Narrated tour of Schenectady’s Vale Cemetery to be offered Sunday

People walk through Vale Cemetery in Schenectady on Tuesday, December 15, 2020.

People walk through Vale Cemetery in Schenectady on Tuesday, December 15, 2020.

SCHENECTADY — When thinking of history in the Capital Region, one probably thinks of the Saratoga Battlegrounds, Saratoga Race Course or the Stockade in Schenectady. But the 100-acre Vale Cemetery in Schenectady also holds its own historical gems, several of which will be highlighted Sunday in the second narrated tour of the season.

The tour, which will begin at 2 p.m., will be led by John Gearing, a local historian and author of the book “Schenectady Genesis, Vol.2: Evolution, 1760-1798.” During it, he will detail the essential role that Schenectady played in the Revolutionary War as well as explain how families during this time were often divided due to their Patriot or Loyalist allegiances.

All the while, visitors will visit the graves of the era’s historical figures, including Colonel Van Dyke, who served in the Continental Army for the entirety of the Revolutionary War, prominent militiaman Jellis Fonda, and Andrew Mcfarlan, a merchant who rationed salt, a key wartime commodity to the people.

“There must be eight or nine, maybe 10, of them who cover pretty much the whole range of the Revolution from the early days all the way to the end, whether they were in the militia — which was a volunteer, part-time force — or in the regular army, we had it all,” said Gearing. 

Seeing the gravestones of these figures alongside the tour narration, he said, helps enliven the history and make it easier for people to not only understand but also visualize.

“Standing in a cemetery and there’s a stone with the person’s name on it and dates, it’s easier, I think, to picture what they would’ve looked like fighting in the war, what they would’ve been wearing, how they would’ve lived,” Gearing said. 

The Vale Cemetery, which was founded in 1857 under the Rural Cemetery Movement, holds a rich history of its own. The cemetery, along with its park counterpart, was even listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. 

With its burials of numerous notable scientists, politicians and other military figures, Gearing hopes the tour will not only brighten people’s perspective of Schenectady’s general history but also that of the cemetery. 

“On one hand it may introduce them to the whole idea of what Vale is and how it got there and how long it’s been there,” Gearing said. “And then wakening people up to the depth of our history.”

Although Gearing is looking forward to sharing his vast knowledge of Schenectady, he says he is most excited to simply meet and chat with those that attend the tour.

“I want to see who’s going to come out, I want to see what questions they’ll have — that will be the most interesting thing for me,” Gearing said. “Some of them may have knowledge of their own from their own family histories or from their own study of Schenectady history that they’ll share so there’s a good chance that I’ll learn something on this tour myself and I look forward to that.”

This will be Gearing’s third time hosting a tour like this and, although he has noticed that many residents are aware of Schenectady’s vast history, he thinks it has the potential to expand their perspective of the city and inspire them to learn even more about its past.

“What it might do is change people’s perspectives about Schenectady and its history,” Gearing said. “And it might give them the interest to do their own exploration.”

The tour will be held rain or shine and will begin at 2 p.m. at the Caretaker’s House at 907 State St. Donations of $7 are requested from adults and children are admitted free.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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