BY ISABEL RIDALL
Originally Published The Chemung Historical Journal
Vol. 30, No. 1 September 1984 Elmira, N.Y. 14901
Handwritten on the last page is "Elmira Sunday Telegram - Sept. 5, 1948.
Isabel Ridall of 792 Robinson St., Elmira, NY, is an authority on genealogy. Through years of hands-on visits to cemeteries both large and small, she has traced a virtual forest of family trees. She has been recording secretary of Chemung Chapter NSDAR, chaplain of New England Woman and is a charter member and query editor of the Twin Tiers Genealogical Society.
Finding suitable burying places for the dead has always been a concern for the living.
The early settlers in the Elmira area buried their dead in little roadside sites or on their own property, often hillsides or land not suitable for raising crops or pasturing livestock. Some graveyards were near churches or close to populated areas.
For many years the people living on the south side of the Tioga/Chemung River used already established plots on the north side of the river, or utilized a small area on their own land, setting up family plots.
A few small graveyards can still be found in the rural or suburban area south and west of present Elmira which are no longer used for burials.
In 1853 the Southport Cemetery Association was established to lay out a cemetery on the west side of Fulton St., between Franklin St. and South Ave. Jonathan H. Rogers and Jane, his wife, signed a deed on July 26, 1855, transferring the property to the Cemetery Association. They received $300 for the land which was divided into 191 plots, each measuring 9 x 25 feet. An area in the northwest corner was noted as "free land".
Originally called the Southport Cemetery, because of its location it became known as the Fulton St. Cemetery, and is the only city owned burial site on the south side of Elmira. It is maintained by the city, with regular grass cutting. In the late 1920’s the site was in very poor condition, but has been loamed, seeded, and a fence erected. The cemetery is bounded by Fulton St., and private homes on three sides. The entrance gate is always locked, with the ket held by the Elmira Parks and Recreation Department. It may be obtained on request.
A large portion of the cemetery was used for many years as a burial place for children who died at the nearby Southern Tier Orphan’s Home on Franklin St. Small wooden markers, painted white with names in black were placed over the tiny graves. City records indicate that there were 56 children, aged one day to 18 years buried in the area in the rear of the cemetery. It is interesting to note that while some were recorded as "infant, male (or female), parents unknown", many bore names, probably given by attendants at the Home. One notation is: "Infant, parents unknown, found on McCann’s stoop. Died on Oct. 13, 1875, No age given." Another was "Johnnie Converse, parents unknown, died Sept. 11, 1873 at the Orphan’s Home. He was a foundling." In addition, there were 135 burials of children, both parents identified, who were under 10 years of age.
A number of adults, and some children, usually related family members, have been removed to Woodlawn, the city-owned cemetery on the north side of the city. This, and the disappearance of the wooden markers over orphan’s graves, probably explains the large seemingly vacant areas seen today.
The cause of death, as listed in the Official City Ledgers, has not been recorded in the files at the Chemung County Historical Society, except in a few cases. Max Lazarus was drowned in the Chemung River, under Main Street Bridge in July 18870. He was 10 years old. In another instance, Jesse, son of Asa and Margaret Brooks died as a result of a fall. He was 9 years old.
The oldest stone found, badly eroded, but readable, is for Eddie Small, who died on March 3, 1856. He was born on Oct. 8, 1944.
Civil War Veterans
There were no Revolutionary War soldiers in the plot, but several Civil War veterans lie there. The Van Gelder brothers, sons of Charles and Clarissa, were both members of Co. D 107th Regt. N.Y. Vols. Levi died in 1861 at age 21. Eli was aged 19 years, 8 months and 19 days old when he died in 1863.
William Weir, who lived from 1793 to 1871, was the son of one of the early settlers of Southport—John Weir (or Waeir).
Several ethnic backgrounds are indicated by city records which show places of birth, Italy, Prussia, Germany, England, Ireland and Poland are noted. Most show the United States as the place of birth.
The latest burials were in 1977. Mr. Whitfield Drake died on Sept. 13, 1977 and Mrs. Naomi Rockwell Drake was buried in March of 1977. The site is closed for future interments.
The span of years the graveyard was in use, the spread of ages and the various backgrounds of the people there are a revealing record of the second half of the last century and the first half of the 20th century in the City of Elmira.
References: Cemetery markers copied by Mrs. Hugh Staver (Her name not given)– 1932
Cemetery markers copied by Joseph and Doris Boyd – 1974
Elmira City Atlas – 1876
Chemung County Clerk’s Office – Deed books and maps
Elmira Star-Gazette and Elmira Sunday Telegram
Ausburn Towner, "Our County and its People"
Woodlawn Cemetery Ledger of Deaths 1867 - 1871