Oak Hill Cemetery has been listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places and is nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s important for the cemetery to receive the listing because it will help us access grants. We have a lot of needs, such as mausoleums we are no longer able to use because today’s caskets are too large and roads that need to be paved, so to become eligible for grants would help us a lot,” said Oak Hill Cemetery Commission Secretary Elmer Smith.
“The grant money would help. It costs a lot to maintain and operate a cemetery,” said commission Chairman Claude Orcutt. “We do what we can with the moneys we have, but there’s always more to do. The extra money from a grant would definitely help us.”
The commission received notification of the cemetery’s placement on the state register late last month. The letter from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said the cemetery’s nomination has been forwarded to the keeper of the national register in Washington. “If the keeper of the national register approves the nomination, the property will be listed on the national register,” the letter read.
“In addition to the roads that need to be paved, the holding vault we no longer use and the mausoleum that is one-third full, we’d like to build something for cremains, because more and more people are being cremated,” said Smith. “Maybe we could turn the holding vault into a chapel. There’s a lot we could do, but we have limited funds.”
Oak Hill Cemetery, organized in 1867, was recommended for placement on the registers by the state Board of Historic Preservation to help the commission in revitalizing structures and making them eligible for public preservation programs and services, such as matching state grants and state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.
Oak Hill is considered to be a cemetery that “embodies the features of rural cemetery design, including natural plantings, curved drives and family plots.
The design reflects the 19th century trend of moving cemeteries to rural areas.
It also includes the burial site of Roxlanna Druse, who was convicted of murdering her husband and was the last woman to be hanged in the state.
“There’s a lot of history in this cemetery,” said Orcutt.
In addition to Druse, Orcutt said Gen. Byron Laflin and Col. James Suiter of the 34th New York Infantry Regiment, Judge Irving Devendorf, who presided over the Chester Gillette murder case, and Sheriff Austin Klock, who arrested Gillette, are buried in the cemetery.
“There’s not a lot of people waiting to get involved in cemeteries, but we enjoy it. It’s not all that exciting, but it’s necessary and important. We have a full-time employee, four part-time employees and volunteers who help maintain the cemetery and everything in it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s something I like doing. It’s why I’ve been involved more than 25 years,” said the 91-year-old Smith. “I like helping out here.”
Page 2 of 2 - “The village of Herkimer owns the cemetery and the commission has money in CDs, but the rates today are nothing like they were a few years ago,” said Orcutt. “The cost of everything continues to go up and up, so the national listing would be important to us. To be eligible for grants at a time when every dollar would help would make a difference.”
The State and National Registers are the official lists of buildings, structures, districts, landscapes, objects and sites significant in the history, architecture, archeology and culture of New York and the nation. There are more than 90,000 buildings, structures and sites throughout the state listed on the National Register of Historic Places, individually or as components of historic districts.