Artifact Corner: Riverside Cemetery

Hi everyone, and welcome to a special Halloween edition of our series Artifact Corner. This week and next week we will be exploring a very special place in Plattsburgh that has a connection to our museum. We will be checking out Riverside cemetery, which is the final resting place of the founding member of our family’s museum, Henry Delord.
Riverside cemetery is the final resting place of many of Plattsburgh’s most prominent founding members, and soldiers involved in the Battle of Plattsburgh. Plattsburgh was founded in 1784 when Zephaniah Platt of Poughkeepsie, NY, and two of his brothers received a state grant for 33,000 acres of land along the Saranac River. The next year, Charles Platt and a group of settlers began construction of homes. Three years later, New York State created Clinton County. In 1815, Plattsburgh was officially made a village, but it wasn’t until 1902 that Plattsburgh became a city.
So, let’s take a closer look at cemeteries. Why do we bury people after they have passed? The practice of burying people dates back as far as the middle Paleolithic period. In the Stone Age, it was common practice to bury the dead and place a large stone over the grave to mark the spot. In the Middle Ages, in Europe, the marker on the burial site was entirely dependent on your wealth. The average person would have a wooden marker, with maybe a few words carved into it. If you were wealthy you would likely have a stone marker in a prominent spot. If you were very wealthy you would have a heavily decorated headstone, or possibly a likeness of yourself atop a stone tomb.
In the 18th and early 19th Centuries most people would have a stone burial marker with their name, birth date, and the date they passed. A wealthy citizen’s stone could also contain decorative carving and sometimes a quote or poem. When we look at Henry Delord’s headstone, you can see that the decoration and lettering has deteriorated over the last 200 years. The stone says “In Memory of Henry Delord, born at Nismes France, July 15th 1764, Died March 29th 1825, Age 61 years.” There is a further inscription at the bottom that has since been obscured by soil. There appears to be some decoration at the top of the stone, and there may have been more fine detailed work when the stone was first placed, that has since been worn away. It’s difficult to tell.
Early Colonial cemeteries grew up around settlement. Early headstones were typically smaller in size and made of softer, more easily harvested stones. Sandstone, slate, and eventually marble were very popular because they are easy to quarry, and to move to a location. This picture is of a stone in the Pine Grove Cemetery in Hampton, NH. This stone belongs to Susanna Smith, who died in 1680. You can see the stone, despite being 340 years old, is still quite legible. The stone is quite small, and lacking decoration. Large “flashy” headstones were not common. This is not to say that they did not have motifs on headstones. A common motif was a winged death head. This symbolized deaths grip on man, and its inevitability. During this time, gravestone carving was not a full time position, simply because there was not enough demand. Across America, most gravestones were carved by regular stone masons. In the 18th Century, headstones become more elaborated and decorative. The winged deaths head of the 1600’s is replaced by a bit friendlier motif of the winged angel. Views on death and the afterlife had softened, and the angel was representative of the eternal life that was awaiting the deceased. In the later 1700’s and early 1800’s we see beautiful willow trees, a symbol of sorrow for the departed, and intricate scroll work along the edges of the stones. The stones also get taller in the period. The shorter more demure stones of the 1600’s are replaced with stones that could be in excess of 5 feet tall. The 1800’s have multiple phases of headstone design. This Century was one of numerous major shifts in technology, attire, and even the design of headstones. In the early 1800’s the style was similar to the late 18th Century. We still see willow trees, we see urns, and scroll details. In all ages, there are some outliers. This is Col. Melancton Smith’s headstone, and he has a lot going on here. He was buried with Masonic rights, he also was buried with military honors by his regiment, and he decided to make sure everyone knew all of that by his headstone. As the century progressed, stone styles changed pretty often. The lettering became more uniform. In the middle to late 19th Century people began to adorn their graves with large statues, often of angels or mourners. These beautifully carved monuments adorn many cemeteries and are truly works of art. Frank and Fannie Hall (Fannie is the granddaughter of Henry Delord) were buried here at the beginning of the 20th Century. Their headstone reflects the style of the times. The lettering is raised, and there is a shield surrounding both of their names. It is a simple, yet very well carved stone. Stones continued to change and adapt to the styles of the day. We have so enjoyed this little peak into Riverside Cemetery, and hope you’ve enjoyed it as well. Have a safe and fun Halloween, and thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,
A Really Dark Alley by Loyalty Freak Music