Friday, February 28, 2014

A Difficult Moment in the Cemetery's History

There is an effort underway to get the Hudson City Cemetery listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The New York State Historic Preservation Office determined it to be National Register eligible back in 1983, and now, thirty years later, Alderman David Marston (First Ward) is pursuing the nomination.

A few months ago, a reader brought to my attention this letter to the editor, which appeared in the Hudson Daily Evening Register on September 2, 1889.

Shall we build up the streets of a living town,
Or buy up a grave-yard instead?
That's the popular question, so write it down--
Query: "The Quick or the Dead?"
Apropos the cemetery question, our Hudson cemetery is one of the resorts of the town, green and shady and less melancholy than beautiful. The Sunday afternoon strolls of our people tend, from long established custom, toward Academy Hill, where, terraced by winding roadways, shaded by tall trees, crowded with grave-stones and carefully attended by loving hands, lies the great flower-garden of graves--the Hudson cemetery.
Near the main entrance is the oldest part of this ancient burying-ground, consisting of a group of tombstones almost covered with long grass, black and crumbling with age, their inscriptions worn away save for a letter or a date here and there remaining, to make us realize more fully that here lies the city of the past.
The place is hallowed with memories, and, at each turn, reading familiar names upon head stones, names once upon all lips, in all ears, in the business and social life of Hudson, one sees the ghost of the dead and gone town of years ago, resurrected by the magic of memory. Next to an old newspaper file an old burying ground is the most interesting historical record. From the highest elevation of the cemetery grounds, gazing toward the Berkshire Hills and the smoke from the many chimneys of Philmont and adjacent villages which marks their site, is a birdseye view of the great map of nature, bounded only by the horizon in the distance and the green slopes at our feet.
Turning toward the west we overlook the housetops of Hudson and beyond them lies the river and above the river rise the Catskills.
This is the cemetery endeared to us as the resting place of our dead, where, with common sentiment, we wish to rest near them in kindred dust, that our Common Council would have us abandon for a new site, for a new burying ground, which would bring many thousand dollars of debt upon the city.
Until, in some distant future, we are forced to the hygienic measure of building a crematory to incinerate our dead because of the encroachments of burying lots into the city streets--until then, let us, for the double sake of economy and associations of "auld lang syne," be content with adding to the old cemetery from purchases of surrounding property.
The letter is appealing for its description of the cemetery and for the insight it provides about how the cemetery was regarded at the end of the 19th century, but it also raises the question: What was "the cemetery question" anyway?

It seems that in 1889, the cemetery was running out of space. The map of the Third Ward from the 1888 Beers Atlas shows the boundaries of the Hudson Cemetery at the time.

In June 1889, an ad hoc committee of the Common Council was formed to study the cemetery problem. The committee's report, which appeared in the Hudson Daily Evening Register on August 26, 1889, summed up the problem:
It has long been apparent that more land would be required for burial purposes and three years ago attention was called to the question of its immediate purchase. At present we have but six lots unsold which can be in any sense considered desirable, the balance being rendered substantially worthless by reason of the large stone drains running through them. The Poor-ground is full to overflowing, bodies having been buried two and three deep. Numbers of people have felt compelled to buy elsewhere, and very many have waited for the acquisition of more land by the city before purchasing family burial plots.
During the summer of 1889, the committee considered a number of different parcels of land, in Hudson and in nearby Greenport--farms identified by the names Parsons, Storm, Brooksbank, Simmons, Cooper, Ten Broeck, Guertin, and McIntyre. What the committee looked at principally was the suitability of the soil for use as a burial ground. After three months of study, the committee made its recommendation to the full Council: the City should purchase the McIntyre farm. The report speaks of the property's "shrubbery, ornamental trees and many natural advantages," which the committee predicted would make it "one of the handsomest cemeteries in the State, which would attract non-residents."

Courtesy Historic Hudson
It would seem that the committee's cemetery location of choice was none other than the estate of Dr. Oliver Bronson, at that time owned by Elizabeth and Matilda McIntyre. Their brother, John F. McIntyre, had purchased it for them in 1883. Could it be that six years later the sisters were willing to sell all or part of it to the City of Hudson for use as a cemetery? Was it the McIntyres who had already sold the western half of the original estate to the State of New York for the Women's House of Refuge, which opened in 1887?

The committee had made its recommendation, but the mayor and the people of Hudson were having none of it. At the Common Council meeting that followed a week or so after the recommendation had been made, the mayor declared his intention to veto any resolution to purchase the McIntyre farm, and a "remonstrance . . . largely signed by taxpayers" was read aloud at the meeting:
To the Common Council of the City of Hudson
We, the undersigned citizens of Hudson, most earnestly protest against the purchase of "The McIntyre Place" for the purposes of a cemetery. . . .
Among other objections, we would urge that it would create a new cemetery entirely separate from the present cemetery, the consequence of which would be the disuse and neglect of the present cemetery.
Most of us have lots, and friends and relatives interred there, and deeply feel the necessity of getting land contiguous to the old cemetery and maintaining it as the cemetery of the city.
The city's population and wealth will not warrant the owning and maintaining of two cemeteries. The old one would be neglected.
The city cannot now afford the outlay required for the purchase and laying out of the proposed new cemetery.
The purchase of the Cooper place (seven acres at $2,000) would meet immediate needs and make accessible other lands at reasonable prices, suitable for burial purposes.
In spite of the remonstrance from citizens and the mayor's promised veto, the Common Council narrowly passed the resolution to purchase the McIntyre place, with five aldermen voting for it and four voting against it.

We know, of course, that the City of Hudson did not acquire "The McIntyre Place." The eastern grounds of the Dr. Oliver Bronson House remain intact. We also know that, in the end, the cemetery was expanded onto land contiguous with the cemetery as it was in 1888, creating Cedar Park Cemetery. How that came to pass is a story for another day. 

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