to the taxpayer of Delaware County. That's one of the biggest thing is is trying to make sure that we put this in efficiently and economically and have public access to this location. And that's, that's the biggest thing that's happening very slowly, but it is happening. And I think it will say that it's happening methodically. We don't want to try to do things twice or three times or four times. And we certainly want to make sure that when we can Have people lined up, we're ready for those folks. So a lot more planning, and I think the action will be rapid. There's people that had been interested in the cemetery for quite a while, and had been after us trying to get this restored, even though it wasn't our property. Well, there's still people here that have lived in Delphi for years. And remember, the poor house and what's left of the poor house is just a part of the Foundation, which is now part of the college property. Dell high still has one person that used to live in that poor house. Her father used to be the Commissioner of social services. And so she lived there. And she was brought up there as a child. She was there between 50s and 60s, and it was a very genteel place. People were treated with extreme respect, it was a working farm. She had no idea that the earlier years from the poor house were not genteel and pleasant. And she was pretty horrified, actually, but she gave her experiences and it is so wonderful to hear from someone who was actually living there. So it's gone through different transformations. I don't think the general public is aware of it as far as going to visit family members or possible ancestors or, or even town history to that matter. I mean, there's there's folks from all different towns and counties throughout New York State in this home. Again, it's not officially open to the public, but it is open space, the project will change it to be an available open space. And our main goal is make sure that it's safe and accessible. And as you can see, the divots were the the graves are the sunken holes. They're just places for people to fall into and trip and things like that. We want it not to be that way. And these folks deserve a lot more respect than they've been given in past so the souls been forgotten too long. We are in the town of Dell high on Arbor Hill Road, not too far from the intersection with scotch mountain road. And right before it turns into back River Road. I spent a lot of time researching both cemeteries and poor houses. And to have it right here in our county right in this town is very historically exciting. I've been pushing for this for years. And before me, there was a gentleman by the name of Charles Eustace, he was an older man. And he tried real hard to get this project going. And he was on his own doing it solo. And a lot of people just didn't listen to him. Some people laughed at him, he worked real hard to find records. He wrote letters upon letters upon letters to legislators, politicians, everybody he could think of, and he just couldn't get the attention that it needed. What really got a lot of attention in recent years, was when New York City DPW wanted to purchase the 200 acres in this area. But they could not purchase the cemetery that had to be surveyed off. So caddy the college, returned it transferred it back to the county. So this area did get some attention for a while. And that was when former Sheriff Tom Mills was very involved in that and, and sucked me in that there was something finally going on. And then we had the students from the south court, right boys school, maintaining it, mowing it for about a year, they did a tremendously wonderful job. And then that didn't last because the school closed down. So that was another wrench in the works. And then I just kept nagging people basically To tell you the truth. And I have to say I'm extremely excited that the county is now doing this. And I owe that to Christy Shaffer, Jim Ellis, mostly in really saying, Yeah, this has to be done. This barn that's the end here was on the poor House grounds because just about every poor house had its own farm, they tried to be as self sufficient as possible. They grew their own food, they butchered their own hogs and cows. The one in Binghamton still has all those buildings. It's very exciting to see that they had their own power house a lot of times to create their own electricity. They had their own water supply, which I suspect there's a reservoir up here on the hill somewhere and they had their own cemetery because they had to have a place to bury the folks that families did not claim or could not afford to bury to the best of our knowledge. There is 402 buried here that we're pretty certain about, could be more but that's the number that we know of due to various records that I've been able to put together. So each one of these will get a marker Yep, on a base with a sign on it that says Delaware County poorhouse unknown, because we have no way of knowing who's there, who's there. There's just no way the City Cemetery input pakhtun relocated hundreds of cemeteries when the reservoir came. So now there's a nice relocated cemetery called the Paxton and the lady who did those markers, is the same one who's doing these Jackie Mason. So there's supposed to be in development, a parking area, signage, informational kiosk, I hope we see an improved pathway from a new parking area that is going to be developed. They're designing that now a good accessible pathway that would take people safely up instead of climbing through brush and trees. There'll be no doubt at that time that this is a cemetery whereas now, people might think that's just an empty field. So after the break, we visit a cemetery in Roxbury, New York, where grave sites have always been lovingly marked and cared for, but where algae, lichens and dirt have obscured some of the headstone engravings. Historians in that community have the supplies and the know how, for some cemetery spring cleaning. Kats cast is supported by W IO x Community Radio Live and local in the Catskills, reflective responsive and supportive at 91.3 FM MTC, cable channel 20 w IO x radio.org and with any smartphone radio app, Alexa, play w IO x and by the 52 mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway following New York State Route 28 through the heart of the central Catskills for maps, itineraries and links to area restaurants, shops and accommodations, visit scenic catskills.com 


The family of Georgian Viola Stewart sent us $50 as a donation to clean the front and back of this stone. This is a white looks like a white marble stone, heavily infested with some kind of black algae. And we are going to attempt to clean it up and make it a little more legible. You can see that the Black has pretty much obscured the names and the date. So we're gonna try to bring it back to some something close to the way it looked when it was first put here. I'm Diane galusha. I'm the president of the Historical Society, the town of Middletown. My name is Ashley liberatory. I'm the town historian for a town of Roxbury and involved with a lot of things with Diane Galicia, I came along to see how the cleaning process works. And we'll probably do more of it in the future. This is the Methodist Church Cemetery in Roxbury. It is a beautiful May Day and we're about to clean a headstone. This is the headstone for George and viola Stewart, the Historical Society of the town of Middletown launched fundraising effort this year to raise some money from people who would like the cemetery stones of their family members, or friends cleaned, and we have a special substance that we use is called D two. And it's very effective. So we asked for donations from folks to pay for this efforts. We have volunteers, and we're going around to a number of cemeteries in the Middletown area. And and Roxbury is included kind of in that general area, cleaning maybe 1620 stones, and various cemeteries. In the area, this de two substance that we're using, which is a biologically derived cleaning agent, is used in other national parks for various monuments and the National Cemetery. So it's proven, but it does work a little bit differently on different stones. So it's not always as effective for every single stone. Make sure the area you're about to clean is wet. And then you take this D tube, and then you spray it all over and you wait, you know, five or 10 minutes. And then you use a brush, kind of firm but not a wire brush. And then you use water to wash the debris off. And then you'll see how how much you took off with that first round and see if you have to do another one or two times around. But usually it's it's pretty striking the difference after the first go around. So so we'll say this is the first year we've done this as a fundraiser for donations, but we have cleaned stones in the past, we do a living history cemetery tour every year. And so we try to clean up the stones of the featured people that we visit during the tour. Yeah, this is the first time we've opened up to the public. And there's a lot of interest because a lot of folks live elsewhere. And they would really like to have their, you know, parents or grandparents stones taken care of. And there's nobody really to do that unless they do that. So I learned this actually, from Maryanne Greenfield, who is involved with the Association of gravestones studies and she has her own cemetery cleaning service based in del hai. And she gave a workshop at the Clovis Ville cemetery for us several years ago and introduced us to D two, which can be purchased through a company called Atlas preservation. And, you know, you can buy a kit, kind of that has scrapers and brushes and, and spray bottle and stuff like that. So, so it's not really rocket science, it just takes a little time to do but I mean really, what a beautiful day to be doing this. We have little little like popsicle sticks and a little skinny scraper to kind of get into, you know, between the the letters and the you know, the the growth that may be in the letters are in the design. We did have several generous people who just sent us donations and said, You know, this is a great idea, you pick the stone. So that was wonderful. You know, we can determine what stone in which cemetery could use our help. Of course, once you do this and you know you do one stone in a cemetery and it's remarkable And it's lovely. But then you look around and there's you know, 60 more, that ought to be cleaned. So little by little, we'll get to it. Viola Stewart passed away in 1939 and her husband George in 1942. So I'm guessing that you know what hasn't been cleaned since then. And I hope this is actually gonna do the trick because it's sort of hard to tell while you're still rubbing it and and, and brushing it, Diane and Anthony's raid brushed and scraped 80 years of dirt and grime from the Stewart stone, it's hard to tell how effective the cleaning is, until the stone gets one more water spray to remove the cleaning solution and loosens dirt. Wow. Black Black is going Oh, that's awesome. A couple a couple of go rounds, I think will really brighten it up. Next month, I think we're going to inventory the st this very cemetery. So we're going to get information off of each stone. And because it's not a very good documentation of it a lot of the cemeteries around. So we're going to start with this one, it's fairly small and should be fairly easy and good learning curve. And Diane's done it many times, she's going to actually teach us and show us how to do it. So we're looking forward to that next month. Inventory process is basically recording the inscriptions on each of these stones, the names and the dates of birth and death and any any epitaphs or any family members that are included on those headstones. And those inventories are then placed on the Delaware County history and genealogy website, which has, I don't know how many couple 100 probably cemeteries currently on there. And it allows people genealogists and other researchers, from anywhere to be able to find out where their ancestors are buried. And the birth and death dates, which is pretty critical. Right now, this cemetery at the Roxbury Methodist Church is only documented with a map, which just has the last name, I believe, not even the first name. Yeah, you know, and, and so you can sort of pinpoint where people with that last name might be. But other than that, you know nothing about about it about their lifespan or anything else. So that's why we're going to tackle this cemetery with volunteers. In June, I think we're the volunteers who show up here to help to record these inscriptions will do so carefully and legibly and someone else, then will another volunteer will put those on a database and then send them to the website for posting. So is there anyone out there that knows how to do that and willing to volunteer? Let us know. I think it's interesting that we have these kids here, you know, who have nothing in mind except today and maybe their future, maybe next week, their future. And I hate to say it, but this is our all of our future right here in the cemetery. Not this particular one, but this is what the future holds for most of us is the end of the line. Most of us. Oh yeah. Well, that would be everybody. Yeah, everybody. Kats cast is a production of silver hollow audio, recording and editing by our production intern sky Bruce. Please be sure to subscribe wherever podcasts are found, and give us a rating to help other listeners find us. I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening. 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai