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Glenville scout gives old cemetery new life

Glenville scout gives old cemetery new life

Glenville scout gives old cemetery new life
Boy Scout Jacob Leffler has restored the Van Patten cemetery end of Stone Arabia Road.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

When Jacob Leffler decided to bury himself into Glenville history last year, he really started digging.

Now a junior at Scotia-Glenville Senior High, Leffler hit the books, surfed the internet and stared at microfilm. He also grabbed a shovel and a rake, and with the help of some fellow boy scouts, Leffler has resurrected a forgotten 19th century cemetery on Stone Arabia Road just off Route 5 west of Scotia.

It all started in September 2018 when Leffler, a member of Boy Scout Troop 3067, was looking for a project to help him get a step closer to becoming an Eagle Scout. His father, whose family has lived in the area on Washout Road in Glenville for five generations, remembered an old neglected cemetery just a few hundred yards west of his home.

"My father grew up around here and had relatives who lived in the house," said Leffler, referring to the home at the end of Stone Arabia Road now owned by Richard and Linda Lewis, who also own the property the cemetery is located on. "My dad was telling me about how the cemetery was run down, and I thought it would be a good Eagle Scout project. I checked it out and decided to do it."

Leffler checked with the Lewises, who just happened to be members of the Schenectady County Historical Society, and they thought it would be a great idea. Richard Lewis, a member of the board at the historical society, helped Leffler get started on the paperwork portion of the project by suggesting he visit the society's Grems-Doolittle Library.

"I went to the historical society and found out a lot about the cemetery, and learned that there had been a Eagle Scout project back in the 1970s that restored it," said Leffler. "When I first went to the cemetery, there wasn't a lot you could see. There were a lot of weeds growing."

There are five gravemarkers in the small cemetery, and while you can barely read the names on just two of them, Leffler was able to discern that the family name was Van Patten. While most of the physical rehab on the cemetery didn't begin until the spring of this year, Leffler spent much of the winter researching the Van Pattens, a name that dates back to the earliest days in Schenectady history. Steering him in the right direction through the shelves at the Grems-Doolittle Library was local attorney John Gearing, who introduced Leffler to two important 19th and early 20th Century Schenectady historians, Jonathan Pearson and Willis Hanson.

"I met with Jacob at the historical society library and showed him how to use Pearson's books and Hanson's "Schenectady in the Revolution" to find out more about the people buried in the cemetery," said Gearing, who is finishing up his own book, "Schenectady Genesis: Volume Two," which should be published in 2020.

Gearing said Leffler's work, both in the library and at the cemetery, was quite commendable.

"He did an excellent job of cleaning up the site, taking steps to protect the stones from encroaching vegetation, putting up fencing, and erecting the informational plaque," said Gearing, who. like Lewis. is a SCHS trustee. "The stones had already fallen and I think Jacob used good judgement in deciding not to stand them up again, as they could have broken in the attempt. If it were a school project, I wouldn't hesitate to give him an A plus."

Leffler quickly points out that he got plenty of help from his parents, his fellow scouts, and their parents as well.

"It really wasn't that challenging, and we had plenty of good workers, including other scouts and their families," said Leffler. "We usually spent a couple of hours there once a week, sometimes twice a week. We got started in April, as soon as the ground got hard enough, and we were done about two weeks before school started."

Along with clearing away the brush and pulling up weeds, Leffler's crew put up a new sign and a black metal fence around the cemetery.

"It took us around 90 hours," said Leffler. "We dug down about four inches, put down some landscaping paper to prevent the weeds from coming back, and then added small stones over the paper to really stop the weeds from growing back. There are five markers, and in the sixth box we just added some different headstone pieces that were just lying around."

Buried in the cemetery are Jesse Cornelius Van Patten (1803-1845), his wife Rebecca, their two children, John and Jane, and another family member also named John.

"The two children, John and Jane, only lived to be about a year old," said Leffler. "The other grave is another John, and we're not sure who he was. It was a good project and a lot of fun to do the research. I was happy to be able to do it."

Linda Lewis was also happy to have Leffler do the work.

"He got in contact with us and absolutely, we thought it would be a great idea," she said. "He did a great job of organizing everyone and getting the work done. The cemetery looks great, and he's a very nice young man."

A ceremony marking the occasion will be held Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the cemetery.

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