A cemetery site in Mount Kisco that played roles in the Revolutionary War is being considered for a major restoration.
A group of village residents, who are members of the Mount Kisco Historical Society, would like to fix grave stones located in the cemetery, which has names after two churches that once stood on its site: St. George's, and then St. Mark's.
The residents would like to clean, repair and unearth grave stones that have fallen apart over time and make its local prominence known more. They made a presentation of their plan for Mount Kisco's Village Board of Trustees at its Tuesday meeting.
The site is roughly an acre and contains about 400 burials; it is located at the intersection of St Marks Place and Route 117, to the south of Conte's Fish Market.
The idea for the initiative came from residents Susan Ross and Laurie Kimsal, who did cemetery restoration work in Bedford late last year. A group called the Friends of Bedford Burying Grounds has been spearheading the restorations next door, and Kimsal and Ross gained experience from working with the organization.
“When Sue and I got involved this fall and saw what they were doing at the various sites, we were truly impressed and we thought 'Hey, we can do this in Mount Kisco,'" said Kimsal.
The location has a long history, dating back to the 18th-century colonial period. Kimsal said that the first church for the property, called St. George's, was built in 1761 and named after its financial benefactor, a New York City merchant named St. George Talbot. Land for the church, and its surrounding cemetery, was donated by local carpenter Charles Haight, who is buried there and whose grave stone has deteriorated.
St. George's took on several roles during America's war for independence. Kimsal noted that it was used as a hospital for injured soldiers from the nearby Battle of White Plains. Maj. Gen. Charles Lee had a court martial and sentencing and St. George's because he was charged with disobeying orders from George Washington at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey. Washington also used the building for supply storage, and the church was across the road from where he met up with the Comte de Rochambeau in 1781 before American and French forces marched to Virginia for the decisive Battle of Yorktown.
Among those buried are Revolutionary War veterans, and veterans from the War of 1812 and the Civil War, it was explained.
The first church was neglected after the revolution, Kimsal said, and it was torn down in 1819, with wood being used to build a nearby barn on land that is now the site of Northern Westchester Hospital. However, St. Mark's Episcopal Church was later founded built on the same around 1850 or 1851. The church then used the cemetery for burials.
The St. Mark's congregation used the church before moving to its current one, which opened in 1911 and is near the intersection of Routes 117 and 133. The second church was demolished in 1917, Kimsal said, and its wood was used to build an earlier structure for St. Francis A.M.E. Zion Church that was located on Kiscona Road (its current location is on Kisco Avenue).
The land was also important to Mount Kisco's Methodist Church, which used a section for its own burials. The last grave stone on the property dates to 1940, Kimsal said.
Today, the cemetery is owned by Mount Kisco. However, because town boundaries have shifted multiple times, the site was in several communities over two centuries. First, it was part of North Castle - St. George's was also called "Old North Castle Church" - then became part of New Castle, before joining Mount Kisco's territory. The propery also has historic ties to Bedford, because St. Matthew's Church, which is located on Route 22, was founded by a splinter group from St. George's.
The stones, Ross said, are “true artifacts that reveal historical information.” They contain a mix of materials, with some having been brought over from the nearest quarry. They also have a range of artistic traits, and Ross noted that grave stones were used as a form of artistic expression.
Despite the cemetery's significance - it's on the National Register of Historic Places - Kimsal and Ross warned that it has deterioriated. About 50-60 stones are believed to be broken, and factors such as weather, vandalism and lawn mower movement are believed to have been causes to the property's decline. Fallen and buried stones were also noted.
A series of techniques can be used to tidy up the stones, Kimsal explained. They include wooden shims, tooth brushes and baking soda. The result leads to better legibility and removal of algae.
However, some stones would need professional repair work, which is estimated to come with a price tag of $125 to $250. A $2,500 budget for initial work is requested, Kimsal said, based on the number of grave stones they would like to fix. An idea would be to prioritze work on some stones, which in turn could be used to highlight the overall restoration effort.
Volunteers, such as Boy Scouts, are also desired for the project.
Kimsal described a mix of desired funding sources, including applying for federal and state grants, fundraisers and donations from descendents of people buried in the cemetery. She also discussed communications ideas, including distributing information flyers and putting up a sign indicating the restoration. Another idea involves holding historical event on the property.
Outreach to the Methodist church, St. Mark's and St. Matthew's was also discussed. Methodist Pastor Karen Burger, who was present at the board meeting, was interested in the project.
The timeline eyed for now is to do stone cleaning over the summer of fall of this year, and to get cost estimates for professional stone restoration by around the same period.
In their initial reactions, Mount Kisco village trustees were receptive to the plan. For example, Mayor Michael Cindrich said he will reach out to people who could donate, along with tree companies who could do site work. He also suggested that high school students who need community service hours for graduation could benefit from volunteering.
St Marks Place, the eponymous adjacent road, is also set for its own makeover. Cindrich said that it will include new pavement and a sidewalk on its opposite side.