You’ve heard from George Payne on numerous occasions, most extensively of the work of the Lower Falls Foundation to create a World Heritage Site in the Lower Falls Park and Gorge. A World Heritage Site in our Backyard: preserving and profiting from the history, culture, and ecology of the Lower Falls Gorge
Today George turns our attention to a far less recognized historical site, the Rapids Cemetery on Congress Avenue — one also deserving of preservation and awareness.
After last weekend’s “Civil War Days” at the Tinker Nature Park’s Homestead and Farmhouse Museum, George’s evocative photographs and impressions especially resonate. Bitten by the Civil War bug at the Tinker Homestead Encampment
And new images of Spanish-American War graves adds to the collection. On Spanish-American War monuments in Rochester. And remembering the Buffalo Soldiers on Veteran’s Day
Rapids Cemetery: A National Landmark Sinking in Time
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills”
― William Shakespeare,
Rapids Cemetery is one of the oldest and most mysterious cemeteries in Monroe County. Most people in Rochester have no idea that it even exists. For geographical context, it is about a 20 minute walk from my home on Exchange Street in the PLEX neighborhood by Corn Hill. I go down Magnolia, take a left on Seward, another left on Genesee, and then a right on Congress Ave. Just a few hundred yards down Congress and the landmark appears on a plateau like a vanquished field of sparsely dotted paleolithic structures. This is no ordinary cemetery. It houses the remains of pioneers, Revolutionary War veterans, Civil War infantryman, officers and nurses, and other residents of the lost community of Castle Town, which was a thriving and notorious landing during that time.
As far as we know (see MCNY geneaology.com), ,the cemetery was founded between 1810 and 1812. We also know that it was bought and maintained by the influential Wadsworth family which owned property from Geneseo to Rochester. Apparently the Wadsworths put aside one and a quarter acre for a burial place of area residents. Rapids Cemetery actually resided in Gates until 1902 when the area was finally annexed into the City of Rochester. The street leading to the cemetery was first called Cemetery Road. Then between 1880 and 1890 the name was converted to Chester Street. In 1899, Chester Street became Congress Avenue.
Apparently much is being done to preserve this national landmark. According to City of Rochester historian Christine Ridarsky:
The City of Rochester owns and maintains this cemetery. It is currently under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department and is mowed and maintained regularly. Just last week, the department cleared brush along the edge of the cemetery, and more such work is planned over the next few weeks. The City is in the midst of a restoration project that includes members of several veterans organizations and the 19th Ward Community Association. We a consulting with a gravestone restoration expert and expect to restore and re-set many of the remaining headstones in the next two months. The site will be landscaped and marked with a historic marker. I and several community volunteers are researching the people buried here, and we will be looking for other volunteers to help with our recovery and restoration efforts.
AND ON THE MOUNT HOPE CEMETERY