Rapids Cemetery
Rochester, New York


This cemetery is located on the north side of Congress Avenue on the west side of the City of Rochester, N. Y.

This cemetery was probably founded between 1810 and 1812. The property was originally owned by the Wadsworth family which owned land from Geneseo to Rochester. The Wadsworths set aside one and a quarter acre for a burial place of area residents. The cemetery resided in the Town of Gates until 1874 when the area was annexed into the City of Rochester. The road leading to the cemetery was originally called Cemetery Road. Then between 1880 and 1890 the name was changed to Chester Street. In 1899, Chester Street became Congress Avenue.

On 20 September 1883 Herbert and William Wadsworth sold the cemetery lot to the newly formed "Rapids Cemetery Association." Monroe H. Oakley was the first president of the organization and Isaac Loomis was treasurer. The last known record of the Rapids Cemetery Association was in 1900 when they paid property taxes. The map, below, was traced from one probably made in the 1890s, although the exact date is unknown. It also included a list of plot owner, which relate to the map.

Almost all the tombstones have been knocked over. The listing of tombstone inscriptions below was made from old transcriptions and a visit to the cemetery in the late 1980s. A group of volunteers began a restoration project in the late 2010s


Rochester's 'forgotten' land: the Rapids Cemetery
Tom Williams
Published in City/West Newspaper, April 15 & 22, 1976

This is the story of a piece of land that nobody wanted, a little patch of green in the heart of Rochester's west side that may have tremendous significance in this Bicentennial year, but which is now little more than a refuse heap.

It is called the "Rapids Cemetery." Located at 65 Congress Avenue, it is older than the City of Rochester itself. But those few people who know what and where it is are lost among the hundreds of cars, pedestrians, and neighborhood kids who pass it every day, totally unaware.

To most, it is just a brief gap of sunlight in the middle of a shady westside block.

The cemetery may contain the bones of several veterans of the Revolution, but if you took a poll of its Congress Avenue neighbors, you would probably find no more than half of them who know that there is a landmark in their midst.

Neglected for years, overgrown with field grass, heaps of beer cans and trash huddled at its edges, it hardly seems like the kind of place that honors our nation's history.

The problem with the Rapids Cemetery is not who, but how. A succession of concerned groups and citizens over the years still have not solved the basic problem: the cemetery is nobody's child, and everybody's orphan.

The "child" was born sometime near the year 1810.

Its "parents" were two enterprising brothers, James and William Wadsworth, who purchased 4000 acres along the west shore of the Genesee River in 1790, in what was then "Ontario County." At 50 cents per acre, they couldn't go wrong.

City deed maps drawn up early in this century still refer to what is now the Nineteenth and Third Wards as "The 4000 Acre Tract." Edward R. Foreman, a former city historian, wrote in 1935: "It used to be a common saying that the Wadsworth family could walk from Geneseo to Rochester on their own land." Wadsworth is still a prominent family name in the Genesee Country.

But the 4000 Acres was more than just the object of idle speculation. Already, pioneers in families or groups of two or three making their way by boat down the Genesee were forced to stop at what was called "The Rapids."

The Rapids is that section of the river that begins to pick up speed as it rounds the bend opposite what is now the University of Rochester. In another mile, the small boats and canoes would be swept over the first set of falls, 50 they were unloaded near what is now the intersection of Brooks Avenue and Genesee street.

The Wadsworths took advantage of this forced portage by erecting a small tavern at the spot in 1800, managed by a Colonel Isaac Castle. Before long, the name "Castle Town" took hold. A 1918 city deed map gives the name of "Castleton" to that tract of land on the opposite (east) side of the river where strong Hospital and the Graduate Living Center now stand.

The Castle Town of the first decade of the 19th Century must have been a colorful place. Part swamp, part ferry landing, part trading center, it was the source of some local exotica: a traveler's diary of 1812 reports that "100 rattlesnakes have been shipped alive and in prime order for the European market."

More routinely, as Congressman James L. Whitley wrote in 1839, "The early settlers consisted exclusively of boatman and planters who worked six months in the year and spent the proceeds of their earnings the rest of the year in the five taverns of the district whose specialties were hard cider, moonshine, dances, and fights."

Many older residents of the Brooks Avenue area today can recall their great-grandparents reminiscing about "frequent drunken brawls between the canallers and the Indians."

While the Wadsworth brothers envisioned "a great metropolis" at this bend of the Genesee, builders of the Erie Canal a few miles to the north had other ideas.

The construction of the Genesee Valley Canal in 1822 as a "falls bypass" and feeder to the Erie sped the river boats past Castle Town, relegating the little town back to the status of mere crossroads. And thus it remained until the early 20th Century, when the "great metropolis" to the north began to spread and annex what is now southwest Rochester from the old Town of Gates.

Ironically, the only vestige of Castle Town that we can see today is the home of some of its dead - the Rapids Cemetery on Congress Avenue.

Local historians believe that the first burials began occurring there around 1810 shortly after Castle Town was founded. The Wadswortha set aside one and one-quarter acres centered on a small grassy knoll (the size and shape of the plot have changed little in the ensuing 166 years).

They cleared a path described in 1854 survey as "four rods wide" up to the cemetery and no further, as an access road. For about 50 years, this path was known as "Cemetery Road," or "Cemetery Street."

Beginning around 1880 or 1890, the road was extended to service several new subdivided lots near the cemetery, and was renamed "Chester Street." In 1899, Chester street became Congress Avenue, and in 1902 the property was annexed into the growing City of Rochester.

Despite the demise of Castle Town as a sizable community, burials at the Rapids Cemetery continued throughout the nineteenth century at a regular pace.

The only official record of early nineteenth century burials that is now available seems to be a "gravestone survey" conducted in 1910 by Anah Yates of the Irondequoit Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She discovered the long-faded stone belonging to 2 year old Myra Loomis, who died on July 30, 1820. Another DAR survey in 1933 confirmed this, but apparently many of these early stones have been stolen or vandalized since then.

In any case, there is good reason to suspect that Revolutionary War veterans are still buried at the Rapids Cemetery, although their stones have long vanished. At least we know that their contemporaries were: the 1910 DAR survey found the grave plot of one Paul Baker, who was born in May of 1759 and died on March 12, 1844, at what was then the very ripe old age of 85.

At the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Paul Baker would have been 17 years old, certainly eligible for conscription. And it is certainly possible that several men and women older than Baker were put to rest at "the Rapids" between 1810 and 1844.

The likelihood of Revolutionary veterans enjoying the sleep of centuries at the Rapids is further strengthened when one examines the results of an extensive Monroe County gravestone census completed in 1931 by Theodore Cazeau, known in the city at that time for his interest in veteran's affairs.

Mr. Cazeau spent three years examining the headstones of more than 50 Monroe County cemeteries, large and small, public and private. He counted the graves of at 110 Monroe County men who were known to have served in the Continental Army, not to mention the much larger numbers who fought in the War of 1812 and Civil War. Their remains were scattered in such settled hamlets as East Sweden, Wheatland, and Chili Center.

Why couldn't the graves of at least half a dozen Revolutionary soldiers be located at the Rapids Cemetery, which predated most of these as a burial ground?

Curiously enough, even Theodore Cazeau made the same mistake as did many before and after him: he forgot the Rapids Cemetery in his census. Or, what is more likely, he took one look at the place and decided that it wasn't worth counting.

Older cemeteries that stood more directly in the line of progress remain intact so why couldn't the Rapids?

The problem seems to lie both in the question of ownership of the property and in the curious circumstances surrounding any proposed changes in "sacred ground" of this type.

The cemetery was apparently owned by the Wadsworth family until September 20, 1883, when Herbert and William Wadsworth, grandsons of the original brothers, sold the 1.27 acre plot to a newly-formed "Rapids Cemetery Association."

The Association was a private subscription burial-plot organization consisting of several prominent local families, many of whom already had relatives in the ground. Monroe H. Oakley was first president and Isaac Loomis was treasurer.

The sale, recorded in an old deed at the Monroe County Clerk's office, was more like a gift from the Wadsworths: the price was a token of one dollar, recorded as a quit-claim deed. The deed further stipulated that the association had "an unobstructed right to the perpetual use of Cemetery street" and was "forever to be used by said Cemetery Association for the interment of its deceased members." It was given to the Association and its successors "forever."

While those words have a marvelous note of finality, the ensuing vandalism and lack of care at the Rapids Cemetery have caused many to take a second look at the parcel.

Vandalism at the Rapids Cemetery on Congress Avenue is not new. The last recorded minutes in the Cemetery Association, taken in 1894, indicate that the officers were concerned about "the manner in which the ground was despoiled by truants and the havoc made by a pack of dogs on a number of the lots." Both Monroe Oakley, president, and Isaac Loomis, treasurer, died a few years later, and the Rapids Cemetery Association disappeared into a kind of corporate limbo.

The last burial of a civilian at the Rapids was in 1941, and it caused quite a stir among the neighbors on Congress Avenue, many of whom did not know that the land was a cemetery. Apparently, no veterans have been laid to rest there since the 1880's.

Since the Rapids cemetery Association did not undergo foreclosure proceedings, did not deed the land to any other party, and literally died out before future ownership could be resolved, there is a real question about ownership of the land.

Some have speculated that the Wadsworth Estate, which still exists, is the owner. However, Ed Collins, an assistant director of the County Parks Department, which has since been responsible for upkeep of the land, says that he doubts that such a poorly-maintained piece of land would be desired by the estate.

"We never hear from them," he said." and quite frankly, I'm not even sure that they know it exists."

Existence or no, owner or none, the land is taxed. According to John McManus of the city assessor's office, the Rapids Cemetery was assessed for $7,260 when the city undertook its last major revaluation in 1934. That same assessed value has remained on the books for the past 42 years.

According to a 1952 account in the Times-Union, the cemetery "paid its bills to the city until the year 1900," but the city forgave over $5000 in back taxes in the late 1940's when it must have become clear that there was nobody around to pay the bill. Assessor John McManus told City/West that all cemetery property, both public and private, is now exempt from real property taxes.

City/West has learned that the Rapids Cemetery does owe over $200 in Pure Waters charges, accumulated since that agency formed in 1973. A spokesperson in the county treasurer's office says the routine charge is levied against all real property, vacant or not, which has frontage on city streets.

Considerable interest has accumulated on the Pure Waters bill of the cemetery, and the total bill will continue to increase at the rate of about $70 per year unless some action is taken. Apparently, Pure Waters spares nobody, not even the dead.

Other odd circumstances are part of the cemetery's history:

An article in a July 1947, Times-Union said that tombstones in the Rapids Cemetery "were deliberately knocked over a decade ago because one toppled on a small boy and killed him."

In May of 1952, the John Loucks family, who lived at 104 Congress Avenue next to the cemetery, discovered a lightning damaged tree resting against their house which had come from the cemetery. After much cajoling, they persuaded the city DPW to remove the tree. The city was fearful of performing the task because of possible reprisal from the "owners."

In April of 1955, the Ludger J. Beauchesne family of West High Terrace accidentally dug up the tombstone of a 15 month-old girl who had died in 1865. There were no remains of the infant, and since the stone was found about one-quarter mile from the cemetery proper, it was speculated that the grave marker had been carried or stolen to the West High Terrace location.

In March of 1957, the Veterans Executive and Memorial Council of Greater Rochester attempted to alleviate the persistent vandalism problem at the cemetery by petitioning the city to exhume the graves to another cemetery.

To the council's surprise, the hearing brought out the very live descendants of some of those buried, who protested the move. Some of these descendants still live in the Nineteenth Ward.

If the Rapids Cemetery has suffered the fate of an orphan, it is not because the people of Rochester have not tried to rehabilitate it.

Since the early 1950's, the Veterans Executive and Memorial Council has tried many facelifting tactics, but the sluggishness of local bureaucracies and courts has dogged them every step of the way. The central driving force in the battle was Grover Scott, who claims to be the only living son of a Union veteran in Monroe County.

Mr. Scott spearheaded the mid-50's court fight to exhume the graves, obtaining many promises from local politicians but little results. He succeeded in briefly cleaning the grounds up for 1960 Civil War Centennial ceremonies held on August 14 of that year. One week later, neighborhood children had stolen all of the neatly-placed flags, and the cemetery had quickly reverted to the ball diamond that it had been for 50 years.

In 1961, both the city and county agreed that a fence should be erected around the graves but finally decided against this on the grounds that it was "too dangerous."

Mr. Scott is now almost 92 years old and admits that his failing health has forced him to retire from the battle for the Rapids Cemetery. He says that if neither the city nor county is going to maintain the grounds, it should revert to a playground.

When City/West contacted him, he was genuinely startled that "somebody would even try to bring this up again after all we've been through." He laughed and wished the reporter the best of luck in trying to obtain further information.

In a last-ditch desperation stand, Mr Scott proposed in 1968 that the land be used for retired veteran's housing. Predictably, the courts and the county, which assumed maintenance chores in that year, felt that the "incredible legal tangles" associated with the removal of graves for any reason were not worth the fight.

As if to point up the continuing irony of the cemetery situation, a newspaper photographer took a memorable picture of about 20 neighborhood children playing football between the gravestones in that year.

Now the land is zoned "OS" for "open space," according to Ken Frantz of the city's Department of Buildings and Property Conservation. This means, he said, that the land is interpreted to be "in the public corporation" and can be used as a park.

Again however, he cautioned that "Legal tangles" in removing bodies mitigated against the city making any improvements on the land. All city officials contacted by City/West echoed one assessment: "I guess you could say that, legally piece of land doesn't exist."

The Department of Parks and Recreation, which supervises the two city public cemeteries (Mt. Hope and Riverside), may not be in a position at this time to take care of the Rapids Cemetery, especially in view of the overall budget restraints this year. A Parks spokesperson said, "We're doing all that work at Genesee Valley Park, so there are enough recreation areas in that part of the city."

The county has often been criticized for the way it maintains the cemetery grounds. Claiming to "mow the grass three times a year," the county was scored by several Congress Avenue neighbors for "only showing up once a year, and not cleaning up the back of the lot at that."

The obvious value of the Rapids Cemetery, of coarse, is not as a park, but as an historic landmark.

A model for what could be done in this situation is Kodak's purchase of the old Hanford Landing cemetery (containing many Revolutionary veterans) on Lake Avenue four years ago. Kodak maintains the grounds and leaves the cemetery open to the public. No burials are now made there.

Wellington Avenue resident Lee Krist, representing the 19th Ward Community Association, recently suggested to the Rochester Landmark Scoiety that the cemetery be "consolidated" into one or two memorial sites, leaving the rest as playground.

She told City/West that the fate of the cemetery may rest on the amount of public support that a restoration receives. She admitted that such support might be difficult to obtain, given other more urgent priorities in westside neighborhhoods.

In a bicentennial year, the Rapids Cemetery may get its last chance. After the city's historic consciousness subsides, will the westside's only link with the Revolutionary frontier be disconnected?


Plot ownership map

Owner plot   Owner plot
ABBOTT, Philip K4 McQUAIN, J. O12
BAKER, John O10 McVANE, J. 1
BARTLETT, Elliott J7 PAMMATT, Margaret 15
BLACK, Andrew T9 PAPPINO, Tho. L2
BROOKS, Luther J9 PAPPINO, Thomas Nl
BUTLER, Sylvanus F. G3 PENDLEBURY, Ralph I7
BUTLER, Sylvanus F. G4 REYNOLDS, Israel M9
CHAAVER, Geo. 12 ROBB, O. A3
COBB, G8 ROGERS, J. Guilford Q2
COBB, Jr. F7 ROGERS, Heram A2
COBB, Josiah T6 SANFORD, 5
COBB, Josiah Y7 SHOMAKER, Frank E4
COBB, Laura E. G7 SHOMAKER, Win. G2
COVERS, Davis F3 SMITH, Israel L4
COVERS, O. S. F3 SMITH, Israel L5
DAY, Ben N6 STREETER, Benjamin R10
FRIES, Henry D. H8 STREETER, Hyron M4
GREEN, Winston L1 STREETER, Moses M5
HART, Sam W. 15 STREETER, Wilt. H4
LEWIS, Benj. G. F5 WINGATE, Geo. E2
LEWIS, Benj. G. F6 WOOLCOT, Chas. G5
LLOYD, Campbell P10 WORTHY, Ann Q10
LOOMIS, Capt. Dan P4 YERKES, B. O4
MARSHALL, B. D. O3 strangers 2, 7, 11,
14, B2, B3,
I6, J3, J4,
J5, K5, K6,
M7, N8, O6,
P3, P5, P7,
Q5, Q6, R6,
R7, R9, S4,
U9, V5


Known Burials

BAKER Eunice, wife of Paul; d Dec. 12, 1834 æ 75y 3m
Paul; d Mar. 12, 1844 æ 84y 10m

Cornelia R.; d Feb. 27, 1851 æ 1y

[illegible]; d Dec. 15, 1847, æ 10m 21d

John; d Aug. 29, 1847 æ 2y 6m 27d

Margaret, wife of Samuel; d June 26, 1859 æ 86

Mary R., wife of William; d Jan. 30, 1847 æ 33

Samuel A.; d June 3, 1846 æ 64y

Samuel, son of William & Mary; d Aug. 28, 1837 æ 1y 7m 25d

Sarah A., wife of Rev. J.; d Feb. 19, 1847 æ 33y

Wm. James; d Sept. [illegible], 1847 æ 12y 8m


Abigail, wife of Eliot; d Mar. 7, 1851 æ 87

Almira W., dau. of Eliot & Abigail; d May 21, 1854 æ 55

Cyrus S., son of Cyrus & Sarah S.; d Aug. 3, 1830 æ 11m

Cyrus W.; d Aug. 14, 1847 æ 59y 1m 23d

"Here alone beneath this sod
Lays the noblest work of God,
An honest man."

Eliot; d Jan. 6, 1847 æ 87

Harriet, dau. of Eliot & Waity; d Dec. 29, 1850 æ 32


Charles E.; buried July 27, 1847; d æ 1y 2m; d of cholera infantum; residence, Julius St.; [from the records of Mt. Hope Cem.]


Luana Maria, wife of Percy; d Oct. 28, 1879 æ 60y 10d


Asa F.; d æ 23

Catherine A.; d æ 1m

Eliza J.; d æ 18y 5m

James K.; d æ 1y 2m

Julia, wife of Sylvenus; d Mar. 12, 1860 æ 43

Phelps F.; d æ 25

Rebecca J., wife of Sylvenus; d Mar. 12, 1845 æ 36

Richmond C.; d æ 20

Sylvenus F.; d Jan. 13, 1877 æ 73

W. H. H.; d æ 22


Archie S.; 1893 - 1896

John A.; 1815 - 1899


Dyar, son of S. F. & E. B.; d June 12, 1831 æ 7y 10m 16d


Maude; d April 14, 1901 of burning to death; funeral April 17th; (from Rochester Democrat & Chronicle dated April 18, 1901


Gertrude L., wife James; d June 12, 1919 æ 40y; residence: 201 Cottage St.; funeral June 16th; (from Rochester Democrat & Chronicle dated June 15, 1919


Ann, wife of Thomas; d June 28, 1856 æ 62

Thomas Sr.; d Feb. 9, 1862 æ 88

Thomas Jr.; d Feb. 5, 1858 æ 23


Nathan and Phoebe; [no dates]; stone erected by their son, William N. of California


Pamela; Nurse, Army Nurse Corps., Civil War; 1825 - 1882


Abigail, wife of Samuel W.; d Apr. 6, 1847 æ 35

Betsey, wife of Samuel W.; d July 16, 1829 æ 27

Samuel W.; d June 23, 1865 æ 65


John J.; born March 1864, Plympton, Eng.; d March 1886


Hannah, wife of Walter; d May 10, 1892 æ 70


Charlotte, wife of Truman; born Dec. 16, 1816; d Dec. 27, 1882

Emily A., dau. of Truman & Charlotte; d Jan. 25, 1862 æ 25y 1m 11d


William L.; d May 5, 1941; resided at 521 Frost Ave.; buried May 8th; (from Rochester Democrat & Chronicle dated May 9, 1941)


John Jr.; d Sept. 14, 1859 æ 33y


Capt. Daniel B.; War of 1812; born Jan. 3, 1782, Pittsfield, Mass.; d in Gates, Mar. 1, 1864 æ 82y 1m 25d

Electa Sherman, wife of Daniel; born Jan. 30, 1787, Lanesboro, Mass.; d in Gates, Nov. 3, 1863 æ 76y 9m 3d

Myra; dau. of Daniel & Electa; d July 30, 1820 æ 2y


Delia Oakley, wife of Edward; d June 27, 1852 æ 30y 6m

Edward; d May 17, 1871 æ 52y 10m 4d


James H.; Pvt., Co. A, 13th NY Inf., Civil War; born 1841; d Sept. 26, 1885 æ 44


Catherine, relict of John; d Jan. 19, 1864 æ 86y 1m 13d

Duncan; d July 29, 1847


Grace, infant child of S. H.; d June 27, 1896; funeral June 29th; (first name from NY State Death index & other information from Rochester Democrat & Chronicle dated June 28, 1896)

Monroe H.; Pvt., Co. B, 5th NY Vet. Inf., Civil War; born 1842; d Jan. 18, 1915 æ 72

Sylvenus H.; War of 1812 {said to be buried here without a tombstone]


George; 1818 - 1901

Harriet Richardson, wife of George; 1820 - 1885 (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle dated Dec. 16, 1885 says she died on Dec. 14th and the funeral was on Dec. 16th)


James; Cpl., 6th NY 1st S. S., Civil War; born 1843; d Apr. 18, 1863 æ 22


Frederick L.; Sgt., Co. I, 202nd NY Vol. Inf.; Sp. Am. War; d æ 89y


Eliza Jane, wife of Justus W.; d Nov. 4, 1847 æ 18y 5m


Luther L.; buried Mar. 3, 1840; d æ 6m; d of dysentery; residence, Riley St.; [from the records of Mt. Hope Cem.]

REYNOLDS Elizabeth, wife of Israel; d June 29, 1853 æ 5m 8d

Myra Emma Loomis, wife of William H.; 1847 - 1908

William H.; 1846 - 1915


John H.; Pvt., Co. H, 108th NY Inf., Civil War; born 1839; July 24, 1889 æ 50


Amos E.; Aug. 14, 1803 - Nov. 18, 1880


Amelia, wife of Dirick; 1811 - 1896

Caroline M., dau. of Dirick & Amelia; 1840 - 1897

Dirick; d Oct. 7, 1864 æ 57


Israel; War of 1812 {said to be buried here without a tombstone]


Eunice; buried Mar. 5, 1848; d æ 86; d of old age; residence, Buffalo St.; [from the records of Mt. Hope Cem.]


H. Dewitt, son of H. & B.; d Nov. 28, 1846 æ 9m

Marquis B.; Cpl., Co. C, 108th NY Inf.; born 1839; d Dec. 6, 1877 æ 35

William; d of cholera, Aug. 26, 1852 æ 30


Laughlin; d Oct. 3, 1884 æ 49 years in Chili, NY; buried Oct. 5th; (from Rochester Democrat & Chronicle dated Oct. 5, 1884)


Georgie, son of W. L. & Elizabeth; d Oct. 21, 1896 æ 8y

VanSICKLE Elizabeth; d Sept. 23, 1849 æ 64
John; d Aug. 5, 1838 æ 60y 7m 3d

Lottie, dau. of William & Margaret; d Oct. 10, 1865 æ 2y 5m


James P.; Pvt., old stone says Co. C, 7th Mich. Inf.; new stone says Co. B, 10th Mich. Inf.; born 1845; d Nov. 26, 1883 æ 36

Matilda, wife of Ira Jr. and dau. of Truman & Charlotte HULIN; d June 14, 1857 æ 18y 6d


Alice, dau. of William & Libbie; d Aug. 7, 1879 æ 10m

Bertie J., son of William & Libbie; d Jan. 9, 1884 æ 10m

George; d Oct. 20, 1872 æ 78y

Gracie E., dau. of William & Libbie; d Sept. 6, 1876 æ 2m


Benjamin; d June 25, 1847 æ 80y

Mary Jane, dau. of Shel.

Rachel, wife of Benjamin; d Jan. 20, 1853 æ 81y



home Go to GenWeb of Monroe Co. page.