The village’s largest and most historic cemetery — the burial place of four 19th century congressmen — is about to get a major face-lift.
In an era when many private cemeteries struggle with financial viability, the Ballston Spa Village Cemetery has saved enough money to rebuild its entrance on Garrett Road, across from Ballston Spa Middle School, into something more fitting to the surroundings than the current steel fencing overgrown with vegetation.
“We got a couple of pretty serious bequests that are allowing us to do this entrance,” said Bill Curtiss Jr., president of the cemetery board.
The 60-acre cemetery has more ornate entrances on Ballston Avenue, but the real everyday main entrance — the one funeral processions use — is the one on Garrett Road, with its overgrown look and rough gravel road.
What’s there now is going to be replaced with a widened and paved entrance road, with tall granite columns on either side and a clear identification marker.
Contractor W.J. Morris is expected to start work on the project later this week, with tentative completion by mid-summer.
Curtiss said the goal of the project, whose total cost is about $85,000, is to make the cemetery more attractive and raise its public profile.
“I went to Ballston Spa High School (then across the street), and it was ugly back then,” Curtiss said. “It hasn’t gotten any better.”
The cemetery, which was started by local Baptist pastor Elias Lee in 1803, contains about 10,000 graves, and remains open for business.
The cemetery board decided a couple of years ago that it had enough money to look at entrance improvements. It hired The LA Group of Saratoga Springs, which has done design work for the Saratoga National Cemetery and other national cemeteries.
The start of construction was postponed until after Memorial Day, Curtiss said, because of the number of visitors the cemetery receives over that weekend, with families bringing flowers and other memorial items — or simply remembering lost loved ones and ancestors.
The week before Memorial Day, the cemetery was full of small American flags marking the graves of veterans. It is believed to contain the remains of veterans of every U.S. war since the American Revolution.
The people buried at the Ballston Spa Village Cemetery include John W. Taylor, a lawyer who was born in Charlton and lived in Ballston Spa. He was elected to Congress, serving from 1813 to 1833. He was elected speaker of the House of Representative twice, the only New Yorker ever to hold that powerful position.
Today, however, Taylor’s headstone appears to have been broken, though the top of it, with his name inscribed, is planted upright in the ground. Curtiss said he hopes the cemetery finds money to repair Taylor’s stone.
Other congressman buried in the cemetery are Beriah Palmer, a militiaman during the Revolution who served in Congress in 1803-1804; Anson Brown, a lawyer elected in 1839 who died the following year; and George West. West was one of Ballston Spa’s leading mill owners and industrialists, and among the nation’s wealthiest men; he served in Congress twice, from 1881-83 and 1885-89.
Others buried there range from former slaves to Rebecca Jones, a maid who became notorious in the New York City papers in the 1880s for refusing to discuss her employer’s family business after his death, despite a court order that sent her to jail.
“There’s a lot of history in here,” Curtiss said. “You see the street names here in the village, and then you go in to the cemetery and see the names.”
Once the new entrance is completed, Curtiss said cemetery officials hope move on to develop a master plan for grounds improvements, and to work on creating a “Friends of the Cemetery” organization to help with fundraising and upkeep of the grounds, which are overseen by a part-time paid staff.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 885-6705, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.
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Categories: Schenectady County