Early Cemetery History

cemeteryWhen the original church building of the First Reformed Church of Bethlehem was standing at its earlier location on the 9W plank road across from the old Niver (now Strumpf) house, it contained a graveyard which surrounded the church structure. As the graveyard grew over time, it became increasingly obvious that additional burial space must be obtained in order to continue having burials. Hence, in March of 1860, the church consistory formed a committee to evaluate alternatives and make recommendations to the consistory. As a result of this, a committee, consisting of prominent consistory members, was formed to examine the church farm to determine if there was a suitable location for a cemetery. By September of that same year, the lot had been selected as approximately 7 acres of church farm property adjoining the Myers farm. Deeds were authorized to be issued for the transfer of the property to a new independent organization called the Bethlehem Rural Cemetery. Purchase price was $441.00, with the church providing the bond.

The association commenced meetings in April of 1860 by forming a committee of trustees consisting of Robert Selkirk, Peter Niver, Daniel Winne, John Babcock, Zachania Riker and Lewis Myers. If you look at the dates above, one can see that this was a fairly streamlined process. The first deeds for lots were issued in October of 1860 with initial prices being $16. for a standard 4-grave lot. (That would be $1400. today!!!!). An interesting item of note in the early years is that the fence you see there today was designed in detail in the minutes of one of the first board meetings and is essentially unchanged in design today (the original one was all cedar.). In 1864, a motion was passed to sell single grave lots for $3. each in the south-eastern corner for civil war veterans and indigents.

In 1866, the church consistory voted to close the old graveyard to burials and in 1869, George Imbre was authorized to purchase a lot to relocate all remaining graves to the new cemetery. Most families, by then, had already relocated their family burials and associated stones to the new cemetery. In the early 1920’s the cemetery bought another plot of land from the church farm where most burials and lots are located today. In about 1963, the cemetery bought an additional 13 acres from Huested Myers for use by future generations; that property is currently the hay field located behind Kolber’s farm stand.

Early family plots contain names which are rich in Bethlehem town history such as Winne, Myers, Niver, Selkirk, Vanderpoel, Lasher, Schoonmaker, Osterhout and VanDerzee.

A few famous individuals of note interred there include Garrett Niver (killed at Little Big Horn), Bort Winne (Riverboat Captain), Albertus Becker, John Comstolk (Glenmont postmaster around 1950), Wilbur Hallenbeck (Selkirk mailman from 1930-1970). Military veterans buried there not only include the wars of the 20th Century but also of the Civil War, War of 1812 and Revolutionary War.

Today, the Elmwood Cemetery continues to serve the community by providing a solemn resting place and memorial for its residents.

For further information, please contact Krista Daudiss (767-9276), Wayne Malary (899-2829), or John Strumpf (767-3052).

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