Burying Ground Cemetery

From Jefferson County NY Wiki
Old Trinity Church, Court St.
Old Trinity Church, Court St.
This cemetery was located behind the Old Trinity Church, now the approximate location of the former Liberty Church, on Court Street.

The location of the village's first cemetery was established soon after its founding. The first burial was that of Israel Thornton, a worker in Cowan's sawmill. He had gone for timber one morning in 1804 or 1805 and failed to return. Village residents fanned out to search, but after several hours, he was found dead beneath a felled tree. Other internments included the family of Jonathan Cowan (mill owner), Mr. & Mrs. Phineas Sherman (d. 1840 and 1847), and that of Mrs. Samuel Whittlesey (d. 1818). To this list we can also probably add Gershom Tuttle (d. 1816). A son of the Whittlesey's was also interred there.

The first official deed recording the cemetery's transfer from Henry Coffeen to the village of Watertown was in 1819. Burials continued in the cemetery until 1847, but in 1825, city leaders had already seen the need for a "new" cemetery. At this time, the "new" village cemetery was established on Arsenal Street, next to the existing Catholic burying ground. This of course became Arsenal Street Cemetery.

By 1897, the cemetery had become an eyesore, and the city began proceedings to have it removed. City workers broke the stones off even to the ground and disposed of them, which caused controversy that played out in the local Watertown Herald. A lawsuit was filed by Coffeen's heirs, alleging that moving the cemetery would violate the covenant placed on the lot by Henry Coffeen way back in 1819. By removing the cemetery, the lot would revert back to the Coffeen family. Unfortunately for the city, the lot contained about a foot of the new City Hall's back wall! As well,some shoddy survey work had made it possible for several private buildings to cross the lot lines.

The case languished in courts until 1904, when it was decided that a public sale would be held for the purchase of the lot, and the proceeds paid to the Coffeen family. In another bungle, the day of the sale came, but the city aldermen had no authorization to bid on the lot! Instead, it went to James A. Ward for $1,594. He offered it to the city for $20,000. Keep in mind, the City Hall was partly on the lot. But, now Mr. Ward had to maintain the cemetery or remove it, so he acquiesced for his investment and expenses. In 1905, the last burials were removed to Brookside Cemetery.

The last remaining vestige of the cemetery was the receiving vault, which the city had taken over as a maintenance garage. It was removed in 1966 by Benvenuto Brothers, and the stone built into a new vault in Riverside Cemetery, Cape Vincent.