Rapids Cemetery: A National Landmark Sinking in Time

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, Richard II

Here lies the gravestone of a corporal in the NY regiment. As an infantryman in the Civil War, I can not begin to fathom the carnage that this young man must have experienced in battle. Even if this marble rock goes out of sight, his suffering will be known forevermore. It was too vast and too immense to be forgotten by the callous indifference of time.
Like Duncan, how much longer before we are swallowed up by the earth? Since my visit to the cemetery I have learned that this land has been orphaned by the city and the county. (Apparently it is mowed only three times a year.) How much longer do we have before our legacy is orphaned like the souls interned at Rapids Cemetery? How much longer do we have before someone stops mowing our grass? 100 years? 500 years? 1000 years? 5,000? 10,000? Soon we will all be devoured by the land we once clung to.
At the age of 78, Mr. Wingate may have managed to survive the worst conflict in American history without fighting himself. I wonder how many loved ones he lost in that most dreadful affair. I also wonder if he thought it was worth it in the end.
This grave caught my attention because of the bright red and white carnations. Her name is Pamela Harrison. According to her tombstone, she served in the Nurse Corps  during the Civil War. What a woman she must have been! Just think about how many lives she saved.  If there is not a Pamela Harrison Society out there already, we need to get moving on that. I have a hunch that she was more noteworthy than this modest stone leads on.




Rapids Cemetery has a sparse and paleolithic aura to it.
This soldier was interesting to me because he volunteered to fight in the Spanish American War. 89 years is an incredible age for a veteran of that era.  How many times did he escape death’s grasp? What motivated him to pick up a weapon and fight the Spanish?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s