The Church Grounds

The Church Grounds at Albany Rural Cemetery are in a different, better shape than they were from the late 1880s to the mid 1940s, due to work undertaken by Stephen A. Scullen in 1945 to find headstones that were not visible.

When the headstones were originally to have been moved from the area that then became part of Washington Park, the Albany Common Council had resolved in part that, the burial grounds had "been almost entirely neglected" and that because the "desecration of so sacred a spot is in the highest degree discreditable to the city authorities and the churches interested" they would "cause the removal of the remains of the neglected dead to cemeteries where they can be properly interred and cared for in a suitable manner."

The problem, as Francis P. Kimball's 1945 article indicates, is that the Albany Common Council did little or nothing to see to it that history would not repeat itself.  The Albany Common Council has, of course, continued to do little or nothing since 1945.

Kimball's article follows:

Kimball, Francis P. “Markers of Famed Albanians ‘Rescued.’” Knickerbocker News [Albany, NY]. October 29, 1945: 12B cols 1-3.

Markers of Famed Albanians ‘Rescued’

By FRANCIS P. KIMBALL

Weisenforth and Littlejohn with Philip Hooker headstone from Knickerbocker News
             Burial places of Philip Hooker, noted architect, Gen. Peter Gansevoort, Revolutionary hero, and other famed Albanians, neglected and virtually lost for more than half a century, are being "rescued" and identified as a result of a reconstruction project covering two acres in Albany Rural Cemetery.

            Work on the project has just been started under a contract awarded to Stephen A. Scullen, Loudonville, on recommendations of Charles B. Heisler, cemetery superintendent. In a special report to the cemetery association, Mr. Heisler asserted the area had fallen into such neglect as to become a "wilderness."


            The Hooker headstone, which with hundreds of others in the section had been laid flat on the ground and partly overgrown with grass, was one of the first raised by workmen. Hooker built old Albany Academy, the original State Bank building and many other noted structures. He died in 1836. General Gansevoort's headstone was found soon afterward, unprotected and almost illegible. His historical fame arose from his defense of Fort Stanwix, now Rome, where the Stars and Stripes were first flown against an enemy.

George E. Weisenforth, at left, and Harold W. Littlejohn, employees of Stephen A. Scullen, Loudonville contractor, raise the headstone of Philip Hooker, famed Albany architect, in long neglected section of Albany Rural Cemetery, now being improved.  Headstones will be cleaned and replaced in a two-acre area of the cemetery.

            Mr. Heisler said the area under reconstruction is the so-called
 "church lots" which contain burial places of more than 3,000 bodies removed 75 years ago from the State Street Burying Ground, now the site of Washington Park.  The transfer to the Rural Cemetery, largest of its kind in the city’s history, was made at a cost to the city of nearly $50,000.

            Owing to the manner in which the removals were made, Mr. Heisler said burial records of approximately 1,500 persons were lost.  He believes most of these will now be located and identified through recovery of the headstones, many which were placed in the ground in tiers, one on top of the other.

            Under the contract let to Mr. Scullen, the entire two-acre area will be searched for headstones. These will be raised, cleaned and reset in rows, partly elevated from the ground to prevent further disintegration.

            The project was approved by the cemetery association, headed by Robert Olcott, after Mr. Heisler presented a special report

            In the first few days since the project began, more than 200 headstones have been found.  Many date back to the early 18th Century, and one to 1690. Among them, almost covered from sight by overgrown grass, was the headstone of the Rev. Thomas Ellison, graduate of Queens College, Oxford, who was rector of St. Peter's Church for 15 years, a state Regent and tutor of James Fenimore Cooper, the novelist.

            Also brought to view was the tablet of Cornelia Tappan Clinton Genet, wife of Charles Genet, former minister to the United States from the French Republic and daughter of Gen. George Clinton, vicepresident of the United States.  She died June 29, 1774, at Prospect hill, Town of Greenbush.

            The stone which marks General Gansevoort’s burial place reads: “To the memory of Peter Gansevoort Junr., a brigadier general in the Army of the United States who died on the 2d day of July, 1812, aged 62 years, 11 months and 16 days.  He served under Montgomery in Canada in 1775, in 1777 defended Fort Stanwix against St. Leger thereby preventing his junction with Burgoyne and died in active command at the beginning of the War of 1912.  Here Stanwix’ chief and brave defender sleeps.”

            Many other noted figures of their time are also believed to be buried in the area.  Mr. Heisler said the list turned over by the city contractors in 1868 had 3,125 names, but the cemetery checkup, made 25 years later [in 1893], showed only 1,574 names.  This was probably due to the fact that many of the headstones were buried in tiers in the ground.

            Mr. Heisler said it was difficult to determine how the area fell into such decay, but it was apparently due to lack of provision for care of the graves after the removal.  Authorization for the removal was contained in a Common Council resolution Oct. 12, 1866, proposed by Alderman Peter Carmichael.  Consent of all churches in the city was obtained for the removal of the bodies.

            Completion of the projects will require several weeks.  Officers of the association include vicepresident, W.L.L. Peltz; treasurer, Douglas W. Olcott; secretary, Mr. Heisler, and chairman, executive committee, G. William McEwan.

 Kimball, Francis P. “Markers of Famed Albanians ‘Rescued.’” Knickerbocker News [Albany, NY]. October 29, 1945: 12B cols 1-3.

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