There lies in Woodbury a small burial ground referred to as The Old Cemetery.
It is tucked in behind the Highland Mills United Methodist Church and surrounded by towering pines.
Not a part of Cemetery of the Highlands, this final resting place of Woodbury’s ancestors has seemingly been forsaken.
There are an estimated 1,200 graves. The land was given by James Weygant to be a family cemetery but also for other local people.
Noteworthy people buried there include Revolutionary War veterans Isaac Lewis (buried 1838), Jonathan Taylor (1837) and Stephen Solomon (1851).
By New York State law, an abandoned cemetery must be maintained by the town in which it is situated, so dutifully, the Town of Woodbury has mowed the grass two to three times a year
Left to fade away
Sadly, however, time has not been kind to The Old Cemetery, as tree limbs and sap have fallen, leaves have collected and built-up and the headstones and grave markers have become illegible due to dirt, fungus and decay.
Some have broken due to the weather while others have been completely buried by earth and grass.
This rich archive of Woodbury’s forefathers had been left to fade away.
We Are Woodbury meet Kevin Lynch
That is until one long-time Woodbury resident with a passion for history and the knowledge of headstone restoration, Kevin Lynch, brought an idea to a newly formed volunteer group calling themselves We Are Woodbury (aka WAW).
Under the guidance of its founder, Woodbury resident Kate Luciani, WAW had recently completed several other clean-up projects throughout Woodbury, so Lynch’s plan to teach all volunteers how to gently and methodically clean and restore the forgotten tombstones was a perfect match.
On a beautiful fall weekend this past November, several WAW volunteers met at The Old Cemetery and listened intently to Lynch’s instructions. Young, old, singles and entire families headed onto the hallowed grounds with their buckets of water, scraping tools and special solution, each with a desire to uncover the mysteries of the names and pertinent information hidden beneath the dirt and fungus.
The lives of Woodbury’s early families
Hours later, adults and children alike stood in awe of what was revealed before them. Woodbury’s early families from the 1700’s, men, women, children and infants whose lives and passing were given new meaning.
By the end of the weekend approximately 20 headstones had become legible again and six that had been completely buried were uncovered.
Amazed with their efforts, but not satisfied with the condition of the grounds, WAW volunteers went back to The Old Cemetery later in the month and spent days raking and blowing leaves, cutting and removing tree limbs and disposing of other debris.
All agreed that the transformation was a labor of love, but one that must continue through the seasons and years to come.
Currently WAW is in the process of researching the history of The Old Cemetery including its ownership and authority, while solidifying plans to continue with seasonal maintenance, restoration and preservation. This tiny piece of Woodbury’s rich history is well on its way to being rescued thanks to the vision of Kevin Lynch and all those We Are Woodbury volunteers.
Readers may email WeAreWoodbury@gmail.com or call Kate Luciani (845) 659-1509 to learn more about We Are Woodbury.