As many as a thousand people lived in the Fulton County hill town of Bleecker in the mid-1800s — families of farmers, lumbermen and workers who supplied the leather mills of Gloversville and Johnstown.
Today’s population in Bleecker is about half that.
St. Joseph’s Church, the first Roman Catholic Church in Fulton County, was built in Bleecker in the 1850s — a two-story white building with a choir loft.
A tower housed a bell and a crucifix was on the peak.
The steeple could be seen for five miles and the bells could be heard for a similar distance.
Land for the church building was donated by Nicholas and Mary Anne Lunkenheimer for one dollar.
Elizabeth Lunkenheimer and two grandchildren were interred in the church cemetery.
Two brothers, Civil War veterans, are buried there, perhaps the only veterans in the graveyard.
Nicholas Reinhart (Rhinehart) was born in Prussia in 1840.
He was a private in Company D, 153rd New York Volunteers.
He died in 1868 from wounds received at the 1864 battle of Opequon, near Winchester, Virginia.
Daniel Rhinehart was born in Prussia in 1843 and died in Bleecker in 1892.
This sergeant’s gravestone indicates he was in Company B of the 10th New York Volunteers.
Francis Unger was born in 1833 in Munich, Germany. He was a carpenter, justice of the peace, and a farmer.
He also served as town clerk.
With his German wife, Ida, they raised six Fulton County offspring.
Faced with declining attendance, St. Joseph’s Church was torn down in 1919.
Parts of the old church were used to build St. Joseph’s Chapel on County Highway 112 in Bleecker in 1920 and St. Barbara’s Chapel of Caroga Lake.
Neither chapel is in use today. Foundation field stones from the original church were used in 1933 to create a shrine, a domed structure that protects a bronze statue of Saint Joseph holding Baby Jesus.
The shrine is still there today.
Retired U.S. Army Col. David Cummings of Schuylerville “got intrigued” with the old St, Joseph’s cemetery when he was a teenager living at his family’s vacation home in Caroga Lake.
The family attended Mass at St. Barbara’s Chapel in Caroga in the summer of 1965.
Cummings’ father volunteered his son’s services to Brother John, a Franciscan who spoke one weekend at St. Barbara’s.
Brother John was on his way to Bleecker to clear brush from St. Joseph’s Shrine and cemetery.
Cummings said his father wanted him to do penance for “some dumb, adolescent deed.” Cummings has forgotten what the deed was.
Cummings has not been able to find Brother John’s last name but said the brother was a huge man and hard worker, reputedly a former lineman for the St. Louis football Cardinals.
Fifty-five years later Cummings returned to Bleecker when he organized volunteers from the Saratoga County chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians to clear brush and clean stones at St. Joseph’s cemetery and shrine this past summer.
Cummings is past president of the Saratoga Hibernians chapter.
Other volunteers from Fulton County also helped as local people have done at the cemetery and shrine through the years.
Cummings is completing a research paper on St. Joseph’s of Bleecker.
He would like to talk with descendants of those buried at the cemetery or people who have memories or photos of the two chapels.
This month the Bleecker Historical Society completed erecting historical markers for town cemeteries by installing a marker on Shrine Road which runs off Persch Road.
According to Town Historian Eleanor Brooks, the marker states that the first burial at St. Joseph’s Cemetery was in 1856.