Bring Out Your Dead: Locations of Old Burial Grounds in the City of Poughkeepsie

Have you ever walked along our city’s streets and wondered to yourself what might have been in that spot over a century ago? Did it ever occur to you that the playground or the parking lot might be someone’s grave? Or at least, it used to be. In the 18th century, as this city was being formed, people were beginning to build their lives here. However, that means that people were also finishing their lives here (“get busy living or get busy dying,” as the saying goes). So when people start dying in your new settlement, that means you have to find a place to bury them. Typically, when you died you could be buried in your church’s graveyard. Or perhaps your family had established its own burial ground. On the 1834 map of Poughkeepsie, there were six burial grounds within the city. Today, those sites are all used for other purposes.

What was perhaps one of the oldest burial grounds once stood on the northwest corner of Vassar and Mill Streets. This would have been the final resting place of the Van Kleeck family. In 1702, Baltus Van Kleeck built a house nearby, which would have been one of the first houses built in this area. Other than the image on the 1834 map, there is not much written on who was buried here and where they ended up, but the site has clearly been built upon since the early 19th century. Today, it’s the site of the Second Baptist Church. Another early burial ground was located on the north side of the intersection of Main and Market, which belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. This area is now the road that passes in front of the Civic Center. There was talk pretty early on (as in 1799) about leasing the land and building brick structures over the burial ground, as long as they did not have cellars. One gravestone in particular stood out in this ground, that of 24 year old John W. Williams, which read, “Behold and see as you pass by, As you are now so once was I, As I am now so you must be, Prepare for death and follow me.”

One the grounds of the Samuel F.B. Morse Elementary school sits a playground near a parking lot. This was once the location of the old Baptist Burial ground in which several prominent Poughkeepsie families were laid to rest. The land was acquired in 1807 and the burials began shortly thereafter. Over the next 60 years, the cemetery would have over 180 burials within it, the last appears to have been a veteran of the Civil War in 1871. After that, the cemetery was abandoned and neglected with overturned stones and massive amounts of vegetation. By 1926 the land was sold off and the graves removed to the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery. Another playground that appears to be the location of an old burial ground is located behind Smith Elementary School on the corner of Church Street and Quaker Lane. This was known as the Friends Burial Ground and began sometime around 1821, but was also abandoned by the early 20th century. Interestingly enough, this burial ground was not described as being removed to the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery, but as “entirely dug over and its boundaries obliterated in the course of creating a public playground.” Could it be that there are still remains of Quakers underneath the playground or the Poughkeepsie High School athletic field?

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post when we will bring you more locations of old burial sites around the city.

References:
Platt, Edmund. “History of Poughkeepsie” 1905
Poucher, J. Wilson, Reynolds, Helen Wilkinson. “Old Gravestones of Dutchess County” 1924.
Poughkeepsie Eagle News: 26 Sep 1878, 28 Oct 1911, 13 Jul 1911

Images:
01 – Image of the 1834 map of Poughkeepsie showing the Baptist burial ground.
02 – Image of the 1834 map of Poughkeepsie showing the Friends burial ground.