Almond – During the past four years, two Almond men have pursued a hobby that might not appeal to the superstitious.
But to John Reynolds and Wayne Kellogg, locating and exploring old abandoned and forgotten cemeteries is a most interesting and informative pastime.
Reynolds has been interested in Almonds history since the late 1930’s when he read a newspaper article relating how some local towns acquired their names.
“I was curious, did a little research at the library and then wrote an article on how Almond received its unusual name. It was published, and that prompted further research. I began to delve into other features of local history, particularly information about the original pioneers. I wanted to know who they were, where they located and other interesting information about them Finally, I became curious as to where these early settlers were buried. That is when I started looking around in the old cemeteries,” Reynolds related.
Reynolds “cemetery diary” begins on Oct 29, 1944 when on that Sunday afternoon, he and his son, John, visited several old cemeteries in Karr Valley. From the gravestones found amid the tangle of briars and wild rosebushes, a listing was started that now includes nearly 400 names, exclusive of the present cemeteries. Woodlawn and Karr, all within the Almond township.
Believed to be the oldest cemetery in town is the one on the Robert Davidson property in Karr Valley.
The first burial there was in 1800, and the gravestone can be made out only as “John Clan..” Reynolds noted. Matthew McHenry, one of the original pioneers of 1796 who died in the 1813 epidemic, is buried there. Silas Ferry, who cut the first road through the forest to Angelica and whose death occurred in 1819 while fighting a forest fire, is also buried there. Eleven graves are marked with headstones. As in all old cemeteries in the town, many graves are marked only with fieldstone placed at head and foot of the grave, with no names or dates, except in one or two instances where the date was carved in roughly, apparently with a chisel, Reynolds said.
Farther up Karr Valley, there is another pioneer cemetery on the bank directly across the road from the property formerly owned by Archie Makeley.
“Well over half of the graves in that cemetery are unmarked, and the stones are tipped over and removed from their original locations. None are standing upright, and trees have grown up,” Reynolds stated.
The pair did find, however, the broken gravestone of Joseph Rathbun, Almond’s first schoolteacher, and his wife, Priscilla. “In the log school house that stood a short distance away, and also in Canisteo, Rathbun taught the pioneer children, receiving as his pay, ‘a bushel of wheat at market price or the estimation there of.” Reynolds related. “He also served as town clerk of Canisteo of which Almond was then a part,” he went on.
The cemetery searching activities of Reynolds were curtailed for several years but interest remained. After his retirement in 1961, he enlisted another kindred soul in his explorations. Wayne Kellogg, who substitutes on the rural mail route when he is not working in Kellogg’s Grocery Store, told Reynolds of a cemetery about which he had heard. Kellogg also agreed to go with him to locate the place.
Since then, they have gone together, spending several hours at each site, discovering names, dates, and listing such information about the community’s predecessors.
“We take an iron bar along with us, and prod around to find the stones that have fallen and have been covered with myrtle or earth thrown up by a burrowing woodchuck to a depth of several inches,” Kellogg noted. “Woodchuck burrow deep and old neglected cemeteries are a favorite habitat for them,” the pair went on. “Once we found a casket handle that these animals had brought up” Kellogg said.
Very often the stones are so covered with a fungus type growth or are so weather-beaten that they are illegible. “We many times have to rub off the growth with steel wood to get down to the letters, and then shade the writing over with chalk to decipher the names,” they said.
Perhaps one of the most interesting and touching family cemeteries the duo discovered is the small plot of the Major family in Karr Valley back of the old stone house. Reynolds explained that Stephen Major and his wife, the former Elizabeth Karr, and her three brothers, Samuel, Walter, and Joseph, came from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and settled in what was later known as Karr Valley.
Major, a tailor by trade, lived to the “ripe old age of 77” Reynolds went on. During his lifetime, he built the historic landmark, the huge fieldstone house in Karr Valley, destroyed by fire several years ago, behind which the family plot is located.
“Originally the plot was surrounded by a stone wall about four feet high, but the rear wall only now remains standing. At one time a stone which has long since toppled, stood at his grave, on which the following epitaph is carved, which is the life history of Stephen Major:” Reynolds told.
“From Ireland, his native land
He immigrated here to dwell
When this was but a wilderness
Resounding by the savage yell
Here he rose to imminence
Believed by all both far and near
And while possessing competence
Bequeathed to his children dear.
This sacred spot he called his own
But only one reserve he made
Here he requested to be laid
Encompassed by a wall of stone.
Here let his sleeping dust remain
Until the last long trumpet sound
Shall bid it rise to live and reign
Where everlasting joys abound”.
Hours of work piecing together the face of a stone was spend by the pair in another family plot located in the woods a short distance up the road from the Major cemetery. The small area contains only two marked graves, those of a Rathbun family. Kellogg and Reynolds found the pieces of the front of the stone, which had flaked off by frost and weathering. Piecing them together as a jig-saw puzzle, they determined that the name was Lynd .Rathbun on one grave.
Reynolds later verified the name as Lynda Rathbun from church records. They still have not been able to determine the identity of the second grave. Many others in the area are unmarked, with only fieldstones marking the graves.
A once beautiful resting place for several prominent 19th century families, but which is now an overgrown tangle of weeds, brambles and large trees still intrigues the pair.
The Tefft cemetery, located on the Turnpike Road off McHenry Valley, is believed to be so named because of the fact that the graves of the Teffts greatly outnumber all the others..”Fifteen of the 40 stones we have catalogued belong to members of that family,’ Reynolds remarked. “A few other old Turnpike families are also represented here, the Barbers, Vincents, Burdicks, Odells, Watkins, Halseys, Harris, Reeds and Saunders,” the historian said.
“Two men are buried here in this forgotten bramble who are as much a part of the honored dead as those buried in Arlington,” Reynolds noted. Both gave their lives on the field of battle that the Union might be preserved. They are Sylvester V. Barber and Eli S. B. Vincent.”
Barber was just 26 years old when he died Oct 28, 1864, while serving with the 9th New York Heavy Artillery, from wounds received in the Battle of Cedar Creek, VA. A short epitaph on his gravestone reads, “His toils are past, his work is done, He fought the fight, his victory won.”
Eli S. B. Vincent was a member of a sharp shooting company and was wounded by a sniper’s bullet at Devil’s Den during the Battle of Gettysburg, from which he died two weeks later.