August 17, 2010
C’ville cemetery endures amid development
Plot of graves along Route 13 dating back to early 1800s includes some of area’s first settlers
CORTLANDVILLE — Local resident John Hoeschele has created a website to spread awareness about an abandoned cemetery right across from the new Walmart Supercenter on Route 13.
The cemetery is a quiet space surrounded by businesses, construction and traffic. It is on a lumpy hill surrounded by a cobblestone wall, and most of the graves are shaded by 15 tall oak trees.
There is no official name for it, but Hoeschele and others call it the “South Cortland Cemetery.”
“It’s like an oasis, especially next to all this busy stuff on the road,” said Hoeschele, who lives in Cortland. “I don’t think it’s in imminent danger, but I still think it needs to have its profile raised.”
The town owns and maintains the cemetery. Its highway department mows the lawn. Any time a private family or a church abandons a cemetery, it becomes the town’s responsibility to maintain it.
But the cemetery in South Cortland began as a public cemetery, said Cortland historian Mary Ann Kane.
“It was just a small community out there, and people began to die and they buried them,” said Kane.
The oldest grave in the cemetery that can be identified is that of John Calvert, who died in 1808, Hoeschele said. Some of the gravestones do not have legible writing.
The most recent grave there is that of Daniel McCalister, who died in 1932.
The cemetery contains veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil wars. One is John Stanbro, a Revolutionary War veteran who came to the Cortlandville area because the government gave him land there as a payment for his service, Hoeschele said.
Soldiers given tracts of land after the Revolutionary War were some of the first settlers in Cortland County, he said.
Smith Corona, a former typewriter manufacturer that was in a building next to the cemetery, owned it for a while, but gave it up to the town, Hoeschele said.
Most of the gravestones in the cemetery are thin blocks of slate or marble, Hoeschele said. Many of them are tilted. A few of the gravestones lay flat against the ground, and two lean against an oak tree.
Hoeschele created the website, southcortlandcemetery.com, in November 2009 to spread awareness about the cemetery and allow people to share information with him. It is the first part of his larger idea make local abandoned cemeteries into historic landmarks.
Hoeschele said his next goal is to create a PowerPoint slideshow within the next year and present it to local civic groups, sharing his idea to influence people to feel responsible for other cemeteries.
He then wants to include the other cemeteries on a website and in a brochure that would lead people on a tour of local cemeteries.
He said he would also like to convince the town to post a graphic sign at the South Cortland cemetery to explain its significance. Hoeschele said he would prefer a colorful sign with pictures on it, similar to the signs at Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture, for which he serves on the board of trustees.
Hoeschele said he wants to promote local cemeteries along with other buildings that are historically significant, such as the 1890 House museum on Tompkins Street in Cortland, the Suggett House on Homer Avenue in the city, and the Central New York Living History Museum being built on Route 11 in Cortlandville. He thinks putting them all in one brochure could benefit all of them.
“I think all of our historical assets need to be connected and that makes them stronger long-term,” Hoeschele said.
Hoeschele does not want people to make physical repairs to the gravestones. Hoeschele said that kind of activity destroys the archaeological significance of cemeteries. “You want people to be aware of it, respect it, pay some attention, but you don’t want people stomping around here trying to restore it,” Hoeschele said.
Town Councilman Ron Rocco, who took an interest in the cemetery while serving as the town historian, said he agrees with Hoeschele that it is probably best to leave the gravestones alone. But Rocco would like to try to level out the ground by placing dirt and grass seeds in some places if it is allowed under the New York State Cemetery Board’s regulations, he said.
The ground slopes in several directions, and many of the graves are surrounded by deep holes and divots. Rocco said it is dangerous for elderly people in its current state.
With the opening of the Walmart Supercenter set for this fall, Town Supervisor Dick Tupper has said he expects other businesses to follow and try to capitalize on the customers Walmart will bring.
Other Walmart Supercenters are surrounded by large businesses, such as chain fast food restaurants.
Hoeschele said he does not expect companies to ask the town to buy the cemetery, and if any did, he does not think town officials would sell it.
“I can’t see in any age where Dick Tupper and those guys on the Town Board and Planning Board would even entertain it,” Hoeschele said.
“With all development encroaching on it, I’d like to see it remain a cemetery,” Rocco said.
Tupper said that in addition to state laws protecting cemeteries, he thinks the cost of moving graves would be too high to entice a business to buy the site in the future.
“The cost of moving gravesites is just prohibitively expensive,” Tupper said.
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