Geneva’s Oldest Burial Grounds

July 24th, 2015

Please note, if you are interested in researching your family history or in information about particular burials in Geneva’s cemeteries, please make a research request through our Archives and Research Page.


By Karen Osburn, Archvist

Trinity before fire003One of the oldest burial grounds in Geneva was the Pulteney Street Burial Ground.  I say one of the oldest because the first burials appear to have taken place where Trinity Episcopal Church stands today.  Apparently the Trinity Church lot was not intended to be a cemetery, but convenience and the fact that in the early settlement days most of the early pioneers were strangers to each other and generally far away from friends and/or relatives turned it into a burial ground.  When a person died the people in the area buried him or her in the closest appropriate spot and the lot where Trinity stands today seems to have been the chosen spot.

Trinity’s first building, a wooden church was built without a basement and on a stone foundation placed directly over most of the existing graves and did not disturb them. This followed the practice of many churches in England and Europe where parishioners were often buried in or under churches.

When the stone constructed Trinity Church was built in 1842 a basement was dug and the graveyard had to be disturbed.   A careful search was made and as bodies were discovered they were turned over to friends and relatives to be reinterred.  Those bodies (the majority) that could not be identified were reburied in one large box under the middle of the church. When the chapel was added more bones were discovered and were reinterred toward the rear of the church.

Why did the village use the land by Trinity instead of the property set aside by Charles Williamson and the Pulteney Estate? Part of the reason could be that the land on the Trinity lot was already cleared and the Pulteney Street plot was heavily wooded. Another reason was probably tied to the first incorrect survey of the Pre-Emption Line.  Until New York State acknowledged the correctness of the new Pre-Emption Line in the spring of 1796 it would not have been possible to dedicate a burial plot with a clear title.

While there do not appear to be any records available to tell us exactly when the property was acquired for the Pulteney Street Cemetery we do know that in the latter part of 1797 a child of one of Geneva’s first settlers, Polydore Wisner, was buried in the cemetery. According to a manuscript, by an unknown author, February 16, 1825 was the date Robert Troup, attorney for the Pulteney Estate, conveyed the land for a burial ground on Pulteney Street to George Goundry, John Sweeny, William Watson, William DeZeng and David Cook.  These Trustees of the Village of Geneva were entrusted to accept the land and that they and their successors use the land for a burial ground.


Pulteney Street Cemetery

As the population grew the Village of Geneva began to close in around the burial ground on Pulteney Street and as early as 1875 an article in the Geneva Gazette noted that “Progress” proposes that the bodies buried in Pulteney Street Cemetery be moved to the new (1873) Glenwood Cemetery.  A newspaper article from 1906 takes the Union School/High School to task, because they were piling ashes from the school heating plant on the South East corner of the Cemetery where the remains of freed people of color were buried.  It does not appear the graveyard was always treated respectfully or with the care the deceased deserved.

High school1924 (2)

Geneva High School, 1924

In 1919 a determination was made by the Geneva Board of Education to acquire the Pulteney Street Cemetery as the site for the new Geneva High School. An article in the May 27, 1919 Geneva Daily Times mentions some of the preparations that happened in order for the Common Council to turn the property over to the school district.  The New York State Legislature had to pass certain laws allowing the transfer of the property and the removal of interred bodies.  In accordance with those statutes the Board President C. Willard Rice and Superintendent A. J. Merrill were authorized “to employ a competent engineer to survey and make a map of the cemetery grounds, showing the location of each burial.”

It is estimated there were about 630 burials on the piece of land bordered by Pulteney and Milton Streets.  When burials started around 1797 head stones were not easy to come by and many people were buried with a wooden marker or no marker at all.  Although there was a map and some other records of the Pulteney Street Cemetery approximately 130 people were unidentified at the time the graves were moved to Glenwood Cemetery.  They are interred under one monument in the Pulteney-in-Glenwood section.

Though the lack of headstones and poor records made it difficult to identify some of the burials,  many of the names were known including three children of the Backenstose family, Richard Wisner age 3 months and 4 days, James Green age 27 who may have been the first adult buried in the burial ground and the Williams, Tippets and Loomis families.  An 1882 headstone reading showed the names of many prominent Geneva Citizens such as Henry Axtell, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, several members of the Burrall family, Jacob Larzelere, Norman Brizse(e), members of the Bogert family, the Reverend Jedidiah Chapman and many more well-known families.  The Geneva Historical Society has a list of names recorded in the 1882 headstone reading.

Tagged With: ,

20 responses to “Geneva’s Oldest Burial Grounds”

  1. Linda Pedersen says:

    My fourth great-grandfather is buried in the Pulteney Street cemetery. His gravestone was posted on Find a Grave website, but when I visited from Pennsylvania last summer most of the stones were grown over with grass. Is there a map of cemetery that identifies the location of those interred there?
    His name was Matthew Bennett born in 1750 and died in 1834.

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      I’ve forwarded your question onto Karen and she will respond to you via email.
      Anne Dealy

  2. Mark Clark says:

    I would like to know if a map exists as well. I am looking for Reuben Clark (1735-????) and related family.

    1. Kerry Lippincott says:

      I’ve forwarded your question onto our archivist Karen Osburn and she will respond to you via email.
      Kerry Lippincott

  3. Bryant Hall says:

    I am looking for information on a Franklin Wintemute (Wintermute) who was originally buried in the Pulteney Street Cemetery. He died in June 1870. I have seen his gravestone, but when I search on find a gravestone, no information is returned. I am looking for information on Franklin and any other family members that might be buried there.

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      I will forward your question on to our archive staff to see if they can assist you.
      Anne Dealy

  4. Markita Berry says:

    I’m looking for my great mother Melissa Wells. I’ve searched her name and her name isn’t found in the results. I believe she’s buried there without a head stone. I need some help. Maybe Melissa went by a different name? I’m not too sure.

    1. Kerry Lippincott says:

      Markita, your question has been given to our Archivist, Becky Chapin and she will contact you with her findings.

  5. Peggy Ayers Murray says:

    Regarding burials in the Ayers plot, section 6, old section Glenwood cemetery. There is a plaque in the ground that has baby 1891 to 1891 inscribed on it. Is there any records of whose baby it was – on the plot are Edward Payson Ayers, Jennie Bennet Ayers, Edward C Ayers, Effie Eade Ayers, Baby, Anna Townsend Ayers, Henrietta Ely Ayers, Roy Bennett Ayers, Elizabeth Bennetr Ayers. It looks like there is room for more graves. Since the plaques are sunk into the ground and earliest date is 1891, the next being 1913, I wondered if there was a way to find if anyone else is buried in this plot

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      I have sent your request on to our archivist and she will be in touch with you.

  6. Wesley Peet says:

    I have a relative Paul Van Dyke Peet who is purportedly buried in Trinity Church, Geneva, Ontario, New York. This is reported in the records of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester Church Records, 1800-1970. He was interred on August 31, 1957. Is the cemetery still there?

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      Trinity Church does not have a cemetery. There were burials found under the current structure in the 1800s and some were re-interred under construction at that time. I have heard that more recently people could be interred in the church, but I do not know the details. I will send your request on to our archivist to see if she knows more.

  7. Lucinda Barney Lamme says:

    One of my fourth great-grandfathers, Eli (Ely) Barney died “in Geneva” on 11 September 1809 (per Geneva Gazette, 13 September 1809). I haven’t found any record of burial for him and doubt that one exists. However, I’m interested in a “best guess” as to where he might have been buried. Were any other cemeteries besides the Pulteney Street or Trinity sites used at that time?

    Eli had traveled to Geneva from Fonda, Montgomery County, New York, to seek land where he could move his family. According to the one-line obituary, he died of Genesee fever (malaria). Would there have been restrictions on burials of people with this disease?

    Thank you for any information you might be able to give me.

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      I will pass your question on to our archivist to see if she can assist you.

  8. Larr Stivers says:

    I’m looking for Eleanor and Isaac Hovey. I believe Isaac died 28Sep1867 and his last name was spelled wrong in the church register. They seemed to have that problem their whole lives!

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      I will forward your research question on to our archivist.

  9. Marsha Ault says:

    I am looking for James Lawson, my third great grandfather’s grave site. He died between 1830-1840 in Geneva. His wife Hannah died in 1862 and is buried in the Washington Cemetery in Geneva. Any help will be muchly appreciated. Sincerely, Marsha McKneely Ault.

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      The records I have handy only show Hannah in the list of burials, however, there are no official burial records for the cemetery, just several lists of names recorded from headstones, with the earliest list dating from the late 1800s. It is possible he is there but the headstone is missing or that he was buried in another cemetery as Washington Street did not open until the 1830s. I will send your request on to our archivist to see if she can tell you anything further.

  10. Alicia Bensinger says:

    Gravesite of Rev Jedediah Chapman & Wife

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      Are you looking for their gravesite? I will send your comment to our archivist, but please see our Research page for information about research using our archive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *