Friday, July 27, 2012

The Old Halenbeek Burial Ground

Downtown Albany was once dotted with public, private, and church graveyards.  The earliest churchyard surrounded the First Dutch Church at what is now Broadway and State Street, a Lutheran graveyard stood on South Pearl Street just below State Street, small burying grounds for soldiers from Fort Frederick and for African-Americans were located just outside the stockade not far from today's City Hall.  Later, municipal burial grounds were established on Eagle Street (just south of modern East Capitol Park) and then at State Street (now the northeastern corner of Washington Park). 

There were also small family burial grounds on farms, estates, and privately owned or leased lots.  One such lot - complete with a private vault - was built by merchant David Vanderheyden around 1766 at what is now the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Swan Street. 

However, as the city expanded, all of its old burial grounds would gradually disappear.  The land occupied by graves was increasingly valuable real estate and officials were concerned that decaying bodies could contaminate local water supplies.  Churchyards, family graveyards, municipal burying grounds all gave way to progress and, by the late 1860s, all of their graves were relocated, with most reburied at the Albany Rural Cemetery and some at the adjacent St. Agnes Roman Catholic Cemetery.  Both of these new cemeteries were located well outside the city where they posed no health risks and, unlike downtown graveyards, were not a constant reminder of mortality.

The last of the family graveyards in Albany was the Halenbeek Burial Ground.   This burial ground, shown in the engraving above, occupied what is now the southwest corner of South Pearl and Hamilton Streets (now occupied by the South Mall Towers apartment building).  The burial ground was originally part of a large parcel of land owned by one Hendrick Hallenbeck. 

Hendrick Hallenbeck (also spelled Halenbeek and Halenbake) was born in 1692, the son of Isaac Casperse Hallenbeck and Dorothy Bosch.  In 1718, he married Susanna Bradt.  Hendrick, who served as a city constable and in the local militia, owned land stretching from modern-day Grand Street (once called Halenbeek Street) to the Hudson River in what is now Albany's South End.  His property was bordered on the south by the Pastures, the Schuyler family estate.  The former Beaver Creek divided the Hallenbeck and Schuyler lands around modern Arch Street.

Hendrick Hallenbeck died in 1766 and, in a will drawn up two years prior, he set aside a portion of his land to be maintained as a family burial ground for the use of his descendents. 

My express will and desire also is and I do hereby order and direct that the burying ground in my lott, near my house, containing sixty square feet shall be and remain as such for the use of all my children and their posterity, which is to be kept in a sufficient fence at their joint expense, and such of my children or their posterity that shall refuse to pay their part in such repairs, or keeping the said burying ground with a good fence, shall henceforth be excluded their right within.

Hendrick's will made it clear he expected this family burial ground to be maintained by his descendents intact, but over the years, progress encroached on the graves.  The laying out of Hamilton Street through the old Hallenbeck farm and the subsequent widening of both Hamilton and South Pearl reduced the burying ground to a narrow corner lot.  The engraving above, published in Joel Munsell's Collections On The City of Albany, shows a melancholy little graveyard crowded with uneven rows of tilting headstones hidden behind a high wooden fence.

By the mid-1800s, there were few new burials added, though Munsell reports that the graveyard was used to bury some victims of the 1832 cholera outbreak.  The burying ground was becoming a burden to the family of Hendrick Hallenbeck as most of his male descendants moved on from the immediate Albany area and responsibility for the last of Albany's family graveyards fell to several female descendents.

In 1849, a group of trustees sought to break the terms of Hendrick's will and relieve the descendents of responsibility with as much respect for the original intent as possible.  The land occupied by the graves would be sold for taxes on the condition that the burials be properly removed and transferred to a suitable new resting place.

In 1860, a plot was purchased in the Albany Rural Cemetery.  Located in a section of the Cemetery's high North Ridge known then as the Arbor Hill and now identified as Section 73 on modern maps of the grounds, the lot contained nearly forty burial spaces and was one of the largest family plots in the Cemetery.  The plot, which is still enclosed by a low rail, overlooks the northernmost of the Cemetery's scenic ravines and a set of stone steps at the rear of the plot still down lead to an abandoned path along the shoulder of the ravine.

The relocation of graves from South Pearl Street to the new plot took place in June of 1860.  According to Munsell, the exhumation of the Hallenbeck graves attracted so many curious spectators that the police were called in to disperse the crowds and allow the laborers to work in peace.

The process of removing the graves was somewhat slowed as those containing cholera victims had been dug to a required depth of nine feet as opposed to the more typical six.

The total expense for the removal of the graves, the new plot at the Rural Cemetery, and a suitable monument was said to cost $1,500.

The new Hallenback lot was marked with a massive marble shaft.

Tablets on the sides bear the names of Hendrick Hallenbeck, his wife Susanna, and a number of family members interred here with them. 

There are a number of other gravestones in the Hallenbeck lot, some of which were later burials.  There are, however, several very old stones like the one shown below which may have been moved from the original burial ground. 

Note:  Both "Halenbeek" and "Hallenbeck" appear on the family monument at the Albany Rural Cemetery and there are several variations in spelling the name.


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