Thursday, June 16, 2016

Zar Cemetery, Chestnut Ridge

Those of you who are long-term readers of this blog may remember my spring 2014 obsession with Chestnut Ridge, the lost hamlet. Long story short, this small community of shoemakers was settled sometime around the Revolutionary War, began to decline in the late 19th century with the encroachment of industrialization, and was finally bought out by Arthur W. Butler, a banker who converted the area into a sprawling estate. Virtually all of the farmsteads were destroyed, along with the Chestnut Ridge Methodist Church, and even graves were moved from the former hamlet into Oakwood Cemetery. However, one cemetery remains in its original location and is now part of a nature sanctuary.

The dated stones date from 1824 to 1915, but many of the roughly shaped fieldstones in the cemetery are likely older. Most of these stones are not inscribed at all. The stone above, inscribed with the initials E. A. M., is an exception. The "M" likely stands for Moore, a common name in Chestnut Ridge.

The newer stones are marble, such as this obelisk, located in the corner of the cemetery.

While the story of Chestnut Ridge is tinged with sadness - an entire community churned under the wheels of industrialization and Gilded Age splendor - it has a somewhat happy conclusion. Thanks to Butler's widow, Anna Foster Robinson Butler, the area that was Chestnut Ridge is now accessible to anyone who wants to enjoy it. The trees have reclaimed the old farmsteads and pretty much obliterated any visible remains of the old community, aside from the stone walls, which still jag through the forest, sometimes at impossible angles. 

It's a good place to go if you're interested in nature photography, particularly of wildlife. I was a little on edge as a bear was spotted in town a few weeks ago - not in the sanctuary, but on a residential street! But we managed to avoid the bears this time. Instead, we saw a red-winged blackbird and a red squirrel (photographed by my dad). Note the red theme - what could it mean?


  1. How do you manage to have Red Squirrels in America? the Red Squirrel was once the only squirrel in Britain, until somebody introduced the American Grey and the Red almost became extinct. There are only a few places in Britain now where they still live. How ironic.

    (They chatter, you know. There used to be some in a beech wood close to one of the places I lived in Northumberland, and I used to love walking through it and hearing them chatter. And they have cute tufts on their ears in the winter.)

    And I don't think I've ever seen a marble grave marker in Britain that wasn't polished.

  2. Red squirrels are rare, but they exist, probably in hiding from the tyrannical gray. We also have black squirrels. I definitely prefer the black and red to the gray.

    I've taken part in a few cemetery restorations now, and it's remarkable how bright the marble can get when it's clean. But I think there's also something nice about the patina of age. It can sometimes make the letters easier to read, ironically.

  3. Your research is fascinating. I live in one the Butler properties on CR, and I believe it was his main house based on a photo I found online of the family in mourning.. they are in my living room. We love to walk around Westmoreland and think about what used to be there.

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