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Welcome! The History Center is requesting that all visitors continue to wear masks inside the Tompkins Center for History & Culture. Our visitors include young audiences and others who are unable to be vaccinated. We appreciate your respect and awareness in following our Health & Safety Protocols to keep all our visitors safe. 


The History Center blog shares research and findings about local history, excerpts from our Thaler/Howell Archives, information about upcoming exhibits and other opportunities on how to get involved with The History Center in Tompkins County. To learn more or view the archival materials mentioned, visit us in downtown Ithaca or subscribe to our monthly newsletter History Happenings

Interesting Tidbits on Newfield Cemeteries

Tue, April 21, 2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous

This post was written by Al Chaffee, Newfield Historical Society President. 

1. All early burials were done in a west to east or approximate west to east direction with the head always to the west. It was said that if the dead were to be able to sit up they would face the sunrise.  The tops of the bodies or caskets were maybe a foot or so deep, as far as I’ve been able to tell.

2. Easily over 95% (possibly around 98% ) of the burials done in the first 25 years of Newfield history were done on the family’s own land - not in a public cemetery which was then called a burying ground.

3. Of the Town of Newfield's twelve original public cemeteries six or half of the cemeteries were located very close to one-room schools. Part of the reason for this was that the early schools were used for community events, church services and for funerals. Many years ago Lochary VanKirk and I visited his distant cousin, Dora (Earl) Decker, who resided at the Folts Home; a nursing home up in Herkimer, N.Y. Lochary lived at 90 VanKirk Rd. in the large house that his grandfather, Andrew Jackson "Jack" VanKirk built. Marty and Linda Burun now live in that house. Dora told us about when she was a girl; she went to the one-room Jackson Hollow School. She recalled a day when school was dismissed for the funeral of Miss Nancy Schoolcraft. Nancy died on Feb. 2, 1892 and was buried in the Chaffee Creek Cemetery. Albert Knettles”A.K.” Allen was a Newfield undertaker at this time. A. K. chose Nancy's funeral to be the first one that his son Archie “A.R.” Allen, would handle by himself. A. R. was only 15 years old when he did the funeral for Nancy Schoolcraft down in the Jackson Hollow School. A.K. and A. R. were the first two of the three generations of the Allen family to operate the Allen funeral business in Newfield.

4. Many of the rural public cemeteries in Newfield were started around 1850. Earlier dated grave stones in these cemeteries were for loved ones' bodies that were brought in from private land and buried there after the cemetery was started. The first burial in the Estabrook Cemetery along Rte. 13 in Pony Hollow was that of William B. Estabrook who died on Apr. 12, 1852. In the same front row is a marble marker giving the death date of Desire, Isaac L. Smith's wife, as Nov. 29, 1832. Also very close to Wm. B.'s stone are the stones of two of Robert P. Beebe's wives, Mary and Hannah whose stones show that they died in 1839 and 1845 respectively. All three ladies must have had their bodies brought in, probably from private land, after Wm. B.'s burial in 1852. Burials on private land were very common and prevalent even up to and well past the 1850's in Newfield. People viewing the stones in Estabrook Cemetery would incorrectly assume that Desire Smith was the first burial in that cemetery in 1832. This situation is common in most public cemeteries.

5. The first burial in the Woodlawn Cemetery was on Jan. 16th, 1881. It was for a 9 year old Charley Sebring who had died just two days earlier. Charley's father, Charles Sebring, a Civil War vet had died in 1875 at the age of 31 and was buried in the Sebring Settlement Cemetery up on the Trumbulls Corners Rd. There are 43 grave markers in the Woodlawn Cemetery with death dates earlier than the first burial in 1881 going back to as early as 1827. One of these is for Charley's dad, Charles, whose body was later moved down and reburied next to Charley. Most of these earlier than 1881 markers are for bodies that were moved in from the less well kept rural cemeteries but some were for bodies brought in from private family owned land. My Grandmother, Mamie Chaffee, told me about Rebecca Cook (1846 - 1885) who was killed in a buggy accident. Rebecca was originally buried on private land up behind Hazel Shulte's present home on Burdge Hill Rd even in 1885 after the Woodlawn Cemetery had been in operation for several years. Several years later Rebecca's body was brought down and reburied in the Woodlawn Cemetery.

6. I was told by the old-timers that early Newfield residents commonly considered death as just a part of life. In the Newfield Village Cemetery on Bank St. there are 47 marked graves of folks who died in the 1830 - 1839 decade. Of those forty-seven deaths, twenty-three or half were 9 years old or younger when they died. The average age of those 47 at their time of death was 23. And adults would have had a better chance of being buried in a public cemetery with a proper marker than a child.

7. The grave of Capt. Joseph Gregg of Co. I, 137th Regt. N.Y.S.V. in the Newfield Village Cemetery on Bank St. has become a lot more well-known in the last three or four years. He now has an approximately 16 foot flag pole and flag and a new marker which calls him the "Hero of Gettysburg". As Civil War historians and researchers did more in-depth research, they found that the basically previously unknown Capt. Gregg and his men played a very important part of the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg. On the evening of July 2nd the 137th was left to guard the foot of Culp's Hill. The rebels started to move up through that area in the dark and Capt. Gregg, with a group of men, made a bayonet charge against them. With vision being very limited due to night time darkness, the southerners retreated. Captain Gregg's gravestone reads "fell while nobly leading his men at bayonet Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg". I think that Capt. Gregg received two bullet wounds with a serious one to his upper arm. He had his left arm amputated at the shoulder and he died the next day, July 3, 1863. It is thought that it is possible that if it were not for Capt. Gregg and his men's bayonet charge in the darkness of night, the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg may have been different. Capt. Gregg was survived by his wife Hannah, daughter of Major John and Annis Puff. Capt. Gregg and Hannah's only child, Jennie, died a year earlier at the age of 3 months.

8. There are another five American flags placed every year before Memorial Day about three or four feet apart up in the northeast corner of the Newfield Village Cemetery on Bank St. Back in the 1950's and early 1960's I remember William Kellogg "Willie" Ellison placing flags at the heads of these five then very obvious graves. Willie explained that these were the graves of five soldiers that never received proper markers. Well we are still placing flags on these graves in remembrance of those five soldiers whose names have been forgotten and whose actual graves are no longer discernable.

There is so very much more that could have been written but we wanted to keep this short. We hope that you found this somewhat interesting. Please contact us if you want to discuss or want more information.

Also please consider joining the Newfield Historical Society. You can contact me at 564-7778.  Our goals are simply to research, preserve and share a very interesting Newfield history.


 Al Chaffee, Newfield Historical Society President

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