In 1819 the Hamlet of Oak Point in the Town of Hammond, New York was settled by George Elliot. Mr. Elliott purchased fifty acres of land in the town of Hammond from Susannah Kearney on November 30, 1819 and in turn sold lots to others. By 1824 the hamlet was established and recognized as the Village of Oak Point. It became a "busy river hamlet with a tannery, ashery, sawmill, cooperage, customs house and shipping wharf" according to the historical marker that sits at the edge of the cemetery on Dake Circle in Oak Point. The land was set aside as a "burying ground" and deeded to the town.
For the past few decades, the Oak Point Community Association has taken on responsibility for caring for the property. In 2017, the OPCA Board of Directors decided to clean up the edges of the cemetery, which was overgrown with invasive weeds and sumac trees.
The morning of October 14th, 2017, Robert Farfaglia and Crayton Buck started the project with Mr. Farfaglia using his small backhoe to remove the trees and shrubs, scraping the surface and picking rocks. In the process of plucking a young sumac from the ground, part of a buried gravestone was unearthed. The two men carefully pulled it up for examination. I noticed the commotion and went over to get a look at the stone myself. It was caked in damp soil but the shape gave evidence that it was definitely a gravestone. I took a soft broom and started to sweep off the mud. Alternately pouring water on it and sweeping I decided to add a little dish soap and continued sweeping. The results exposed a beautifully intact, very legible gravestone for Jacob Hayes (Elliot), son of George and Cynthia Elliot, who died Nov. 26, 1821, aged 1 year, 5 months and 15 days. This child was the son of the man who first settled Oak Point!
The surprise find had us all wondering if any more buried stones exist in that area. Comments I have heard over the years suggest there used to be many more stones in the cemetery. So I made some contacts.
Donna Demick of the Hammond Museum located a 1961 list from the St. Lawrence County Historical Society created by Mary Biondi stating "There are many crude and unmarked stones and foot stones. Many others have been carried away by 'pranksters' and used for fireplaces, etc." She also noted that there previously were 22 stones. Her document lists seven names of those known to have been buried in the Oak Point Cemetery. I also spoke with someone who remembers a conversation many years ago with an individual who admitted to taking one of the stones from the cemetery and making it into a coffee table! It is most unfortunate that anyone would consider doing that.
In Alice Gorham’s self-published History of Oak Point, the following people were identified as buried at Oak Point: Josiah Jones, age 61; Sedate Jones, d. Nov 20, 1837 age 59; Aaron Willber. D. Aug 21, 1827; Eunice Clark, d. Oct. 29, 1823; Asa H. Story, d. July 31, 1833 age 8.
Most of the stones in the cemetery are illegible or difficult to decipher because of corrosion from approximately two centuries of acid rain. I asked my husband, Everett Thomas, about the acid rain issue, which over the years has been a bane to countless cemeteries and our environment. The following are his comments:
"Much of the etching and deterioration of limestone-based gravestones is due to the past effects of acid rain. Normal precipitation has a pH of about 5.6, which is mildly acidic. When the pH of precipitation drops below about 5.0 it’s often referred to as “acid rain”. Acid rain is caused by air pollutants, mainly sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. These react with moisture in the air to form sulfuric acid and nitric acid. (Since pure water has a pH of 7.0, the rain even in areas with no pollution at all is acidic.”) Acid rain has been much more of a concern in the Eastern third of the U.S., particularly the upper Midwest and the Northeast."
"Due to the combined efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency and industry the amount of acid-forming pollutants in the air, particularly sulfur dioxide, has fallen considerably in the past thirty years. There’s now much less sulfur allowed in diesel fuel and in coal burned in power plants; industrial pollution is also less due to better control of particulates from smokestacks. In 1985, the annual precipitation in most of New York State amounted to over 20 lbs. of sulfate per acre. Since then these numbers have fallen by about half. The change is so great that farmers increasingly have to apply sulfur fertilizers because they don’t get nearly as much “free” sulfur from precipitation as they used to. There still will be some acid etching of limestone-based gravestones, but the rate of deterioration should be somewhat less than a generation ago and is expected to continue to decline."
Early efforts of clearing the brush and growth.
Clearing progress at Oak Point Cemetery.
My latest contact was with Anne Cady, of Windsor, CO, who has a website with her extensive research of cemeteries.
Almost ten years ago Anne had been at the Oak Point Cemetery and photographed what she found at that time. Anne was very helpful with her descriptions of how she has looked for and found various fallen, sunken and buried stones over the years. She offered advice on cleaning, documenting and posting the photos we take and the information we gather on the findagrave.com website (free service). “The listing is on the findagave.com website for the Oak Point Cemetery, Hammond, St. Lawrence County, NY.”
Anne pointed out that there are people who specialize in other means, including sonar, to find buried markers. Her own practice is to use a long, sharp stick to carefully poke around suspected areas. She states, "They are often easiest to find in the summer as the buried stones hold heat and often cause the ground above them to be browner than the surrounding areas. You can also sometimes spot the graves as slightly sunken areas, and then focus on the ground at either end of the sunken areas where markers would be. Back in the 1800-1840 time frame, most graves had small footstones along with the headstones and often the footstones survived better as they were less likely to break or fall due to their smaller size. So if you see a footstone, you can try looking about 7 feet away from it to see if there are buried remnants of a headstone."
Anne also mentioned finding a similar stone in the past that turned out to be for an "African Servant" for a prominent Ogdensburg family. Having fallen face down in the dirt and buried, like the stone we unearthed, it was in excellent shape.
In such cases she carefully removes the dirt from the back, and if the stone is sturdy enough, flips it over, cleans it with water and a soft brush (nothing else). After photographing the stone, she turns it back face down into the soil again so it will continue to be preserved and unlikely to be stolen. However she does not cover the back so it likely won't disappear underground again. Her concern is the acid rain that has worn away so many older stones. Back to our efforts with the Oak Point Cemetery. The stone we unearthed has such significant ties to the community that I think it should be replaced in an upright position. Perhaps we can figure out a way to protect it with some sort of covering ...just a thought.
As we continue the cleanup efforts I have some solid advice from Anne Cady to share with the rest of the OPCA Board. A neighboring property owner here suggested we do a rubbing of the newly found stone and possibly others in the cemetery, and sent me internet-generated instructions on doing so.
Obviously, more research is needed with the names of those we know for sure are buried there, and I am hoping we can interest members of the OPCA to take part. As we complete the cleanup tasks, we can decide what additions we want to make to the property, including any shrubbery or ornamental trees along the edge to make it more attractive. There is a cross in the cemetery that was moved there a couple of decades ago from what was used as a Presbyterian Conference Center on the other side of Oak Point. That building was razed and the cross moved to the cemetery. My thought is that we may want to place that cross more centrally. We'll see what the Board members think. Lots more to do, but the ride has been fun so far.
“The worship center on Vesper Point was built the week of July 20, 1962, as a project of St. Lawrence Presbytery's first ‘Niner Camp’ for Junior High Young People in the ninth grade. All of the fifteen campers and leaders took part in the project.
The Celtic Cross that rises from the pedestal was poured of concrete mixed by the campers using gravel from a nearby farm. The symbols on the face of the cross were designed by the campers from pebbles picked up at Oak Point with the idea of presenting the life at Oak Point as it is lived before God.
The symbols portray: the recreational life of Oak Point --the swimming and the ball games; the life of study and devotion; the many warm friendships established here; the relationships that Oak Point bears to the Church of Jesus Christ; and, in the middle of the cross, linking all the activities of Oak Point, the fish, the symbol of Jesus Christ, our Lord."
The pedestal is built of limestone from a nearby quarry and rocks picked up from the river. A metal box is enclosed in the back of the pedestal to keep mementos of Oak Point's past life."
From Alice Gorham's "History of Oak Point"
By Kathleen Thomas
Kathleen (Katy) Thomas is a retired building and landscape designer, now living at Oak Point in the town of Hammond, on property that has been in her husband Everett's family since before the Civil War. Katy was 'bitten' by the Oak Point bug while on vacation in 1961, when she accompanied an aunt and uncle at a camp, owned by her husband’s grandparents. The following summer, she was smitten by the young man who was to make her his bride. Katy and Ev retired to Oak Point in 2008, in the home Katy designed. Katy has been working on a project to digitize the 'History of Oak Point' by the late Alice Gorham, so it can be available online.