SCHENECTADY – When you think of the history of the Capital Region, you probably think of the Saratoga Battlefields, the Saratoga Racecourse, or the Schenectady Stockade. But the 100-acre Vale Cemetery in Schenectady also has its own historic gems, several of which will be brought to light on Sunday during the second narrated tour of the season.
The tour, which will begin at 2 p.m., will be led by John Gearing, local historian and author of the book “Schenectady Genesis, Vol.2: Evolution, 1760-1798”. During it, he will detail the pivotal role Schenectady played in the Revolutionary War and explain how families during this time were often divided because of their Patriot or Loyalist allegiances.
Throughout, visitors will visit the graves of historical figures of the time, including Colonel Van Dyke, who served in the Continental Army throughout the Revolutionary War, prominent militiaman Jellis Fonda and Andrew Mcfarlan, a merchant who rationed salt, a key wartime commodity for the people.
“There must be eight or nine, maybe 10, who pretty much run the gamut of the Revolution from the early days to the end, whether they were in the militia – which was a voluntary force at part-time — or in the regular army, we had it all,” Gearing said.
Seeing the gravestones of these characters alongside the tour narration, he said, helps enliven the story and make it easier to understand, but also to visualize.
“Standing in a graveyard and there’s a stone with the person’s name on it and dates, I think it’s easier to imagine what they would have looked like fighting in the war, what they would have worn , how they would’ve lived,” Gearing said.
Vale Cemetery, which was founded in 1857 as part of the Rural Cemetery Movement, has a rich history of its own. The cemetery, along with its park counterpart, was even listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
With its burials of many scientists, politicians and other notable military figures, Gearing hopes the tour will illuminate not only people’s perspective on the general history of Schenectady, but also that of the cemetery.
“On the one hand, it can introduce them to the whole idea of what Vale is and how it got there and how long it’s been there,” Gearing said. “And then waking people up to the depth of our story.”
Although Gearing is eager to share his vast knowledge of Schenectady, he says he’s very happy to just meet and chat with those attending the tour.
“I want to see who’s coming out, I want to see what questions they’ll have – that’s going to be the most interesting thing for me,” Gearing said. “Some of them may have their own knowledge from their own family histories or their own study of Schenectady history that they will share, so chances are I will learn something myself on this tour and I can’t wait to be there.”
This will be the third time Gearing has organized a tour like this and while he has noticed that many locals are aware of Schenectady’s extensive history, he believes it has the potential to broaden their perspective of the town. and inspire them to learn even more about his past. .
“What it might do is change people’s perspectives on Schenectady and its history,” Gearing said. “And that might give them the interest to do their own exploration.”
The tour will take place rain or shine and will begin at 2 p.m. from the warden’s house at 907 State St. Donations of $7 are requested from adults and children are admitted free.
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