ESSEX — The volunteer effort to reclaim the Old County Home and Infirmary cemetery here is nearing a first anniversary but has hit a snag.
Vicki and Randy Dickerson spearheaded the effort, which has since uncovered and cleared 378 grave markers in a remote field south of Route 22 between Wadhams and Whallonsburgh.
They are simple graves marked mostly with names and dates, Mr. Dickerson said, with each granite stone measuring about 16 inches long and 8 inches wide.
They make seven neat rows in about 2.5 acres of what otherwise is a hay field.
"Six full rows and one partial row," Mr. Dickerson said of the site.
It is the otherwise nameless resting place for indigent, transient, often elderly people who lived and then died at the County Home between 1874 and the late 1960s.
But the land is now privately held, sold in 1985 for $60,000 to the Sherrill family by the Essex County Industrial Development Agency, according to the deed recorded at the Essex County Clerk's Office.
The property was sold — along with its burial ground — after Horace Nye Home opened in 1980.
As the cemetery reclamation group got ready to raise a flag amid the graves, the property owner, Ruth Sherrill Morgan, asked that no further work be done.
Contacted Monday by the Press-Republican, Morgan said her insurance company refused to cover any work at the cemetery, a situation she feels leaves her vulnerable.
"My insurance company won't allow it. I didn't expect publicity where people would be drawn to this place," she said.
The Sherrills bought four parcels, about 18.2 acres of land, between the road and the railroad, she said.
"This is a narrow, narrow piece (of property). The cemetery was part of a parcel that is eight-acre (rural) zoning; it's right in the middle. On any side of that — and on either side of me — is all swampland; it's all wetland. You get the picture. I live in one end of it. I live in the old railroad station."
The Sherrills mowed the cemetery for years, Morgan said.
"One of the problems is that we did mow it for 17 years. I'm not able to do that any longer.
"In thinking about it since, I don't want to draw people to that (cemetery). I'm sorry it has to be that way. They can scream all they want to. This belongs to me, privately, and I'm not going to give it up.
"(Essex County) vacated the County Home, and it sat there vacant for years. This kind of just goes down to the fact that people think it kind of belonged to everybody."
When her husband died several years back, Morgan added, he was buried in the County Home cemetery, too.
"I don't mean to be uncooperative. I had my husband buried there. And I have my headstone — my name's on it, and that's where I intend to be. I'm sorry. It was my fault for even saying yes. I just thought it was nice somebody wanted to mow it."
The volunteers were willing to bond for the insurance, Morgan said.
"But the insurance company said no, get them off of there."
The Dickersons, of Willsboro, along with several other volunteers, have mowed the grounds, trimmed brush and cleared around 378 gravestones, including those of three U.S. war veterans, which are marked with small American flags.
They want to raise all the stones above ground level.
The volunteer group is hoping to install a flagpole to mark the old County Home cemetery.
Mrs. Dickerson said she asked for permission to clear the cemetery when she could no longer bear the sight of the overgrown burial ground.
She remembers a carefully maintained graveyard from her childhood. Mrs. Dickerson's father and mother, Howard and Irma Halen, were the supervisor and matron, respectively, of the County Home when it closed.
The effort, through County Home records, determined that a woman named Millie Flint is buried under the headstone that reads "Unknown Woman 1931."
The oldest headstone in the cemetery, which dates to 1874, is that of Lucinda Dingman.
One grave is marked No. 140 and remains a mystery.
The problem was brought before Essex County supervisors Monday, seeking legal clarification.
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said that since the property is a cemetery, the Town of Essex has to maintain it, by statute.
"It would fall under your town's umbrella for liability," he told Supervisor Sharon Boisen (D-Essex), who shook her head when asked if the town has asked an attorney for advice.
"The volunteers can work on the town's behalf," Boisen said.
Supervisors asked Essex County Attorney Dan Manning to review the legal issue of maintenance.
The Dickersons were not sure what the next step would be.
Email Kim Smith Dedam at: firstname.lastname@example.org