WEST CHAZY — Kristina M. Parker, secretary/treasurer of the Highland Cemetery Association, was at the the Chazy Town Historian Ellen Riley's office searching for history on the cemetery, when volunteer Julie Dowd suggested the Plattsburgh State Anthropology Department could assist her.
“From a basic conversation at the Chazy Historian's Office, I decided to send an email,” Parker said.
“As a Plattsburgh alumni myself, a graduate ('03) of the history program, I sent them an email asking for their assistance being that this cemetery was only roughly two acres. I was asking if there was anybody that was interested in mapping the cemetery, knowing that there was a lot of fallen stones that we can't see. We would love to see what was underneath the ground.”
The Anthropology Department put her in immediate contact with Dr. Justin Lowry, who leads today and Sunday's mapping of the Highland (Douglass) Cemetery.
The mapping will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.
This will be Phase 1 of a three-phase project.
The cemetery is located on Barnaby Rd, West Chazy at the corner of Barnaby and West Church Streets.
“One of the hardest parts that I'm going to have to work through, and Julie is assisting with, is first of all, locating any past pictures of the cemetery,” Parker said.
“Personally, I would love it if anybody from the public happens to have any pictures. Julie located some from 1995, which is not that long ago.”
Vintage town postcards of the cemetery or photographs of family burial sites could hold key information.
“We would love any sketches or anything,” Parker said.
“Because Justin wants to do in Phase 2 is a computerized map of the cemetery that would show what it looked like in much better condition. Julie is also working through the genealogy of the of people that are buried there hoping to find living (family) members.”
One of the oldest in West Chazy area, the site was formed as the Douglass Cemetery and is the resting place of a large number of veterans, several area founders, as well as the family of Plattsburgh philanthropist Loyal L. Smith, according to a press release.
In 1903, the cemetery was incorporated as the Highland Cemetery, managed by the Highland Cemetery Association, which recently reorganized and noted that there is no known map of burials at the grounds.
The project's overall goals include surface mapping and documentation of the existing grave sites, organizing and digitizing existing historical records and conducting a non-intrusive sub-surface ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey to identify any unmarked grave sites.
Lowry's specialty is in Latin America — Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize.
“Because of my training in anthropology, we have a professional standard where we also maintain active connections with the local community,” he said.
“Even though my specialty is outside of Plattsburgh, in recent years, I'm doing more and more research in Plattsburgh and the neighboring areas to help with the connections between the college and the community.”
Parker asked him if he could assist in the recovery, research and investigation of the cemetery.
“One of the questions that they wanted to ask included confirming or checking to make sure that the areas that were not supposed to have graves in them didn't, in fact, have graves in them,” he said.
“That is a methodological question that is very difficult, hard to carefully confirm, that nobody is buried somewhere.”
Lowry saw it as a beautiful opportunity for his anthropology and archaeology students, who are learning how to do archaeological investigations, to gain the skills they need while also serving the community.
“So our goal is to create these mutual beneficial connections that allow us to work on projects that help both the students and the community,” he said.
The project will provide the final product of a map and database for the documentation and preservation of Highland Cemetery records.
It is a predominantly Protestant, Wesleyan cemetery, with 205 tombstones, according to McLellan Cemetery Records from 1940.
“I am very excited,” Parker said.
“Plattsburgh State has been wonderful. Justin is great. This weekend, we're going to do what you can see, what's above ground, and we're very excited to start with that. Hopefully in the spring, we can keep up our connection and find out what is underneath the ground with GPR.”
LOOKING FOR PHOTOS
Lowry also urges people to come forth if they have long-ago cemetery pictures.
“Because we are going to be doing a reconstruction of what the cemetery has gone through,” he said.
“Having those old photos would be real good, especially in the 1960s and before.”
The association's board of trustees is very excited about activity returning to the cemetery.
“It's been wonderful,” Parker said.
“I think cemeteries have been relegated to this place that people don't tend to go like they used to go 100 years ago or 200 years ago to visit family and have picnic and enjoy the cemetery for what it is. I would like to change that.”
For more information please contact Kristina M. Parker of the Highland Cemetery Association at 518-578-2040 or Justin Lowry, PhD, assistant professor, Archaeology Department of Anthropology 518-564-4005 or email: email@example.com
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