AMSTERDAM — Fifty-six graves with headstones at Green Hill Cemetery are in poor condition and to address this, cemetery stewards plan to petition the state for money.
In a legal notice published in Amsterdam’s Recorder newspaper on Wednesday, the Green Hill Cemetery Association took steps to obtain a grant to reset and revive the dilapidated monuments and markers. Some are in such poor condition, according to the advisory, that they could “create an unsafe condition”.
“The cemetery is 175 years old. Many of these people were buried 150 years ago,” said Paul Damiano, president of the association. “Who are you going to contact? »
The nonprofit does not expect relatives of those buried at the sites to materialize – those with names like Cole and Olman, Schoonmaker and Konrad, Gottlieb and Tuft – but the group is obliged to inform the public of its intention to make improvements to the town cemetery.
In the ad, readers interested in the burial plots are urged to repair or remove the markers within 60 days or the cemetery association may do so.
There are no plans to remove any of the markers, Damiano said. The legal step was necessary for the cemetery association to apply again this year for a state grant to repair tombstones that are at risk of falling.
Green Hill Cemetery has received about $20,000 from the state Division of Cemeteries to repair about 20 to 30 markers in each of the past four or five years, Damiano said.
Each year, the cemetery association identifies the markers in the worst condition before requesting the funds. State officials visit the cemetery to select headstones to be included in the financing price.
Without state funding, Damiano said, the nonprofit cemetery association could do little to repair the markers.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” he said.
Many relatives of those buried in the historic cemetery have died or moved away. Sales of plots available for new burials are infrequent and the cemetery does not charge ongoing maintenance fees, Damian said.
Some families have set up trusts to cover the cost of maintaining the graves, but the money doesn’t last forever. Damiano recently received notice from a bank operating a trust for the care of graves. The money is gone and will no longer pay for Christmas decorations on this site.
In another high-profile case, a trust has been set up to care for the resting place of late carpet maker Stephen Sanford. The funds were used over the years to repair the windows of his ornate mausoleum and to repaint a rusting wrought iron fence around the burial site. The fund is still viable, but without this resource, the cemetery will not be able to maintain this upkeep.
The cemetery covers approximately 40 acres and contains over 15,000 graves. To give individual care to each stone would be impossible. Just mowing the grass costs the cemetery association more than $20,000 a year, Damiano said.
With no money, he said the cemetery association raises money every year to help with the maintenance costs of the grounds. Besides mowing, the next priority is to remove trees that may fall and damage the headstones. The association replaces trees with flowering varieties for aesthetic purposes.
The volunteers of the association also take part in the maintenance. Pete Phelps uses his backhoe to reposition markers that appear in danger of falling.
Saving headstones before they are lost forever is priceless, says Jerry Snyder, co-founder of the nonprofit Historic Amsterdam Leader (HAL). He appreciated the existence of the state fund to repair damaged headstones.
“It’s hard to walk near a stone and see it lying on the ground,” Snyder said. “Everyone has a story. They deserve the respect and dignity of having taken care of them. It’s the least we can do.
HAL has traditionally held ghost tours of the cemetery each autumn – sharing true stories of those buried there, from the city’s founders to the everyday people who were just as integral to Amsterdam – in hopes of raising awareness Green Hill Cemetery.
“It’s a huge part of the city’s history,” Snyder said. “It’s just a treasure trove of information.”
The city’s historical group tries to raise awareness of the area’s past to help preserve it. A portion of the proceeds from ghost tours has always been shared with the cemetery association to help maintain Green Hill.
“So many of the oldest cemeteries are struggling for money,” Snyder said. “Maintenance costs are exorbitant.”
Amsterdam already lost two historic cemeteries in the 19th century when land was reclaimed for development. Green Hill Cemetery was established in 1858 to meet the need for a cemetery in the city in an area that would not face similar circumstances. The site was part of the rural cemetery movement which designed burial grounds to also serve as park spaces.
“It was a park where people went to enjoy art, relax and see nature before there were public parks,” Snyder said. “Cemeteries were not just for those who died; they were for those who were still alive.
The cemetery at one time featured flower beds with pathways and a fountain that members of the community could enjoy when visiting. Although many landscaping features have been lost, Snyder said the cemetery is still beautiful.
The headstones themselves are works of art, with ornate details and designs uncommon in modern cemeteries.
“Historically it’s significant because of who’s there, and aesthetically I think it’s a beautiful cemetery,” Snyder said.
If a headstone falls, Damiano said the state does not fund its repair, which means the marker and its history are lost.
“Once they fall, New York State won’t put them back up, nor do we have the kind of money to do that,” Damiano said.
He hopes the Green Hill Cemetery Association grant application will be accepted again this year to help maintain the historic cemetery.
Contact Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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