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Cemeteries of Madison County, NY

 

Burials in the Madison Street Cemetery

Town of Hamilton

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Appendix 2 - History of the Madison Street Cemetery

Stretching for nearly an eighth of a mile along Madison Street at the northern edge of the Village 
of Hamilton is the so-called "Madison Street Cemetery," the oldest extant burying ground within 
the corporation limits. Graves of many pioneer settlers from the area are to be found there. 
Though now largely filled, gravesites are still available and burials occasionally take place 
there. On the surface it appears to be a unitary, if somewhat irregularly shaped, tract. It is, 
in fact, the final amalgamation of three separate cemeteries and an annex.

The history of today's cemetery begins in 1829. On 11 April of that year the Trustees of the 
Society of the Second Congregational Church of Hamilton, NY empowered a Mr. Moore to represent 
them in conversations with the Baptist Society of Hamilton relative to the establishment of a 
new burying ground.<1> (Each of these organizations then had an existing cemetery: the Baptists 
on Lebanon Street, just west of the present day intersection of Lebanon and Eaton Streets, the 
Congregationalists on the west side of Broad Street, at approximately No. 50.) If the talks were 
held, they apparently failed to produce an agreement between the groups for on 2 March 1830 the 
Congregational Trustees voted to raise $200 so that they might purchase one and one-quarter acres 
of land from Thomas Wylie.<1> It was not until 9 January 1833 that the transaction was completed 
and a deed, which specified that the property was "intended for a burying Ground," was given.<2>

Burials must have begun immediately afterwards for there are gravestones in this part of the cemetery 
with death dates of 1832 and 1833. Surprisingly, remains from the "old" Presbyterian Burying Ground, 
on Broad Street, are said to have been removed and reinterred Baptist Burying Ground, though this may 
have been done prior to establishment of the "new" Presbyterian Burying Ground on Madison Street.<3> 
(Though owned by the Congregational Church, both the cemetery on Broad Street and the one on Madison 
Street were widely known as "Presbyterian" burying grounds.) Obviously the new cemetery was not well 
maintained. An article in the Democratic Reflector of 4 June 1846 claimed that the "Presbyterian 
Burying Ground is in nearly as bad a condition as the Baptist on Lebanon Street." Two weeks later 
the same paper stated that part of the cemetery was being used for a corn field, complete with a 
scarecrow; that thistles and alder bushes almost hid the graves; that boys sneaking away from home
played cards there; and that the plot was enclosed with a "miserable shabby fence."<4>

The criticism may have struck home but the Congregational Trustees were evidently not in a financial 
position to correct the deficiencies. It was probably at their instigation that the Village Trustees 
agreed to submit to the voters a proposal for purchase of the cemetery. On 15 Nov 1849 the electors 
voted to buy, for the $120 outstanding on the mortgage, the Presbyterian Burying Ground for use as a 
municipal cemetery. <5> Eleven days later the trustees of the Second Congregational Society acted to 
convey the property and a deed, dated 21 December 1849, was issued. This document describes the tract
as being on the west side of Madison Street, where it extended ten rods north and south and twenty rods east 
and west.<5>Over the next several years, the Village Trustees did much to improve the condition of the property. 
In addition to regular maintenance, such as pruning, cutting brush and mowing, a program of capital improvements 
was undertaken. A plank walk to "the north burying ground" was funded in 1853 and hitching posts were erected in 
front of the graveyard in 1858. The following year the tax warrant included $73.00 for "further" improvement, an 
amount which was raised to $100 in 1860. An evergreen hedge was planted along the east side of the cemetery in 
1864 while a new fence along the western boundary was recommended in 1868.<6>

The second of the cemeteries on Madison Street had its origins in the purchase by William Cobb, in 1837, 
from Rufus and Eliza Bacon of a tract to the north of the Presbyterian Burying Ground.<7> The grantors 
reserved a quarter-acre plot adjacent to the cemetery but, two years later, Cobb was able to buy this, 
giving him title to all the land between the cemetery and the Village line.<8> It was evidently his 
intention from the first to use this tract as a private cemetery. While the date of the first burial 
in what came to be known as the "Cobb Cemetery Grounds" has not been determined, gravestone dates 
suggest that it was in use as a burying ground by 1842. Both William Cobb and his wife, Almira H., 
are interred here. In 1857 Cobb seems to have decided that not all of the land would be required for 
burials for he sold the westerly portion of the property to Ralph and Vashti Thompson, of Hamilton.<9>

On 24 July 1865, Sanford Gardner and his wife Elizabeth sold to Lewis Wickwire, Nelson Baker, Andrew 
Onderdonk and Elihu Walker a tract of land immediately to the south of the Presbyterian Burying Ground.<10> 
Fronting on Madison St., this became the nucleus of the third cemetery. A year later the quartet purchased 
additional land, from David W. and Lurena Ingalls, which more than doubled their holdings. Though no 
documentation has been found other than this deed, the new owners are referred to therein as the "Lewis 
Wickwire Vault Co."<11> Two stone vaults were erected on the property; however the date of their construction 
is not known. Gravestones in this section show death dates earlier than the 1865 purchase date but it is 
impossible to tell whether this indicates prior use as a grave yard or whether these were reinterments from 
elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the sorry condition of the old Baptist Burying Ground on Lebanon St. continued to be commented on. 
Its condition led to the removal of many remains and their reinterment on Madison St. Deacon Charles C. Payne, for 
example, in 1875 began to relocate, to the Cobb Cemetery, the remains of his family, "first opening the grave of 
his father's first wife Polly (Brooks) Payne, wife of Elishal...who was buried some eighty years ago, and it is 
understood to be the grave of the first white person ever buried in Hamilton."<12> In 1897 the decision was made 
to close the cemetery on Lebanon  Street.<13> The village moved the graves of those for whom no relatives could 
be found, placing the remains in ground which it had purchased from John and Anna Brown, in 1899, west of the 
municipal cemetery.<14>

The administrative confusion which must have resulted from the existence of three separate but adjacent 
cemeteries was somewhat relieved by the formation of the Madison Street Union Cemetery Association in 1882. 
Authorized by a special act of the State Legislature, the new body was made up of "persons owning lots... 
in the grounds known as the Cobb grounds and in the grounds known as the Onderdonk, Wickwire, Baker and 
Walker grounds now inclosed, used and mostly sold for burial purposes, situated in the Village of Hamilton, 
New York ..." <15>

For the next sixty-five years the situation remained unchanged. In 1947 the Trustees of the Madison Street 
Union Cemetery Association reached an agreement with the Village whereby the latter would take over its 
maintenance and operation, but not ownership.<16> Finally, in April 1972 the Cemetery Association Trustees 
and the Village Trustees passed resolutions transferring to the Village "as soon as possible" all the assets 
of the Association, both real and personal.<17, 18> On 27 April 1972 a deed conveying the real estate to the 
Village was issued<19> and the financial assets were transferred. The resulting burying ground was officially 
designated the "Municipal Cemetery of the Village of Hamilton-"<17>

Sources

 
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