Johnstown tackles abandoned cemetery clean-up; ‘Restoration program’ completed for three, official says

Photo Caption: Gravestones at the Gross/Bosshart Cemetery on Route 67 in Johnstown in July. ERICA MILLER/THE LEADER-HERALD

JOHNSTOWN — Town Board member Walt Lane delivered a report to the board Monday that detailed the progress being made in the town’s $10,000 program to improve the state of its abandoned rural cemeteries.

Lane told the board that Pierre Alric, of Pickett Memorial Inc., has indicated he has completed the “restoration program” for three of the town’s abandoned rural cemeteries:

• The Old Lutheran Church, located at the intersection of Route 67 and Route 334, also known as the “Gross Cemetery” or “Boshart Cemetery” at a cost of $5,575
• The Coon School House Cemetery, located at the corner of McGregor Road and North Bush Road at a cost of $3,125
• North Bush Road Cemetery at a cost of $575

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Alric’s written report indicated his plan for the remainder of the abandoned rural cemeteries, which state law requires the town to own and maintain.

“I am presently working on 50-plus monuments in the Keck Center Cemetery, which I plan to complete within the next couple of weeks,” reads Alric’s report. “I estimate the cost of the Keck Center Cemetery to be approximately $3,000.”

Alric writes that he plans to spend the remainder of the 2020 funds for the program, about $1,500, to address six smaller cemeteries, if he can find them: Clip Hill, Old Adam Fredrick, Old Hillabrant, Old Quilhot, McVean Family and Old Vosburgh. He said he’s still trying to locate these abandoned cemeteries, which are sometimes located in obscure locations on private farmland, even though they are owned by the town.

“Need to locate five or six, or start work at the McDougal Cemetery, either of which is estimated to exhaust the 2021 allocated $10,000,” Alric wrote.

In his report, Alric recommends the Town Board approve an additional $10,000 for 2022, which he said he would use to work on the Peter’s Cemetery, located on Sweet Road, “Which has over 80 monuments that may need work, and [then] either the smaller cemeteries or the McDougal Cemetery remaining from 2021.”

Johnstown Supervisor Jack Wilson said he’s included another $10,000 in the town’s 2022 budget for the cemetery program.

“By the end of next year, we ought to be in real good shape with the cemeteries,” Wilson said.

The public hearing for the town’s 2022 budget is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday night.

For the last several years, Town Board member Tim Rizzo has been a vocal advocate for the town doing even more work to restore its abandoned rural cemeteries. However, he has not been satisfied with the board’s plan to employ Alric as the vendor to do the work.

At the Town Board’s June 21 meeting, Rizzo “surprised” the board with a presentation from the Saratoga Springs-based landscape engineering firm The LA Group, the company that designed the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery in the 1990s.

The LA Group has proposed a $15,000 plan to conduct a study that would establish an inventory of all of the town-owned rural cemeteries, a list, to the extent it can be determined, of whose graves they contain, and to craft a plan for what needs to be done to rehabilitate them and bring the town into compliance with Town Law 291. The study could then be used as the basis for applying for state or federal grants to get the money to do the rehabilitation work.

When Rizzo proposed a resolution to hire The LA Group, none of the other town board members would agree to provide the necessary “second,” causing the motion to die.

Town Board member Donald VanDeusen explained why he wouldn’t support hiring the engineering firm.

“Hiring them would be no different than buying a lottery ticket,” VanDeusen said at the June 21 meeting.

On Monday night, Rizzo questioned whether Alric might be using some kind of chemical solution to clean the tombstones at some of the abandoned cemeteries, where he said he saw one tombstone “turned completely white.”

“Somebody’s using somethin’,” Rizzo said.

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“As far as I know no one has done any cleaning of the stones, Mr. Alric has only done repair work,” Lane told Rizzo.

“Somebody is doing something,” Rizzo replied.

“I don’t doubt that, but it’s nobody that’s involved in our project,” Lane retorted. “It could be somebody who is a family member; all of those places are open to the public.”

After the meeting, both Lane and Wilson said they continue to doubt there would be any value served by an inventory of the town’s rural cemeteries by the LA Group or any consultant.

Lane said he does not believe the small rural cemeteries in the town’s possession have any figures of historical note who might help the town qualify for state grants for major restoration work or fencing.

“We are very willing to take care of them,” Lane said. “We have been taking care of them. What Mr. Alric does is he goes to the cemetery; he identifies which headstone is supposed to be there, if there’s nothing he looks in the ground — sometimes these things are buried in the ground — he digs them up, repairs them, if it’s possible, glues them, and puts them back up. Once in a while they’re just demolished, and he can’t, but that’s usually only three or four monuments.”

Wilson said Fulton County about 20 years ago did a significant amount of research on the rural cemeteries.

“We have maps. We have people’s names, what families were where. We’ve got all of that information,” Wilson said. “That’s one of the reasons we don’t need to hire an engineering outfit to go out looking for it, because we’ve already got all of it.”

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By Jason Subik

One thought on “Johnstown tackles abandoned cemetery clean-up; ‘Restoration program’ completed for three, official says

  • Aren’t cemeteries mapped somewhere? $15K seems like throwing money out the window. It would cost nothing to have residents document any rural cemeteries on or near property they own.

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