Grave hunters - BlueStone Press
December 14, 2017
Our towns

Grave hunters

Discovering the lives behind the headstones

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With Halloween fast approaching, thoughts often drift toward some the area’s quietest neighbors ... those long sleeping in our local cemeteries. Cloaked in mystery, these silent tombs inspire questions of a time long past. Who lived here? What was life like back then? A quick dip into your neighborhood cemetery and into the local history books starts to flesh out the story of some of the area’s most famous families, and their stories do not disappoint. An ambitious and consummate host entrenched in conspiracies, a famous money-bags restaurateur and water tycoon who snubbed a second wife, and a Civil War hero with a soft spot for High Falls … they all lie beneath our feet just waiting for the right bewitching night to rise up and tell their tail.

Strolling along the lanes of the Marbletown Cemetery one may encounter the imposing gravestone of Cornelius Evert Wynkoop. While the name may not ring a bell, it’s safe to wager that most locals know the house he built in Stone Ridge, the pre-Revolutionary Wynkoop Lounsbery house, located on Route 209, just down and across from the Stone Ridge Library.

Cornelius was named after his great-grandfather, one of the first Dutch settlers. While his namesake settled closer to Hurley, the Cornelius in question, who was a very successful merchant, married the lovely Cornelia Mancius, and in 1767, like many young people have throughout history, he struck out to find a spot in the world he could call his own and settled in fledgling Stone Ridge. Cornelius set about building the house of their dreams. The house is Georgian in style, but the structure features a bold, distinctly American “gambrel” roof. Clearly, Cornelius was a man with some social power and ahead of trend all around. He rubbed shoulders with Aaron Burr and Dewitt Clinton and served as a major in the infamous Minute Men. He was also part of the organization widely credited as setting the foundations in place for the later-to-come secret service – (the) Committee to Detect and Defeat Conspiracies. The CDDC was one of the first organizations to be formed under the articles of confederation and dedicated itself to the “collect intelligence, apprehend British spies and couriers, and examine suspected British sympathizers.”

Cornelius’ hobnobbing led to a visit from the region’s most famous couch surfer, George Washington, who stayed the night of Nov. 15 in the year 1782 while en route to Kingston.

It is no surprise that the High Falls cemetery is home to the grave of the village’s most famous restaurateur, Simeon DuPuy. In 1797, DuPuy and his first wife, Arrietta (Hasbrouck), constructed the now legendary DuPuy Canal House, operated it as a tavern and inn and, as luck (and a little financial help from Simeon himself) would have it, a tavern that was ideally located once the D&H Canal opened in New York in 1827. With the increased traffic, Simeon’s tavern flourished, so much so that in 1839 an addition was added to the north side. DuPuy is recorded in dealing extensively in local real estate as well as operating a gristmill at the lip of the falls, on the southern side of the water. This gristmill would prove to be a money mill after he secured the contract to grind all of the cement the canal. Simeon saw the economic possibilities that the water held, and in a daring, early capitalist move, he came to control the waterpower on the Rondout. While the family started out living at the canal house, they soon moved across the creek – no doubt for a better vantage point in which to view all of their assets.

After the death of his first wife, Simeon remarried at the ripe old age of 69 to a woman named Rachel, of whom little is known. From his will, it is evident that he placed value in terms of time spent. and her treatment in the will appears to reflect that proration of years: a meager $25 doled out by Simeon’s eldest son Jacob once a year along with some personal effects. Poor Rachel – it appears she didn’t even make it into the family plot! Swing by the High Falls Cemetery to visit rest of the family.

While at the High Falls Cemetery, find the gravestone of John B. Krum. John was nestled in a long line of Krums but received special distinction for two reasons: his participation in the Civil War and his demise, which made local news.

John was a tried and true High Fallonian, born in 1819. After attending school in High Falls he moved on to study at Roxbury Academy. He returned home upon graduation and assisted his father, who was the superintendent at a cement plant at High Falls. In the winter, John taught school in nearby New Paltz (quite the commute before automobiles) until he joined the 120th Regiment and went off to fight the Civil War, where he was made first lieutenant and later captain. John fought many battles, including the Battle of Gettysburg, before being injured in October 1864 and honorably discharged on account of the injuries sustained. In 1865 he was brevetted major for meritorious and gallant conduct. Upon returning, John resumed teaching at Kerhonkson in addition to being employed at the F.O. Norton cement plant. He was an active Republican who took part in local politics and was elected school commissioner for the Second District and held the office three years. He married his dream girl, Elizabeth LeFever (on their shared gravestone it notes “she made home happy”), and went on to raise seven children.

On April 7, 1908, the Daily Freeman announced John’s death: “BIDDEN DEATH OF A WIDELY KNOWN CITIZEN OF HIGH FALLS, A VETERAN OF THE CIVIL WAR.” The obituary went on to explain that John had been found dead in his hay barn in the town of his birth, High Falls. After surviving 89 years and the war that defined a nation, it was heart disease to which John succumbed in the end.

These three men and their stories represent the tip of the historic iceberg in this small patch of the world, a patch rich with the who’s who of history books. And if you find yourself looking for something to do on these crisp, nostalgic days of fall, turn your feet toward your local cemetery. Within its quiet grounds you will find more then enough fodder for the imagination to last you through the long winter ahead.

 

Note: The reporter wishes to extend her heartfelt thanks to local treasures and historians Bill Merchant and Rik Rydant, who answered frantic emails with kindness, interest and loads of needed information!


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