Tag Archives: Historic Preservation

Curated Cemeteries Tell Tales at State Parks

With Halloween coming up, the setting of an old cemetery might come to mind. Cemeteries are beautiful, poignant, old and sometimes just creepy, but these places are also a powerful reminder of the past and a record of the people who came before.

As part of its mission to preserve the state’s heritage, New York State Parks is responsible for the care of numerous cemeteries – from dozens and dozens of small old homestead cemeteries and large military cemeteries to burial vaults and even pet cemeteries. And cemeteries, just like any other historic item, do require maintenance and repair from time to time.

It is the job of the Historic Site and Parks Services (BHSPS) to preserve these cemeteries and the individual gravestones. That means tackling the challenges posed by time and weather, but also repairing the damage done by vandals, who break or damage stones.

Intact stones can be cleaned and inventoried in place, but fractured stones in need of repair are brought to our historic preservation labs Peebles Island State Park, where conservators perform the needed repairs. That work has been assisted by members of the New York State Excelsior Conservation Corps, who learn how to document, map, clean and reset gravestones.

A visit to a historic cemetery can be a time of contemplation in a quiet natural setting. For example, Grafton Lakes State Park in the forests of the Rensselaer Plateau in the Saratoga/Capital Region, has four historic family cemeteries.  The Old Snyder Cemetery is just above the Mill Pond and shadowed by the forest.  The small cemetery, dating to the 19th century is surrounded by a decorative iron fence and features obelisks, and marble and bluestone gravestones.

At the historic preservation labs at Peebles Island State Park, a fractured gravestone from a historic family cemetery within Grafton Lakes State Park is reset.
Gravestones freshly cleaned by State Parks staffers shine at Grafton Lakes State Park.

The gravestones tell the story of life in 18th and 19th century New York. Some stones simply feature a name while others feature beautifully carved weeping willows or crosses.  The Thomas West, Frances West and Hicks cemeteries are smaller and buried deeper in the Park.  The cemeteries are marked by fieldstone walls or split rail fence.  

At the other end of the state, the 1812 Cemetery at the Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site, is the resting place of the fort’s soldiers and their families from the War of 1812 through the 1930s. This cemetery is shaded by mature oaks, pines and maple trees and overlooks the Niagara River.  Traditional military tombstones are intermixed with large granite and marble memorials to the Unknown Soldiers who died during the campaigns of Western Expansion, the Revolutionary War and the war of 1812. The Victorian and Gothic gravestones feature finely detailed cannons, urns, flowers, shields and crosses.   

State Parks conservator Heidi Miksch gently cleans the bronze plaque on a tombstone at Old Fort Ontario State Historic Site.
Gravestones at Old Fort Ontario during and after a cleaning session. Use the slider bar to compare pictures.

The Herkimer Home State Historic Site and Fort Ontario State Historic Site in central New York also feature military and local cemeteries. The Herkimer Home cemetery has large memorials flanked by cannons intermixed with delicate 18th-century marble gravestones and 19th-century zinc memorials, and includes the resting place of Revolutionary War General Nicholas Herkimer, who died of wounds after the Battle of Oriskany.

A member of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC) cleans a gravestone at the Herkimer Home State Historic Site.

Back at the historic preservation labs at Peebles Island, an ECC member repairs a broken gravestone from Herkimer Home State Historic Site.
A map of the Herkimer Home cemetery created by Excelsior Conservation Corps members.

In Oswego at Fort Ontario, a small cemetery features 77 marble military tombstones of veterans from the French and Indian War to World War II. Inside the fort are fragile and rare gravestone from the 1700s.

Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua has a small pet cemetery under an old oak tree near the 19th century Victorian mansion. The cemetery is surrounded by a low iron fence and features large boulders carved with the names of family pets owned by Frederick and Mary Thompson, the estate’s former owners.  A marble statue of a resting dog guards the small resting place.

Pet cemetery at Sonnenberg Gardens, where a statue of a reclining dog stands watch.

At Katonah’s John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, in the historic house’s Terrace Garden, there is a simple marker in the memory of Old Fred, a horse that served in the Civil War with Colonel William Jay II, with both rider and steed coming home safely at war’s end.

Its inscription reads: “In memory of Old Fred, who carried Colonel Jay through the Battles of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Peeble’s Farm & Appomattox, and who died at Bedford in May 1883, aged 28 years.”

The grave and historical marker for Old Fred, the faithful warhorse of Colonel William Jay II. At bottom, Colonel Jay is shown in uniform with his sister, Eleanor Jay Chapman.

So, a quiet October afternoon could be a perfect time to appreciate the hand carved stonework, and imagine the lives marked by the gravestones, which are another aspect our shared history being protected by New York State Parks.


Cover Shot: Members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps cleaning gravestones at the Herkimer Home State Historic Site. (All photos by NYS Parks)

Post by Erin E. Moroney,  architectural conservator, Bureau of Historic Site & Park Services

Helping Hands Restore the Past

All eyes in the class were on Amanda Trienens as she applied a mild acidic solution onto a piece of discolored old stonework. “Cleaning can really make for a ‘wow’ factor,” she said, as the solution lifted away years of grime.

Six men and three women were with her in the basement of the S.T.E.A.M Garden – a maker space and learning lab on Central Avenue in Albany – attending a certificate course that explores techniques for cleaning and restoration of historic masonry.

A consultant on restoration projects including the U.S. Supreme Court, the original World Trade Center site in New York City, and inventor Thomas Edison’s original stucco garage in West Orange, N.J., Trienens was a visiting expert in class that night.   She is founder and principal conservator at Columbia County-based consulting firm Cultural Heritage Conservation LLC.

Amanda Trienens shows the use of a laxtex-based cleaner. One of the many bits of advice she gave her students: “Knowing when not to clean.”
Various types of masonry and stone to be cleaned, including brickwork, bluestone and limestone.

Her experience and instruction were part of the Traditional Trades Program, which is currently running in the Capital Region as a partnership with New York State Parks, Hudson Valley Community College’s Workforce Development Institute and the Historic Albany Foundation.

Aimed at training more people to better handle restoration projects in older buildings, the program was developed in 2017 by two staff at Parks: Elizabeth Martin, an architect with the Capital Program, and Dan McEneny, a program coordinator at the Division for Historic Preservation.  

Through partnerships, the program offers courses to the general public in rehabilitation of historic wooden windows, preservation carpentry and woodworking, and historic plaster repair, with future offerings in roofing repair, and weatherization of historic properties.  In addition, last year Martin oversaw the offering of the masonry course for staff at the Palisades Park Region, a new expansion of the program.    

“New York has been undergoing a boom in the restoration of historic properties and needs more skilled craftspeople who know how to perform this kind of specialized work,” said McEneny. 

“Billions of economic development dollars are being spent in New York, particularly upstate, on preservation projects, and this translates into local jobs in construction, new markets for local businesses, and bolsters the revitalization of villages, towns and cities,” he said. 

The growing need for these skilled workers was identified in the 2015-2020 NYS Historic Preservation Plan, after community stakeholders told planners that finding such workers was becoming more difficult. 

“There are many opportunities in the historic trades right now,” said Jude Cleary, the HVCC instructor running the historic masonry course. “These opportunities are only going to increase as we employ restoration programs on existing buildings for environmental reasons as well as historical reasons.”

A manager with Louis C. Allegrone Inc., a third-generation masonry company from Lenox, Mass., Cleary has worked on restoration projects including the grand staircase at the Empire State Plaza, the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, the Tower of Victory at the Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site, and the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park.

Jude Cleary, (right) the instructor with Hudson Valley Community College, works with Amanda Trienens during her demonstration as student Dave Publow watches.

At the course, Albany resident Kenneth Arrington said he hoped this training could lead him to a new job.

He had worked as an operating engineer for heavy equipment and as a building maintenance mechanic before recently losing his position. Officials at his local unemployment insurance office had told him about the Historic Trades Program.

For Tony Mariano, a retired pharmacist who lives in Albany’s Center Square neighborhood, the course is a way to fuel his passion to care for his historic home, and to help his neighbors do the same. “I found out about this after my wife saw an ad on Facebook,” said Mariano, who has taught himself plumbing and electrical work.

“I would say that I am a skills collector,” said Dave Publow, a South Troy resident and former bicycle mechanic who is gutting and restoring a former commercial building in that neighborhood for potential use as a print studio and incubator space.

Dave Publow tries his hand at cleaning a section of stonework.

Publow has already taken the carpentry and window restoration courses through the Historic Trades Program. “I really wanted to leap into this with both feet,” he said.

As Susan Sfarra applied cleaning solution to a piece of stonework, she said her neighbors in Schenectady’s Historic Stockade District encouraged her to take the course.

“Many of us in the Stockade are worried about a lack of qualified workers,” said Sfarra, who owns a brick home dating to 1838, and who also is the daughter and granddaughter to bricklayers and masons.

“My plan is to take all the courses. When you own an older home, it is a privilege, and you really are a caretaker,” she said.

The Historic Trades Program will help preserve more historic homes and neighborhoods, said Historic Albany Foundation Executive Director Pamela Howard.

“Historic Albany Foundation has been pleased to be a partner in the Historic Preservation Trades Program with HVCC since the beginning.  Having skilled and trained preservation trades people is critical to the preservation of our historic homes and neighborhoods,” she said. “In addition, introducing a new professional audience to our Architectural Parts Warehouse is critical for both incoming and outgoing salvaged items to keep them from the landfills and getting them back into local homes.”


Learn More

Find more courses in the Historic Trades Program in the Albany region here.

Courses on historic window restoration are also being held this month in the Buffalo region, sponsored by State Parks and First Niagara.

Read Hudson Valley Community College’s announcement on the Historic Trades Program.


Cover Shot: Kenneth Arrington (left), and Tony Mariano, watch with another other student as Amanda Trienens demonstrates a cleaning technique. (All photos-NYS Parks)

By Brian Nearing, Parks Deputy Public Information Officer

Gaslight Village Carries Flame into 21st Century

After burning almost uninterrupted for more than a century, the natural gas streetlights in this tiny village in western New York were definitely showing their age.

Since 1912, more than 40 of the historic fixtures had illuminated Wyoming, the self-proclaimed “Gaslight Village” and home to about 500 residents of about an hour’s drive south of Rochester.

Along the tiny cluster of streets, there are gaslights in front of businesses, homes and churches, including the post office, the Methodist and Baptist churches, and the local grocery store.

But after decades of use and exposure to the elements, the cast-iron light fixtures were falling apart and corroded, leaving village officials facing a decision: Abandon gaslight, which almost all of the country had done long ago, or save their distinctive streetscape as one of the last reminders in New York State of this bygone era?

A broken cast-iron gas streetlamp before being repaired.
Wyoming Village Mayor Nathan Norton examines a corroded streetlight.

“These gas lights have been burning since I can remember,” said Village Historian Doug Norton, who is the mayor’s brother. “The only time they have been turned off was during World War II, because of the blackout regulations.”

Norton said the lights are a point of pride and heritage for the small village. “The lights are pretty cool and something different. They are unique.”

Originally founded in 1809 as Newell’s Settlement, the small village is in a part of the state were natural gas was developed in the 19th century. A gas company outside the village agreed to provide free gas for the public streetlights for 99 years in exchange for being allowed to install pipes in the village so gas could be sold to homes and businesses. That contract expired in 2011 and now the village is paying for its gas.


A 1912 advertisement for the model of natural gas streetlight found in Wyoming, followed by historical photographs of the village showing the lights in use.


Wyoming is a reminder of life before electricity was widespread, when natural gas was the most popular method of both outdoor and indoor lighting in cities and towns.

But unlike Wyoming, most places discarded gas streetlights once electricity became widely available after the turn of the 20th century. Natural gas streetlights now can be found only in a handful of places, including parts of Boston, Cincinnati, and New Orleans, as well as in foreign cities like Prague and Berlin.

That makes these remnants of the Gaslight Era a very rare resource here in New York and worth protecting as part of State Park’s mission under the Historic Preservation Act of 1980.

In Wyoming, thanks to a $65,000 state grant obtained by Senator Patrick Gallivan, and with support from the Division of Historic Preservation at State Parks, 19 of the original 42 historic lights were painstakingly restored and now can continue burning for decades to come.

Original luminaries were removed from the poles and sent out for restoration. A professional metalsmith disassembled the lights, removed dents, removed corroded metal and replaced it with new metal, and cleaned up and painted the street lights to match their original finish. After lamps were reinstalled on their refurbished poles, the flow of gas was restored and the lights relit.


The restored natural gas streetlights of Wyoming.

Lights in The Night


Another 20 lights are replacements – a mix of historic lights from other communities that were discarding their fixtures in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as modern replicas.

Research into the gas luminaries was done by a team headed by Senior Historic Site Restoration Coordinator Beth Cumming, Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator Sloane Bullough, Bureau of Technical Preservation Services Director John Bonafide, and National Register Western New York representative Jennifer Walkowski.

It was learned that the fixtures were made by manufacturer Thomas T. W. Miner Company of New York City. This information was used to augment the existing historic district National Register of Historic Places nomination.

While the Thomas T. W. Miner Company is long since out of business, the quality and endurance of their product is a fitting legacy _ and one that will continue to light the night in Wyoming for generations to come.

Happy Holidays from Wyoming, New York, the “Gaslight Village.”

Post by Sloane Bullough, Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator, and Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for State Parks

This project was among ten projects honored this month with State Historic Preservation Awards. Read about the projects here.

All photographs provided by State Parks and Village of Wyoming