A retired Saratoga Springs science teacher, Joanne Blaaubour, has a home in Fish House, a hamlet on the Great Sacandaga Lake in the town of Northampton.
Blaaubour admitted, “Quite honestly I hated history. I was not a fan of it.”
But living in a house built in 1805 led to a passion for history which lately has focused on the people buried next to the former Fish House Presbyterian Church.
Fish House was the name colonial settler Sir William Johnson used to describe his fishing camp on the east shore of the Sacandaga River. Creation of the Sacandaga flood control reservoir in the 1920s permanently flooded about half of Fish House.
In the 1800s, Fish House had hotels, factories and grist mills. Victorian homes were built by wealthy people from downstate. The community was a gateway to the Adirondacks.
After a Presbyterian religious revival in 1814, a wooden Presbyterian Church was built in 1815. In 1859 the wooden church was replaced by a brick structure. Although the last church services were conducted a century ago, the now privately owned building still exists, minus its steeple, but is not safe to enter.
About 70 people are buried next to the church. Blaaubour calls the burial ground a graveyard, not a cemetery, saying that the definition of a graveyard is a burial ground next to a church.
She began her research by cleaning many of the head stones. She has gone on to research the individuals interred there.
Deputy historian of the town of Northampton, Blaaubour has created a website which has photos of the graveyard and information on the deceased, www.northamptonnyhistory.com.
David Marvin was a private in the Connecticut Volunteers in the Revolutionary War. His son was Dr. Langdon Marvin, one of the early doctors of Fish House.
John Fay died in 1855 at age 82. He built the first brick store in the hamlet and the Fish House Hotel. He was elected congressman and appointed postmaster.
Abraham Beecher was a church deacon who died in 1845 at age 75. He was the cousin of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
The deacon’s wife was Lydia Day Fuller Beecher who died in 1847 at age 78. Her great, great grandfather Samuel Fuller came to America on the Mayflower at the age of 12. When Samuel was 27, Captain Myles Standish officiated at Fuller’s marriage to Jane Lathrop in Scituate, Massachusetts.
People who died from 1803 to 1862 were buried at the graveyard. The oldest stone is that of Deacon Beecher’s daughter, Lydia, who died in 1803.
The last person to be buried next to the church was Sarah Fay Cunningham in 1862.
About half of the burials were children 6 and under, presumably victims of diphtheria, cholera, measles and other diseases.
Blaaubour said small stones are a tripping hazard in the graveyard. She thought at first the stones could be children’s graves but found they are what are called foot stones, placed at the feet of the deceased. Christian practice at the time was to bury bodies with the head toward the west and the feet toward the east. Each foot stone has the initials of the buried person.
“The more I delve into this graveyard, the more I want these people to be known,” Blaaubour said.
She added, “These settlers were amazingly brave going into the wilderness and starting up a little town.”
She has asked the town of Northampton to take on the task of mowing the graveyard.
“All the neighbors, including myself, who have been mowing it are now on in their years,” she said.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].