BERGEN TOWNSHIP, GENESEE COUNTY, NEW YORK GENWEB PROJECT
RICHMOND FAMILY PLOT
BERGEN, GENESEE COUNTY, NEW YORK
Richmond Family Plot
The Richmond family plot on the Redinger farm in Bergen is on the West Side of the road on a hillside and is heavily overgrown with lilac bushes. Most of the stones are gone; the remaining inscription being on a stone which is now lying flat.
Loring, only footstone now remaining "L. R." Fragment of stone with word "Richmond" identifies surname.
C., only footstone now remaining, "C. R." Part of word "Richmond" on fragment of stone identifies surname.
Sally, wife of Loring Richmond, d. September 16, 1848, @ 48y
Report of 'Haunting' Started search that led to Cemetery
The possibility the West Bergen home might be haunted was an intriguing one for historian Susan Conklin.
Tenants of the property owned by Jacob Peters of Penfield described hearing strange noises, seeing strange ghost-like forms and clusters of flies. They were concerned about their 6-year-old son who developed a sudden interest in death.
When the abandoned cemetery, with its disturbed graves was found nearby, historians first checked to find who was buried there. Records were available for only three, all of whom were Richmonds.
Little could be learned about Loring, Sally and C. Richmond
The 1840 census lists nine people in the Loren Richmond household. Loren Richmond was listed as a farmer with 30 acres in Beers' Gazetteer, which was published in 1890.
This initial research gave no clues about why the property might be haunted, if it was.
Mrs. Conklin arranged for the tenants to talk with a parapsychologist, Dianna Robinson of Pitford.
"Some things that had happened were interesting," Ms. Robinson reports. But the phenomena were mostly of impressions, of feeling hot and cold. "There were no hard Facts."
The tenants, former Rochester residents who lived in the house only about a month last fall, "seemed to feel afraid of authorities, and were not eager for publicity," she recalls. "They were not terribly cooperative."
Ronald Ladd of Batavia lived in the house for about 10 years. He doesn't remember anything strange happening while his family lived there.
Emma Redinger of Byron lived near the house from 1938 until last year. During that time, she reports, she never heard any stories of supernatural happenings.
The Daily News
Bones Wash From Graves, Responsibility Questioned
By Sharon Larsen
Daily News Staff Writer
Bergen- Perhaps no one cares.
This weekend, a time to remember the dead, the sun will continue to bleach the bones and skulls strewn over an abandoned hillside cemetery in Bergen.
Few records remain to tell whose skulls they might be, and only one headstone, recording the birth and death of Sally Richmond, is legible among the fragments.
In time, rains will wash away soils, exposing more bones to the sun. The bones will crack and crumble into dust unhindered. There are laws and there are interpretations of laws. Somehow, this small plot near the southwest side of the intersection of West Bergen and Dublin roads has slipped between the interpretations, and now there is no one who will take care of it.
Area residents have known for y about the old cemetery on the farm now owned by Jacob Peters of Penfield. It was described as covering one-third of an acre and in "very bad" condition in April 29, 1926, article in The News.
In 1952, LaVerne C. Cooley in his "Tombstone Inscriptions from Abandoned Cemeteries and Farm Burials of Genesee County" wrote that the "Richmond Family Plot" was "Heavily overgrown with lilac brushes. Most of the stones are gone, the one remaining stone which is now lying flat."
Mr. Cooley could decipher only three names: Loring Richmond, C. Richmond and Sally Richmond, wife of Loring, who died in 1848.
William Busse of Bergen remembers going to the old cemetery in the late 1960s with an art class. When he returned last fall researching the question thoroughly. Mr. Katzen found "no provision of law which permits or obligates the town or any other specific body to resolve such a problem where the cemetery was a private cemetery."
When he returned last fast with Bergen Town Historian Sharon Pocock and County historian Susan Conklin, he was shocked. Most of what he remembered was gone, the victim of excavation by a gravel firm at the site.
During research for a college course in the mid 1970s, Mrs. Dean Hiler, who lives across the road, found that some stones had been removed to the basement of the farmhouse, and others had been used as stepping stones. One stone, that of Sarah, who died in 1834, was decipherable. Residents then living in the home had discovered the stones; no one knew who might have removed them.
She recalls that permission was given for gravel excavation at the site while she served on the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, between 1968 and 1970. How many graves were destroyed before town officials stopped the digging is unknown. Mrs. Conklin believes some clues may be found in a mound of dirt where excavators piled topsoil.
The plot came to the attention of historians when family renting the farmhouse asked for some historical background. They believed the house was haunted, and had photographs showing vague "ghostly" images.
Mrs. Conklin became interested because she was in the process of collecting local ghost and folklore storied for a slide program. With the tenants permission, she, Mrs. Pocock and two others went looking for the cemetery they found mentioned in old records.
They found nearly 50 human bones, including two skulls that had washed down the gravel pit.
The two historians reported their finding to Sheriff W. Douglas Call, who advised them to contact town Supervisor Merton C. Dean. They took Mr. Dean to the site and Mrs. Conklin removed the exposed bones, taking them to her office for safekeeping.
More than a month later, Mrs. Conklin received a call from State Police, who had been told she had the bones. After determining no "foul play" was involved, troopers ordered Mrs. Conklin to re-inter the bones.
The County historian records reveal the bones were re-buried at the site November. 9. Mrs. Conklin, Mrs. Pocock, Mr. Dean, a State Police investigator and several others were present as the Rev. Gregory VanDussen, pastor of the Bergen United Methodist Church, conducted a brief service.
Both Mrs. Conklin and Mr. Dean contacted the County Health Department, which said it had no jurisdiction since the bones were so old. Mr. Dean asked the town attorney to determine if the town had responsibility.
The only section of law that was immediately clear to all is that the property owner has no responsibility for the cemetery plot. State law indicates that owners of private burial grounds are not required to maintain them to any standard unless they are declared a public nuisance.
Mrs. Conklin wrote to the state Division of Cemeteries and the case was assigned to Donal F. Goold, an investigator at the division's Buffalo office, Mr. Goold came to Batavia, reviewed records, atlas and slides and visited the site.
In his report, Mr. Goold described how excavation and erosion had disturbed the graveyard. "As time elapses, I am certain that more skeletal remains will be exposed," he wrote. Mr. Goold estimated the cemetery had originally contained between seven and 20 burials.
"The course of action at his time is to have the Town of Bergen realize the responsibility and take necessary legal action to allow removal of the remains, markers, etc. To another town cemetery," Mr. Goold advised.
He said Carl Lewis, a Genesee Community College anthropologist, had expressed interest in using students to remove the remains as a class project, "I concur with the proposed course of action," the investigator said.
The town, however, had another opinion. Mr. Dean wrote to the town attorney, asking if the town was responsible. Responsibility hinges on whether or not the cemetery was a public burial ground.
A letter from Erza K. Katzen to Mr. Dean said that after researching the question thoroughly, Mr. Katzen found "no provision of law which permits or obligates the town or any other specific body to resolve such a problem where the cemetery was a private cemetery.
Town officials also sought advice from the state controller, who sent a copy of the applicable laws. An explanation of those laws were send to Town Board members by the town attorney May 18.
The town is not obligated and possibly, may be powerless to do anything about a private burial ground that is not open to the public in the absence of its being a public nuisance or a danger to public health and safety, the attorney's interpretation said.
Health department officials had already said the cemetery does not constitute a threat to public health, and "the town is satisfied it is a private burial ground," so it would appear the town has no obligation, attorney ruled.
Town Board members have been "under pressure to go in and do something," Mr. Dean said, but are concerned about the town's possible liability.
Mrs. Conklin takes issue with town officials. She believes the old cemetery was a public burial ground, noting that during the early 1800s the cemetery was between a schoolhouse and a post office in a community that boasted a livery stable, blacksmith shop and church. The property was not even owned by a Richmond.
An old hinge, sections of stone wall and the lilacs characteristic of many old cemeteries indicate the plot was well care for at one time, the historian says. "I do not believe it was a farm burial place," she states. The Richmond's had enough of their own land. It wouldn't have made sense for them to bury family members off their property unless, she points out, unless burials were in a public cemetery.
The opportunity at GCC is now past, but if it were possible to prove- as is suggested in some old records- that a veteran was buried in West Bergen cemetery, the veterans Administration would pay for the all remains to be moved to a new site, because individual remains can't be identified. The only cost to the town would be for digging the new grave, Mrs. Conklin said. Remains would probably be put in one grave.
That, however, would entail further research, as well as securing of easement rights so workers could legally cross Mr. Peters' land to get to the site, about 200yards from the road.
The controller suggested a court determination might be necessary to assign responsibility for the cemetery. But that's only if someone cares enough to pursue litigation. Barring that, there is nothing to be done.
From Democrat and Chronicle
Saturday, May 28, 1983
19th-century graveyard in Bergen giving up its ghost to the present.
Excavation went too far; now town at loss as to what to do with bones
By John Dowd
Democrat and Chronicle
Bergen- For more than a month, Susan Conklin kept two human skulls, 50 human bones and a fragment of a coffin in a box in her office.
Conklin, Genesee County's historian, discovered the remains last September on the grounds of an abandoned cemetery in West Bergen. She kept them in her office, waiting for the town to take some action. Finally, she buried them.
In November, the bones were placed in a communal grave, but Conklin is still trying to find out who is responsible for the cemetery, which saw its last burial before the Civil War.
Conklin said the cemetery was lasted used during the 1850s and has since fallen into disrepair. She said the bones are turning up because of excavation work done in the area, during the last decade. "When it was excavated they went too far and took half the cemetery with it," she said.
"My concern is the vandalism in the cemetery. The site is collapsing, especially after the rain, and I'm sure I could go out there and find another 50 bones.
"I don't think it's morally right to let it decay like this," Conklin said. "It's one thing to move headstones when you plow fields, but it's another thing to let bodies roll out of a hill."
Conklin said that until yesterday she had kept her discovery secret at the request of the town of Bergen officials. Conklin believes the town is responsible under state law. Conklin said she spoke up out of her concern.
Sharon Pocock, the town of Bergen's historian who was with Conklin when the bones were found, said she had been "ordered" by the town board and supervisor Merton Dean not to talk about the problem to anyone. As a result she said she could not discuss it yesterday.
The town of Bergen, however, claims it has no responsibility for the cemetery because it is on private property, Dean said. He denied the town board ordered Pocock not to talk about it, but said, "this was supposed to be kept quiet."
"We did not take any action and we put it in the hands of our attorney," Dean said yesterday. "It's not the town's problem, and that would have to be taken up by the people who own it."
Dean said the land is owned by Jacob Peters, of Penfield. Dean refused further comment on why the town hadn't revealed the problem sooner, or what it would do next, if anything.
Peters said yesterday that he owns the land, but had been told by town officials that the town would be responsibility for it. He said he is "concerned."
Conklin said she contacted the state's Division for Cemeteries, which investigated the site and town records late last year. A division investigator, Donald Goold, wrote in an opinion that the town of Bergen should" realize the responsibility and take necessary legal action to allow the removal of the remains, markers, etc. to another town cemetery."
Conklin discovered the bones during her study last September of local folklore and haunted houses. She said she found the cemetery when she was directed to a West Bergen home where such a legend was circulating.
When inspecting the cemetery near the house, Conklin and Pocock found the two human skulls, a rib bone, a rusting hinge, and pieces of broken glass. The glass, she said was commonly used on the top of the coffins during the mid-19th century.
Conklin said she kept the bones and artifacts in her office before being ordered by the County coroner's office to re-bury them in a communal grave.
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