By HOWARD BALABAN email@example.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — RIDGEWAY — The past came alive for local residents during two separate tours at West Ridgeway Cemetery on Saturday.
Catherine Cooper, Ridgeway Town Historian, led the walk, which took visitors to various locations throughout the cemetery, highlighting some of the area’s oldest settlers.
Cooper said cemetery walks are popular in the fall. “The changing leaves remind us of mortality,” she said at the start of the afternoon tour. She also told people to be on the lookout for a man in a tophat, who apparently has been spotted walking around the grounds in the past.
West Ridgeway Cemetery is the oldest burial place in the town. The first settlers in Ridgeway are buried there, and the oldest marked headstone is dated 1814 for Jerusha Murdock.
Cooper gave a brief talk at several stops, and at the beginning she noted how the cemetery came to be owned by the town by 1848. The cemetery association started soon thereafter, and has met annually in April every year since the mid-1800s.
The burials in the cemetery were done without any record keeping prior to 1871, and over the years 2,500 people wound up calling West Ridgeway Cemetery their final resting place.
Cooper said what made the place somewhat unique was the size of each plot. “Many plots here are multi-generational,” she said. Looking around at some participants Saturday afternoon, Cooper added, “I know some of you here today have stones here already, so it’s nice to know where you’re going to go.
“And we still have plots for sale,” she added, eliciting a laugh from the group.
As the walk progressed, the group stopped at the Murdock stone, and Gail Culver spoke as the “ghost” of the settler. She talked about how her husband fought in the Revolutionary War and how they moved to the area in 1810. Not only is her stone the oldest marked one in the cemetery, but she is also the person bearing the earliest birth year in the cemetery at 1740.
Moving along, Cooper pointed out how the symbolism in the cemetery was mostly found in the shape of the stones rather than in religious signs. Urns and obelisks outnumbered crosses. This was because of the make-up of the early population in the area, which she said included many Freemasons and Oddfellows.
The history of the cemetery, Cooper said, was found through the pages of the Pioneer Association in the Ridgeway area. Settlers seemed to know enough to record their history, and keep it as detailed as possible, she noted.
One person of note buried at West Ridgeway Cemetery is Warren Towne, for whom the former Towne School was named. Cooper said he requested a grave site facing the road so he “could watch the traffic on Marshall Road.”
As the tour concluded, Historical Society President Reinhard Rogowski said he was impressed with the amount of participation. “This was a great turnout,” he said of the small crowd.
Rogowski added, “There are some great stories here, at least as many as in Boxwood Cemetery on the other side of town.
“Plus, there are connections, as one person found a relative today and another found his family’s plot,” he said.