Park View Cemetery built in early 1900s as rural, scenic change from Vale

While Schenectady’s most prominent citizens had typically been interred at Vale Cemetery over the se

Gerardus Smith and his younger brother Everett always seemed to be at odds. One was a Democrat, the other a Republican; one was president of Schenectady Trust Co., the other of Schenectady Savings Bank.

How these differences affected family gatherings we can only guess, but one thing is certain. When it came to a final resting place, the brothers concurred. They would be buried at Park View Cemetery.

While Schenectady’s most prominent citizens had typically been interred at Vale Cemetery over the second half of the 19th century, in 1901 there was suddenly another option. With the city in the middle of a population boom, Gerardus Smith, generally recognized as the founder of the Daily Gazette Company in 1894, and a few of his associates took it upon themselves to form a private company and create another cemetery in what was then the outskirts of the city. Situated on Fehr Avenue next to Central Park — which arrived on the scene a decade later — Park View offered a more country-like setting than Vale, which was built in 1854.

“Vale had become surrounded by the city by then, and I’m sure Park View offered a more rural, more pastoral and peaceful setting,” said Union College professor Robert Wells, whose book, “Facing the ‘King of Terrors:’ Death and Society in an American Community, 1750-1990,” looks at the culture of death and dying in Schenectady.

Recurring pattern

“Typically, cemeteries would be located at the edge of a city, and as that city grows new cemeteries would be built in the outskirts. Building Park View was just a recurring pattern that went on throughout the country. In the 1930s [1932], Schenectady Memorial Park was created out in Rotterdam and that repeated the process.”

Smith, who ran for mayor and lost in 1893, died in 1920. Everett, who was mayor from 1891 to 1893, died in 1945 and is also buried in the family plot, which includes a 40-foot obelisk, the highest in the cemetery.

“Usually you’d have a big monument in the middle of a family plot, and then individual smaller markers for the people buried there,” said Wells. “It was sort of an Egyptian revival style that was really popular from around 1830-1880 and was still used into the 20th century. But by that point, people had become mobile enough and families had scattered. There was no longer a point to buying a big plot for 20 or 30 people.”

Another change is Park View’s status as a business. It is now a not-for-profit cemetery association owned by the families of those buried there. James Hayden, a coal shoveler at the Rotterdam Pumping Station and a former coachman for Schenectady mayor Charles Duryee, was the first person to be buried there on July 11, 1901. In April 1902, a large group of graves from the Van Voast family farm were moved into Park View, the oldest belonging to Mary Teller, who had died in 1813.

“The stones are pretty worn back, but we can tell that 44-year-old Mary Teller died in 1813,” said Charley St. Andrews, manager of Park View for the past 14 years and a 20-year employee there. “A number of small family cemeteries were moved to Park View, but the Van Voast cemetery had the most removals, 31, and it was their farm that covered much of where the cemetery now is.”

Park View encompasses about 50 acres these days, but the original land purchase by Smith and his group included 191 acres, stretching all the way from State Street to Union Street. Most of that land was never developed for cemetery use and was sold off. The building that St. Andrews now uses for an office, just off Fehr Avenue, was originally the vault storage.

Also on the grounds are a crematorium and a mausoleum where among those entombed are Walter R.G. Baker (WRGB), a General Electric executive and first chairman of the National Television System Committee; Charles Carl of The Carl Company; and Wallace Armer of Wallace Armer Hardware.

Also buried in the cemetery are William Darling, a GE executive who built the GE Realty Plot; Johnny Grabowski, a second-string catcher on the 1927 Yankees who moved to Guilderland and died in 1943 following a fire in his Guilderland home; and Rev. Horace G. Day, an abolitionist and roommate of U.S. president Chester A. Arthur at Union College.

Along with St. Andrews, Park View employs three full-time workers and one part-time.

“Before there were propane frost removers, the remains were kept in the vault, but nowadays we’re open the whole year,” said St. Andrews. “New York State law says that cemeteries have to offer winter burials.”

Each grave is 40 inches wide by 10 feet long at Park View, and while St. Andrews can’t tell you the story behind every person buried there, he’s working on it.

“We have Civil War soldiers and other leading members of the community buried here,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed history, and I’ve really become more interested in the history of this place over the last few years. We have a gentleman who served with Custer, fortunately before the Little Big Horn, and we have a lady who survived the Titanic. I’ve been doing a little research, and when I find some more time, I’m going to do some more. It’s very interesting.”

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