The First Burial Place in Buffalo-Its First Occupant-Capt. William Johnston's Burial-The Old Franklin Square Burying Ground-Who Established It-Its First Tenant-Other Prominent Interments-Description of Other City Burying Grounds-The Black Rock Burying Ground -The Matthews & Wilcox Burial Ground-Church Cemeteries-Soldiers' Burial Places-Forest Lawn-Its Beginning, Dedication, etc.-Its Enlargement and Improvement-Value of the Cemetery Property- Dedication Ceremonies.
The beginning of the present century [1800's], as we have before stated in this work, Capt. William Johnston, a British officer, owned a tract of about forty acres of land in the center of what is now the business portion of Buffalo; this tract was bounded on the north by Seneca street; on the west by Washington street; on the south by Little Buffalo Creek and on the east by a line which, with these boundaries, include twenty acres; the line ran parallel with Washington street. On this tract was Captain Johnston's homestead, and there, when the inevitable necessity arose, he laid out a small lot for the burial of the dead, it the corner of what are now Exchange and Washington streets. When the Washington Block was built in 1873-'74, the laborers in the cellar dug up several skeletons.
The first occupant of this primitive cemetery was an infant son of Captain Johnston, and Captain Johnston himself was probably buried there in 1807. Internment's continued there until the village burial ground was established on Franklin Square, where the City and County Hall now stands.
As far as known the prime movers in the establishment of this burial place, as they were in most other public village enterprises at that early period, Captain Samuel Pratt and Dr. Cyrenius Chapin; they went to Batavia in the year 1804 and obtained from the agent of the Holland Land Company a "land contract" for lots 108, 109 111 and 112. This tract was then a most attractive portion of the Terrace. The first silent tenant of this burial ground was John Cochrane, a Connecticut traveler, who died at Barker's tavern, which stood on the Terrace, near the corner of Main street. This interment was probably made considerably prior to 1804, but after a verbal consent had been obtained from the agent of the Land Company to use the land for that purpose, tradition makes the second occupant of this ground a very tall Indian, whose stature had given him the appellation of "The Infant." In March, 1815,-the noble old Indian chief, "Farmer's Brother," was interred there, with military honors. A tablet bearing the chief's initials in brass nails was found when the bodies were removed from this old burial place to Forest Lawn; but it disappeared in some unknown manner. The title to this ground was not secured from the Land Company until 1821; the reason for this delay is, that there was no village corporation at first to hold the gift, and the matter was afterwards neglected upon the theory that after so many years peaceable possession the property belonged to the village. The lots in this cemetery were not owned by individuals, but were assigned to them by the trustees. Burials were almost entirely discontinued in this ground in 1832; the last one was made in 1836, under special permit, being the body of the wife of Hon. Samuel Wilkeson, daughter of the pioneer, Gamaliel St. John. This ground was used by families living as far from the village as "the Plains" until 1832, when the cholera epidemic caused its disuse.
The Cold Spring Burying Ground
-Some years prior to the war of 18l2, there was a small burying ground on farm lot No. 59, now the southwest corner of Delaware and Ferry streets. Mr. Hodge says he remembers being present at burials in that ground, when he was a boy; among them being a child of Mr. Seth Granger, and a child of a Mr. Caskey; those burials were made before the war [of 1812]. There, too, were buried the mutilated remains of poor brave Job Hoysington, who was killed and scalped by the Indians on the morning of December 30, 18l3. Hoysington's remains were removed to Forest Lawn in 1850, with those of most of the others who had been buried in the rural cemetery-nearly one hundred in all. This ground was never formally granted for a cemetery, but was used by the consent of the owner. When Ferry street was graded and widened in 1876, a good many bones were unearthed, which were humanely taken by Mr. Hodge and placed in Forest Lawn with the others that had been removed there.
About the year 1830, Hon. Lewis F. Allen bought on his own account of judge Ebenezer Walden, five acres of land on the southwest corner of Delaware and North street, for the purpose of establishing a cemetery. Through his efforts an association was formed composed of the following named persons: Lewis F. Allen, George B. Webster, Russell H. Heywood, Herman B. Potter and Hiram Pratt, as trustees; the tract was surveyed by Joseph Clary and laid out in lots, a considerable number of which were sold. But the small size of the lot rendered it difficult of suitable improvement, and by the encroachments of dwellings, the tract could not long be used as a cemetery; the bodies were accordingly removed to Forest Lawn in the year 1865. The property now belongs to the Forest Lawn Association, and will, in all probability, soon be occupied with private dwellings.
The Potters Field.
-In the year 1832 Buffalo was incorporated as a city, and at the same time it was compelled to face the prospect of a visitation of the cholera epidemic that was then sweeping across the country-a prospect that was realized in the loss of many of the inhabitants of the place. To decrease the risks of contagion from the epidemic, burials were prohibited in the Franklin square burying ground and five acres of land were bought of William Hodge, on farm lot No. 30, and lying between North and Best streets, west of Prospect street, for a common burial place, or "Potters Field;" a portion of this tract was set apart for the use of the Roman Catholics, to be consecrated according to their form.
The Black Rock Burial Ground.
-When the original survey of the village of South Black Rock was made, in 1804 or 1805, lots Nos. 41 and 42 were appropriated by the State for burial purposes; but the land was found to be too low and consequently was not much used, people preferring to carry their dead to the Franklin Square burying ground, or elsewhere. When the village of Black Rock was incorporated, Colonel William A. Bird, in the interest of the corporation, negotiated an exchange of these two lots for one on higher ground; this was lot No. 88 on North street, since known as the Black Rock burying ground. It was bounded by Jersey, Pennsylvania and Fourteenth streets, and the Mile strip, now -"The Avenue." When North street was opened through this burying ground, a small triangle was left on the south side and within the old limits of Buffalo city. By an arrangement with the authorities of Black Rock this small tract was used as a "Potters Field," for the paupers who died at the poor house, which stood a little to the west of it. The principal part of the lot was used for many years by the inhabitants of Black Rock, but burials were finally discontinued there and the land was donated to the Charity Foundation of the Episcopal Church. Lots in this cemetery were assigned to individuals in the same manner adopted in the Franklin Square ground.* When Forest Lawn was established, many of the dead were removed from this old burial ground by their friends. Since then the grading of Rogers street and the Circle has exhumed many bones of dead buried there, which have been deposited in Forest Lawn. It is not known just when burials were first made in this old ground, but it was probably as early as 1820.
The Bidwell Farm Burying Ground.
-What was once known as "The Bidwell Farm," was situated on the old "Gulf Road," now Delevan Avenue; on this farm there was a place for the burial of the dead before the Guide Board Road ground was opened. The Gulf road crossed Main street just south of the bridge over the "Conjockety " creek, a little east of which bridge it crossed the creek; to the westward it crossed a deep gulf made by the stream flowing from the Jubilee spring, which fact gave the road its name. Interments were made on this farm from 1811 to 1825.
The Matthews and Wilcox Burying Grounds.
-In 1833-34 a private cemetery was inaugurated by General Sylvester Matthews and Birdseye Wilcox; it was located on farm lot N0. 30, adjoining the five acres before referred to as having been bought by the city in 1832, for a Potters Field, and comprised twelve acres. The land was well adapted for its purpose and it was quite extensively improved -, numerous lots were sold to individuals, who devoted considerable effort to their improvement and decoration. When Forest Lawn was established, this cemetery was somewhat neglected for several years; but renewed interest was exhibited in it at a later date. The Hodge family, who had purchased two lots in the grounds, paid for them by planting locust trees around the enclosure and on each side of the carriage ways and walks, which added greatly to the beauty of the place. In 1853 the lot owners became dissatisfied with the manner in which the proprietors managed the cemetery, raised the necessary fund by subscription, for the purchase of the property, and in 1854, the "Buffalo Cemetery Association" was incorporated. This Association paid $5,000 for the Matthews and Wilcox interest, and since then the cemetery has been improved and properly cared for.
Following are brief records of the various church and miscellaneous burial places that have been established in Buffalo, the greater portion of which are now in use --
Cemetery of St John's Church, (German.)
-This enclosure is the property of the German Evangelical Lutherans, and, is located on the corner of the Pine Hill and Pine Ridge roads. It contains several acres and was purchased in 1858. The first burial was made there on July 6th, 1859.
Holy Rest Cemetery, (German Lutheran Trinity)
-This cemetery is located at Pine Hill and contains but three acres; it was opened in 1859.
Zion Church Cemetery
-This cemetery is also located at Pine Hill; it contains four acres and belongs to the German Evangelical Reformed Zion Church. A portion of the enclosure is used by the Salem Evangelical Mission, of Zion Church. The cemetery was opened about the year 1859-
-This burial ground is used in common by the German Evangelical St. Peter's, the German Evangelical St. Stephen's and the First German Lutheran congregations. It is situated on Genesee street between the New York Central and the Erie railway crossings. It comprises fifteen acres, which were purchased in 1858 and were opened in 1859.
St. Matthew's Church Cemetery
- Located on Clinton street, near the Sulfur Springs Orphan Asylum. This cemetery contains ten acres and was opened in 1875; it is handsomely laid out and well kept.
Black Rock German Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery
-This burial place is on Bird street and contains about five and one-quarter acres. It was opened in 1870.
Besides these there are the Mount Hope cemetery, located at Pine Hill, which is private property; the Howard Free cemetery, at Pine Hill, also private property, and used exclusively by people outside of the city; and the Reservation cemetery, the old Indian burying ground, on the continuation of Seneca street, where the remains of Red Jacket were laid, whence they were removed to the Cattaraugus Reservation in 1852.
Old St. Louis Cemetery
-There are or have been seven cemeteries under control of the Roman Catholics of Buffalo. Old St. Louis cemetery was located on Edward street, near Main, the ground for which was donated by the benevolent Mr. Louis LeCouteulx. Burials were first made here in 1830. The use of the ground for that purpose was prohibited in 1832, as had been necessary in other cases. The New St. Louis cemetery was then established and the remains were removed from the old grounds and reinterred in the new; the old ground was used as the site of the priest's dwelling.
The New St. Louis Cemetery
-Mr. Hodge thus designates the lot originally set off from the Potter's Field; it is located between North and Best streets, with a front of eighty-eight feet on each, and contains perhaps an acre of ground. It was opened in 1832
Old St. Mary's Cemetery
-This burial place contains about one and a half acres located on the southeast corner of Johnson and North streets. It was opened in 1845 and closed in 186o. Many of the remains buried there have been removed to the new ground at Pine Hill.
St. Francis Xavier Cemetery
-This cemetery is located at North Buffalo (Black Rock) and was opened in 1850; it is still in use. It contains about two acres and is situated near the crossing of Bird street by the Falls branch of the New York Central road. St. John's church at North Buffalo also has the use of this ground.
St. Joseph's Cemetery
-This burial ground is situated near the poor house, on the "Buffalo Plains," about five miles from the center of the city. It contains about six acres and was opened in 1850; it is now in use.
Holy Cross Cemetery
- is located at Limestone Hill. It was opened in 1855 and contains about eighty acres. The title to this ground is in the Bishop, and it is used exclusively for the burial of those of Irish birth; in these respects it differs from all other Catholic cemeteries in Buffalo.
United German and French Catholic Cemetery
-This cemetery originally contained fourteen acres, which were purchased in 1858, and opened for burials the following year; this original tract is now entirely filled with graves, and in 1870 twenty-eight acres additional were purchased. This cemetery, as its name indicates, is used for the German and French Catholics, it is a corporation under the control of trustees, and into it have been merged all the Roman Catholic cemeteries in the city, except the one at Limestone Hill, referred to above. It is laid out with excellent taste and the grounds have been beautified until it is a very attractive spot.
-Following are the names and records of the burial places used by the Jewish nationality in Buffalo.
The Bethel Society was organized in 1847, and in 1849 purchased ground for a burial-place, fronting on what is now Fillmore avenue, between Batavia [in 2001 Batavia is known as Broadway St. and Sycamore streets; the lot contains three and a half acres, only a portion of which were opened to burials. This land was originally owned by Mr. Elias Bernheimer, whose wife was the first person buried there. Of Mr. Bernheimer the Jacobson Society (German) had also obtained permission to make interments on the lot. After Pine Hill became the site of several cemeteries, the Bethel Society purchased about two and a half acres there, and in 1861 opened the burial-ground that is now known by their name. The Jacobson Society was succeeded by the Beth Zion, which also purchased a burying-ground at Pine Hill; the Temple Society afterwards united with the Beth Zion, forming the Temple Beth Zion, the last mentioned ground became the property of the united societies, and is now known as the Temple Beth Zion Cemetery. It has a front of sixty feet and a depth of four hundred and fifty feet. The original cemetery lot on Fillmore street has been sold to private- parties with the express understanding that the burial-places shall be permanently kept fenced and protected.
-The following account of the different places that have been devoted to the burial of dead soldiers in and around Buffalo, is condensed from Mr. Hodge's interesting paper before referred to:-- It is in the memory of some yet living that the American bank of Niagara river at Black Rock and the banks of Conjockety creek adjacent, were the grounds of several hard contested battles in which many were killed and afterwards buried on the battle-field. Many also were buried here who died of sickness in the barracks of our Grand Battery and in the barracks on the bank of Conjockety creek. There is no doubt that hundreds of unknown soldiers are buried here, and as these grounds have been plowed over and over again, it is impossible to detect their individual resting places until excavations are made.
The remains of many are also scattered along the line of Main street from Flint Hill to the Terrace. Bones of soldiers have been exhumed within the last few ears at the junction of Lafayette and Washington streets. They have been found also on the Terrace near St. Josephs College, on the bank of the river at Black Rock, and in various places on Main street. Time and the march of improvement alone can bring to light the bones of the majority of our dead soldiers, as the government was not so careful of them formerly as now. It would, of course, be impossible to identify all the places in this region where our Nation's dead have been buried; but some of the more important ones may be noted.
-During the war of 1812, there were many soldiers, and doubtless some military attaches of the army, buried in and about the Terrace. There was a battery erected on the Terrace to defend the water approach by the channel of the creek, near the opening about at the foot of Genesee street. By this approach the wounded in the various contests of 1814 were brought to the hospital on the Terrace, and the dead of the hospital were buried near it. When Church and Delaware streets were graded, many skeletons were dug up during the progress of the work; one was in a coffin and had military trappings on that indicated the wearer to have been a lieutenant in the army.
-In 1814, when our army held Fort Erie, the ferrying place across the river was near Sandy Town, which was quite a noted spot. A number of wooden houses had been built in rear of the beach, behind the immense sand-hills that existed in the early part of the century. Some of them were used as hospitals for the sick and wounded as they were brought from Canada, and the dead were buried in the sandbanks adjacent. Many bodies were washed out into the lake in after years. Human bones have even been tossed carelessly about with laugh and jest by those engaged in carting sand to Buffalo. As late as 1830, it was a common thing for the schoolboys to go there on a Saturday afternoon and dig for relics, buttons, etc.; and often they exhumed the bones perhaps of those to whom these belonged. But the great storm of 1844 washed away the sand-hills, and then were plainly to be seen the traces of the line of huts, the foundations of the chimneys, officers' quarters, etc.
-While our Kentucky riflemen were stationed on the south bank of Conjockety creek, in 18l4, there were many graves made near by for those who sickened and died, and also for those who were killed in the battle that took place there in that year. Those soldier graves have all since been leveled; no mark is left to designate them.
-Many graves were on or near the premises of Colonel William A. Bird, Sr. In the battle of July 11, 18l3, at Black Rock, in which Colonel Bishop was killed, and Captain Saunders was wounded and taken prisoner by our men, there were eight British and three American soldiers killed; they were buried on the brow of the river bank, back of Colonel Bird's house. From his residence south as far as Albany street, there were at the close of the war many grave mounds, which since that time have all been leveled.
The Grave in the "Park Meadow"
-General Smyth's regulars were encamped in the fall and winter of 1812, on Flint Hill. During this time there prevailed among them a typhoid epidemic. Deprived as they were of comfortable hospitals and a sufficient supply of medical agents, it carried off about three hundred of them. They were put into plain pine board coffins, furnished by William Hodge, Sr., and temporarily buried near the south line of the "Chapin Place" but the rock came so near the surface that their graves could not be more than about a foot in depth. The ensuing spring they were removed some distance to the north side of the farm, where the ground was a sandy loam and easily dug. Leave to bury them there being given by the respective owners of the farms, Capt. Rowland Cotton and Dr. Daniel Chapin, they were deposited directly on the dividing line between these farms, in one common grave. Dr. Chapin planted two yellow willows, one at each end of the grave, which have become large trees, and are yet (1880) growing, the grave itself remaining undisturbed to this day.
-There is a burying ground here for United States soldiers dying while stationed at Buffalo. The first interment was made in 1867.
Forest Lawn Cemetery
-We come now to the consideration of Forest Lawn Cemetery - the lovely spot that is now and must be for many future years the resting place of so many of the sons and daughters of this city. We have left the record of this beautiful "city of the dead" for the close of this chapter, as it is the latest as well as the grandest result of the efforts that have been made to provide this great city with a suitable and satisfactory home for her beloved dead-a home of such spacious proportions that its wide-spreading lawns, its shady groves, its green valleys and sloping knolls will not be fully peopled with its silent tenants for many, many years. No one will question the wisdom of providing such a place and all will commend the broad and beneficent plan which underlies the management of this beautiful cemetery.
The original Forest Lawn Cemetery contained about eighty acres of land which were purchased by the late Mr. Charles E. Clark.
Source: Smith, Perry, H. ed. History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of its Prominent Citizens. D. Mason & Co. Publishers, Syracuse, N.Y. 1884. Vol. I, II.
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