Rapids Cemetery is one of the oldest and most mysterious cemeteries in Monroe County. Most people in Rochester have no idea that it even exists. For geographical context, it is about a 20 minute walk from my home on Exchange Street in the PLEX neighborhood by Corn Hill. I go down Magnolia, take a left on Seward, another left on Genesee, and then a right on Congress Ave. Just a few hundred yards down Congress and the landmark appears on a plateau like a vanquished field of sparsely dotted paleolithic structures. This is no ordinary cemetery. It houses the remains of pioneers, Revolutionary War veterans, Civil War infantryman, officers and nurses, and other residents of the lost community of Castle Town, which was a thriving and notorious landing during that time.
As far as we know, the cemetery was founded between 1810 and 1812. We also know that it was bought and maintained by the influential Wadsworth family which owned property from Geneseo to Rochester. Apparently the Wadsworths put aside one and a quarter acre for a burial place of area residents. Rapids Cemetery actually resided in Gates until 1902 when the area was finally annexed into the City of Rochester. The street leading to the cemetery was first called Cemetery Road. Then between 1880 and 1890 the name was converted to Chester Street. In 1899, Chester Street became Congress Avenue.
Apparently much is being done to preserve this national landmark. According to City of Rochester historian Christina Ridarsky:
“The City of Rochester owns and maintains this cemetery. It is currently under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department and is mowed and maintained regularly. Just last week, the department cleared brush along the edge of the cemetery, and more such work is planned over the next few weeks. The City is in the midst of a restoration project that includes members of several veterans organizations and the 19th Ward Community Association. We are consulting with a gravestone restoration expert and expect to restore and re-set many of the remaining headstones in the next two months. The site will be landscaped and marked with a historic marker. I and several community volunteers are researching the people buried here, and we will be looking for other volunteers to help with our recovery and restoration efforts.”
“Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills”
― William Shakespeare,