John Burrell, Ellicottville Town Supervisor, addresses the crowd at the Jefferson Street Cemetery Dedication ceremony.
John Burrell, Ellicottville Town Supervisor, addresses the crowd at the Jefferson Street Cemetery Dedication ceremony.

By Mary Fox

A plaque was unveiled on Thursday, November 14, designating the Jefferson Street Cemetery on Rt. 219 in Ellicottville as an historic site on the National Register of Historic Places.

The site was put on the register in January 2012, but funding was not available for a plaque marking it until the Wm. P. Pomeroy Foundation stepped in.  “Many historic sites across the country do not have markers. The Pomeroy Foundation’s mission is to provide them,” said Nicole Walter representing the Foundation.

The National Register of Historic Places is a federal program. In New York, it is administered by the State’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP).  Virginia Bartos, representing the organization, presented a certificate designating the cemetery’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places.  “The town, which is the caretaker for the cemetery, is to be commended for its support of the project,” she said. She presented Historian Mary Elizabeth Dunbar with a copy of the application.

Getting on the State and National Register of Historic Places is a lengthy process,” said Mary Elizabeth Dunbar, Town Historian.  “A detailed form must be submitted to the state for approval. Once approved, the paperwork goes on to the national level.”

Extensive research into the historic significance and history of the cemetery and those buried there was undertaken by a group led by Gail Carruci and Mary Elizabeth Dunbar. Working from old, incomplete lists of names, they attempted to put names to unmarked graves.

“It was basically starting from scratch as records of the cemetery were destroyed in a 1969 fire in the Town Hall where they were being housed.” said Carruci.  Preservation of the cemetery included cleaning the headstones.

Cemeteries offer a valuable resource for those searching for their family roots.  Some descendents of those buried in the Jefferson St. Cemetery have been located and have provided information about their ancestors. It is hoped that more descendents can be found.

Historic cemeteries such as the Jefferson St. Cemetery are important cultural, architectural and archaeological resources that provide us with information about our community’s history. Headstones provide some of the earliest local written history with names, dates and epitaphs.

David Woolley, descendent of Nathanial Fish, was present at the ceremony to represent “the residents of the cemetery.” The Fish family monument is inscribed with a line from a 19th century hymn: “We miss thee at home.”

Nathanial Fish came to Ellicottville in 1819. He opened the Fish Tavern two miles west of the village in 1824.  Fish Hill was named after him, and his daughter Mary K. Gay was the first birth in Mansfield.

Tombstones offer glimpses into local illness and epidemics and tell of a community’s sacrifices in our nations wars, as well as give samples of local folk art. George Fillgrove, constituent Relations Manager representing NYS senator Catharine M. Young said, “being a veteran, this cemetery is important to me because it contains many veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.”

John Burrell, supervisor of the town of Ellicottville, received a certificate from Bartos and said, “people come to Ellicottville for many reasons. The Jefferson Street Cemetery, along with the town Historic District, promotes Ellicottville’s significant history. “Those of us who have been a part of Ellicottville for all our lives need to gather together to find more ways to make our village and town’s history visible,” Burrell said.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “Show me your burial grounds and I’ll show you a measure of the civility of a community.”

Ellicottville is fortunate to have historic sites such as the Jefferson Street Cemetery preserving our rich history.