Vale Cemetery

Vale Cemetery

Vale Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Schenectady, New York. It opened on 21 October 1857 when the Rev. Julius Seely dedicated what was then termed "the Vale". [cite book|first = Friends of Vale|title = Handout - History of Vale Cemetery|date = 2005] It has tripled its size since opening and today it holds the remains of some of the most notable persons in Upstate New York.The cemetery is located at coord|42.8089|-73.93.


The history of the cemetery begins shortly after 1850, at this time the old burying ground on Green and Front Streets was being overrun with weeds and was described as being in an unsanitary condition. [ [ Vale Cemetery web site] (accessed Feb 2007)] . The result of this was that the Common Council resolved on 2 July 1856 [cite book|first = Friends of Vale|title = Handout - History of Vale Cemetery| date = 2005] to use the grounds of the old Hospital Farm on Nott Terrace, as a 38 acre public cemetery. On 16 June 1857, Mayor Benjamin V S Vedder appointed a committee to oversee the work.

In order to gain access off one of the main streets in Schenectady, Nott Terrace, Dr Eliphalet Nott, the President of Union College donated an avenue from Nott Terrace into the grounds. Later in 1863, two pieces of land were purchased from the college creating what is now known as Vale Park. The entrance on State Street was a donation from the First Reformed Church in 1867.The cemetery was planned by Burton Thomas [ [ Vale Cemetery web site] (accessed Feb 2007)] to be a rural cemetery by laying out many winding paths and planting over 1000 trees, even the Cowhorn Creek was dammed to provide a lake within the grounds. [cite book|first = Friends of Vale|title = Handout - History of Vale Cemetery| date = 2003] The cemetery has since grown in size and covers approximately 100 acres [cite book|first = Friends of Vale|title = Handout - History of Vale Cemetery|date = 2005] (40 Hectares / 0.5 km²) and holds some 33 000 people. [ [ Vale Cemetery famous interments] ]

Vale Cemetery Association

In February 1858, the Common Council declared that it could not continue to run the cemetery at the taxpayers expense and that the cemetery must pass into private ownership. Fourteen of the lot holders formed the Vale Cemetery Association and under the then State laws, they bought the 38 acres from the Common Council. [ [ Vale Cemetery web site] (accessed Feb 2007)] They paid the sum of $800 which was coupled with a declaration that some land known as Potter's Field, would be set aside for the burial of the poor. In 2007 as part of the Schenectady Colonial celebrations, the Association held a dinner to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the cemetery.

Vale mapping project

In late 2006, interest in mapping the cemetery was indicated by several people connected with the cemetery. The result of this interest was the Vale mapping project. The project started in Spring 2007, using GPS and techniques used in England [ [ Mapping Graveyards] (accessed 21 February 2007)] to accurately locate each grave. [Moore Kathleen, (2007) Saturday 6 January, Vale Cemetery to get high-tech help, The Daily Gazette (Schenectady & Albany County Edition) pages B1 & B2] The intention is to fully map the graves and document them establishing a full record and also record graves before there is further damage to many of the memorials

Notable burials

The information on notable burials has been extracted and précised from the Biographies of Notables [ cite book|first = et al|last = Delain, Katherine Olney|title = Biographies of Notables at Vale Cemetery| date = 2005| publisher = Friends of Vale]

Engineers and scientists

* Ernst Alexanderson — came to the United States in 1901 to meet electrical wizard Charles Steinmetz. Developed the Alexanderson alternator which was the first radio transmitter used to broadcast the human voice. Dr. Alexanderson was also instrumental in the development of television. Over his lifetime, Dr. Alexanderson received 344 patents, the last awarded in 1973 at age 94.

* Ellis Family — The father and two sons were presidents of Schenectady Locomotive Works later to become American Locomotive Company.

* Ernst Julius Berg (1871 — 1941) — Eminent mathematician and electro-physicist. A pioneer of radio, he produced the first two-way radio voice program in the United States.

* Clute Brothers — produced the gun turret motors for the first ironclad ship, the USS Monitor.

* William Coolidge (1873 — 1975) — Inventor of the modern X-ray tube, head of General Electric Development Center. He also developed the sodium vapor lamp and was holder of 83 patents.

* Philip Dodge — Inventor of the Linotype machine

* Henry Ramsey — N.Y.S. engineer and surveyor in the 1830s, worked on the Erie Canal

* Christian Steenstrup, (1873 — 1955) — Born in Denmark emigrated to the US in 1894. Designed the Monitor Top Refrigerator whilst at General Electric, held over 100 patents.

* Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865 — 1923), — mathematician, inventor, and electrical engineer, was a pioneer in the field of electrical engineering. Considered the leading electrical engineer in the United States during his life time. He was also a professor of electrophysics at Union College and University, Schenectady, N.Y..

* Silas Watson Ford — Paleontologist who made some of the most important discoveries about the Cambrian Period during the 19th century. Awarded an honorary Master's Degree by Union College in 1879.


*James Seaman Casey, (1833 — 1899) — Awarded Medal of Honor as Captain in the 5th US Infantry for action on 8 January 1877 at Wolf Mountain, Montana

*William Horsfall, — A Colonel commanded the 18th New York Infantry. The GAR Grand Army Republic in Schenectady is named for him. He died leading a charge during the battle of South Mountain, September 14, 1862.

* Charles Lewis — Fought in the Civil War and was a witness to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865

*David S Proper — A volunteer fire-fighter who enlisted in the 134th New York during the Civil War. He was killed at Gettysburg 1 July 1863. His body was brought home and buried by donations from other volunteer fire-fighters in Schenectady.

Politicians and government

* Henry DeForest, (1847 — 1917), — US Congressman (1911 — 1913) and Mayor of Schenectady for two terms

* John DeGraff, — First Mayor of Schenectady 1836 and US House of Representatives 1827 — 1839 and 1837 — 1839

* Oswald D. Heck, — elected to the New York State Assembly in 1937. Speaker of the house from 1939-1959. There is a gavel on his tombstone.

* Harmanus Peek, (1782 — 1838) — Early Congressman and Representative 1819 — 1821)

*Jackson Samuel, — New York State Supreme Court Justice


*Charles “Chick” Evans, (1889 — 1916), — Pitcher for the Boston Braves 1909 — 1910. his win – loss record for 1910 was 1 – 1, his run average was 5.23.

*Frank E Wickware, — A World War veteran, pitched for Mohawk Giants in the Negro League. Once defeated baseball Hall of Fame member Walter Johnson


* Francis Dana, — Activist in the Underground Railway and contributor to the Albany Abolitionist Newspaper.

* Eliphalet Nott D.D., L.L.D. — Fourth President of Union College, he served for 62 years, 1804 — 1866. It was the work of Nott that established Union as a national center for learning.

* Robert Furman — Local businessman who donated land to form the basis of Central Park and was on the committee that established Vale Cemetery. He was also responsible for bringing trolleys to Schenectady.

* Westinghouse Family — George Westinghouse was well known in the farming industry having invented the thresher. George Westinghouse Jr., competitor of Thomas Edison, made the name Westinghouse a household word for his work in the electrical and railroad industries. He and his immediate family are buried in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

* James Cuff Swits — Buried in the Potters Field poor plot, he was a Mohawk Native American over 8' tall. He was well respected for his knowledge of herbs. A friend of his carved Indian Jim's likeness into his gravestone. Legend tells us that two college students wanted to exhume his body for an autopsy. To keep rivals from getting to the body first, they switched headstones. By the time they returned for the body, they had forgotten which stone they had switched and so, Indian Jim's body remains in his final resting place.

Burial Facts

*The first burial was that of four-year-old Noah Vibbard Van Vorst

*The oldest body is that of Elias Van Guysling who died in 1695. His body was moved from the family plot on VanSlyk Island when General Electrics enlarged their site.

*The oldest grave marker is that of Jan Maybee, who lived in Maybee Farm, he died in 1725.


The cemetery is divided into several sections each having an importance of its own
* Veterans Section — This is the final resting place of many veterans dating back to the Civil War and the Spanish American War.
* First Reformed Church — The graves in this section predate the formation of Vale Cemetery. They were moved in 1879 from various small First Reformed Church cemeteries scattered throughout the Stockade. The oldest marker is that of Ian Mabee, survivor of the Schenectady Massacre, who died in 1725
* African Section — The original African Cemetery was located on Hamilton Hill. Judge Alonzo Paige purchased the area for real estate development. He also purchased space in Vale and re-interred the bodies at his expense. This was not a wholly selfish act since people were continually disturbing the graves by removing the sandy soil for cement making.
* Union College Plot — reserved for full professors of Union College and their spouses and unmarried children.
* Green Street Section — represents the old style circa 1701 — 1830. The stones were removed from the old cemetery and reset here in 1879. [ cite book|first = et al|last = Delain, Katherine Olney|title = Biographies of Notables at Vale Cemetery| date = 2005| publisher = Friends of Vale]
* Cristian Temple
* German Methodist
* Potters Field Area — The original area set aside for the burial of the poor
* Old Ladies Home — Site for residents of the Home for the Friendless, a charity set up by Urania Nott, wife of Eliphalet Nott, the first President of Union College.

Notable buildings etc

* Christian Temple and GME (German Methodist Episcopal Church).
* The Haigh mausoleum is adorned with a statue of a dog named Lion. The legend is that after his master died, Lion came to the mausoleum daily where he was cared for by cemetery staff. The statue is in Lion's memory.
* Stanford Mausoleum — The family raised eight children the most notable being Leland Stanford. In early life Leland was an attorney. He opened an office in Port Washington, Wisconsin but shortly thereafter a fire destroyed his office and a $3,000 library. Leland decided to head west where he joined his brothers in business. He was very successful and made much of his fortune in the railroad industry being a principal in the building of the transcontinental railroad. It was Leland who pounded the golden spike at Promontory Point, Utah. Leland and his wife Jane founded Stanford University in memory of their son Leland Jr. who died of typhoid fever at age 15.
* A Celtic Cross.
* Holland Mausoleum.
* Revolutionary War Memorial.


External links

* [ Vale Cemetery official site]
* [ Find a grave - Vale Cemetery]
* [ Schenectady Digital History Archive]
* [ Vale Cemetery, Schenectady, New York]

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