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Forest Hill Cemetery, Utica, NY

Last week, I took the opportunity to drive to nearby Utica, NY, to visit the Forest Hill Cemetery in the city. Utica is an amazingly historic town, and walking through Forest Hill Cemetery is like stepping back in time. Many of New York State’s most notable citizens are buried here. I won’t list them all! but I’ll show you a few of the sites we found. Behind Forest Hill Cemetery is the Roscoe Conkling Park. I’d never even known this place was there! What a beautiful park, and it sits perched on a high hill overlooking the city in the valley below. Breathtaking. I took photos– keep reading.

tn_Forest Hill Sign

Forest Hill Cemetery was founded in 1850. It is a huge plot of land, established when people were becoming more aware of sanitation for urban areas. It’s a beautiful cemetery. The Gothic-style gate opens into several small park-like islands.

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I found the old resting place of the Oneida Stone, that famed stone of the Oneida Indian Nation! It was taken from the Oneidas in 1849 and placed here during the cemetery’s opening ceremony. The stone has been returned to the Oneidas since 1974. According to Anthony Wonderley in his book, Oneida Iroquois Folklore, Myth, and History, the stone now sits at the Oneida Nation council house, on their historic land given to them after the American Revolution (on the old Honyoust tract).

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I’ve done a variety of posts about the Oneida Indian Nation: The Skenandoah Boulder in Oneida, NY, The Turning Stone Casino, and The Shako:wi Oneida Indian Cultural Center.

The cemetery, like I’ve said, is filled with the buried remains of hundreds of luminaries from New York State history. New York State governor and Utica native Horatio Seymour is buried here.

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Roscoe Conkling, a long-term Utica mayor and national figure, is buried here, too.

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Also among those resting here are James Schoolcraft Sherman (vice-president under William Taft), John Adams’ granddaughter, John Jay’s personal secretary, Jedidiah Sanger (who founded New Hartford, NY), Moses Bagg (an influential merchant) and local philanthropists James Watson, Thomas Proctor, Alfred Munson, and Rachel and Maria Williams. I also found a few famous folks from the American Revolution, including Captain Benjamin Walker who was an aide of George Washington and Baron von Steuben (who is buried north of here and whose memorial site we have visited).

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And we also saw the burial site of Amariah Brigham, that groundbreaking doctor who believed mentally ill patients could be treated, and began his practice at the very famous Utica Insane Asylum. The link will take you to my post about that, and this link is my post about our visit there.

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Huge Columns

One thing that caught our eye was a very peculiar memorial in the more “modern” section of the cemetery. I’d never seen anything like it.

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I did some reading and this is a memorial to Justus Henry Rathbone of Utica. He founded the Knights of Pythias, and became extremely influential in politics and business. The Knights of Pythias sounded occultic to me (the oracles at Delphi in Greece worshiped the fortune-telling snake, Pythias)! I did some quick research and found that the Knights of Pythias is from the Greek myth Damon and Pythias. Huh. Wikipedia says this of Rathbone:

Justin H. Rathbone was the founder of the international fraternal order of the Knights of Pythias. He was born October 29, 1839 in New York. He graduated from Colgate University and attended Carlisle Seminary. He was a music composer and actor. In 1863 he moved to Washington D.C. as a government clerk in the Treasury Department, where he founded the Knights of Pythias on February 19, 1864. Rathbone wrote the ritual for the Knights of Pythias which is based on the mythological friendship of Damon and Pythias. He died in 1889.

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It was a very interesting visit, and I don’t think I even scratched the surface of all the history to be discovered. I’ll have more about our visit to the Roscoe Conkling Park up the hill, and about the Oneida Stone, in future posts.

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About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (31)

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  1. Monique says:

    I visited this when I was very very young, and it’s funny to me how little I appreciated the beauty of the things back then. Now, I want to go back and see it all over again.

  2. Lynne says:

    WOW! What a beautiful cemetery and the entrance is incredible. It looks extremely well maintained, especially for being so old, that’s very nice to see.

  3. Flo says:

    I love cemeteries!! Whenever we visit somewhere new I always want to go visit the cemetery. You can learn a lot about a place by it’s cemetery. This one has some beautiful buildings and monuments.

  4. Lady Banana says:

    Fantastic photos there, particularly the entrance!

  5. Elliot says:

    I’m sure the souls in repose here are having a jolly good time! ^^;
    Thanks for dropping an EC. How about an exlink?

  6. Carole says:

    Wow, very interesting. I love history. We’re geocachers, and that has often taken us to some very interesting historic places, and we’ve read our share of those blue NYS signs! :-) Now you’ve got me curious about the Utica Insane asylum, so I’m off to check out your links…

  7. Kitty Creed says:

    I’ve photographed gravestones there many times and go back every chance I get. Go check out my gallery for fine art photos of many of the graves! chillerstudios.tk

  8. dan says:

    stay out of the asylum. the nusrery and the newer buildings are not for the faint of heart and mind

  9. Mary Ring says:

    Very nice pictures. THank you very much for the interesting notes about the cemetery and notables. I am doing genealogy research on my father’s family who lived in Utica, and I hope to find the gravesite at the Forest Hills someday.
    Looking forward to it after seeing your pictures.
    Best regards, Mary Ring

  10. Angella Streluk says:

    I have just discovered that my partners ancestor was sexton here in 1860. In 1870 he was listed as ‘in charge cemetery’. I found this extra interestingas he was English. His name was John Palmer, and his wife’s name was Jane. Has anybody come accross thier graves?

  11. Arlene Terry Bower says:

    What a great find. I was lookin for info on Roscoe Conkling and a possible connection to the TERRY family of Russia, Herkimer County. The photo’s are wonderful. The history great. Nice Job.

  12. Bonnie Jenkins Edwards says:

    Rathbone was one of my ancestors. My great great uncle, J.C. Cooley wrote the best documented book on the Rathbones. I was just watching the History Channel, I believe, and found out that a Henry J. Rathbone sat with President Lincoln the night he was assinated. Rathbone stopped John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln but was unable to contain him.
    I am wondering, since he was from New York, if he wasn’t related to me also. I will have to do some research in the Rathbone Book.

  13. Dick Palmer says:

    Following up on Angella Streluk’s comment above, I thought someone might be interested in this obit. from an unknown newspaper on John Palmer (my Great, Great Grandfather) who was the Sexton at this cemetery and is buried there at Forest Hill in Utica (I have more info on John Palmer and his family if anyone has info to share, etc.):

    “John Palmer, who died in this city Wednesday, aged 80 years was born in Southam, Warwickshire, England, June 15, 1814. He was put to work at an early age, his business being the taking care of horses. This was before the days of railroads and he was employed on the coach lines which ran from London to Leamington. The distance was about one hundred miles and as horses were changed frequently, it was made in about eleven hours. Mr. Palmer was in one of the stations and could change a team of eight horses in two minutes. One of the coaches was known as the sovereign. He worked at Leamington four or five years and then went to Nottingham, where he worked for two years, taking care of the coach known as the Lark, and also another coach known as the Courier, which ran from Leeds to Yorkshire.
    For five years afterward he was employed in driving carriages for a wealthy family. In 1857 he came to Utica and worked here several years for John Munn, at the corner of Rutger Place and Howard Avenue, as coachman and gardener. Next he went into the employ of the Utica Cemetery Association, and for fifteen years was sexton of Forest Hill Cemetery. This was in the early days of the association, when one man was employed during the winter and but four or five in the summer. Mr. Palmer made many of the sales of lots, often selling as many as seventy-five lots a year. He served under the superintendence of A. G. Howard and Egbert Bagg, and during the entire fifteen years he never slept away from the cemetery one night. Since that time he has been employed at gardening as long as he was able. He was known throughout the city as a skillful and faithful workman, and never had to look for work, because people always came and sought him. He was reared in the Church of England, but more recently has attended the Church of the Holy Communion. May 18, 1838, Mr. Palmer married Jane Haynes, who died January 20, 1887. He had two sons, who served in the One Hundred and Forty-sixth Regiment. His living children are: Alfred H. of Arapahoe, Furness County, Neb.; Eliza, wife of Edwin J. Glover, of Utica, and Lizzie, wife of George Underwood, of Utica. Mr. Palmer was a very industrious and intelligent workman, a man of pleasant address, who was held in high esteem by all who knew him. He will be kindly remembered by most of the older citizens. The funeral will be held from the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Glover, 96 Oswego Street, at 4:30 this afternoon. “

  14. John Pitarresi says:

    Yes, Forest Hill Cemetery is an amazing place.
    Most are, in one way or another, including many backwoods burial grounds I’ve come across while hunting and fishing.
    There are many remarkable people buried at Forest Hill. Another interesting cemetery is at nearby Hamilton College in Clinton. Samuel Kirkland, who encouraged the Oneidas to align themselves with the Colonists, during the American Revolution, and his friend, Oneida chief Skenandoa, are buried there, along with Elihu Root and others of some note.
    On the Rathbone Monument – The first time I came across it, I couldn’t believe it. It is impossibly massive and detailed. Many kings, popes and emperors are buried under humbler markers. It is stunning.

  15. Arlene Terry Bower says:

    What a beautiful cemetery. I can not help but wonder if any of my Terry family are buried there as they were also in Utica and Herkimer County NY. Particularly 1800’s in Russia, Poland, Newport areas.
    Regards,
    Arlene Terry Bower

  16. Louis Kloster says:

    Please note:

    The Knights of Pythias Monument is not in Forest Hill Cemetary.
    It is New Forest Cemetary.
    How do I know this, because I live in New Forest Cemetary, years and years ago.

  17. Catherine Minick says:

    Hi, I look foward to visiting the seminary–thank you for sharing the photographs.

    Genealogy question: my great great grandmother was Jane Ann Rathbone, born in NY in 1817. The oral history in family indicated that her father was founder of Knights of Pythias–given the dates, this is not possible; however, there is likely a relation between the two. If you have some ancestry details on Justus Henry Rathbone, please share.

    Best wishes,

    Cate

  18. Catherine Minick says:

    I meant to write cemetery fo course–heading to the kitchen for more coffee

  19. Dear Catherine,
    I have the Rathbone book written and produced by my Great Great Uncle, J.C. Cooley. You are right, your grandmother was not one of Justus Rathbone’s children.
    It is a great book and can be reprinted by a publishing company for around 100.00. The Rathbone family was a very prominent family in the state of New York, New York City, and Rhode Island.
    If I get a chance I will look for your grandmother.

    Thanks, Bonnie Jenkins Edwards

  20. Dear Louis,
    Yes, Justus Rathbone is buried in Forest Hill cemetery along with his wife in the family lot.
    This is from The Rathbone Genealogy book written by J. C. Cooley.

    Thanks, Bonnie Jenkins Edwards

  21. Dear Louis, I clicked before I was through. You are correct that the Pythias
    monument is in the adjoining New Forest cemetery as the land was cheaper there when they decided to build it after his death.

    Thanks, Bonnie Jenkins Edwards

  22. Mark Stoughton says:

    I was the superintendent of New Forest Cemetery in the mid 1980’s and know for a fact that the Knights of Pythias Monument is in that cemetery. It is not in Forest Hill Cemetery which is just across the road leading to Roscoe Conklin Park. New Forest was started in 1886.

  23. Bonnie Jenkins Edwards says:

    Yes, Mark, if you read my comment above yours, I agree that it is in the New Forest Cemetery. i believe Louis said it was in the new part of the cemetery which, I assume, by that he meant the New Forest Cemetery.

  24. S.A.Joss says:

    Working on geaneology from Utica, seems that the New Forest cemetary is the only one that has not been documented.Is there a reason why? Or some place I’ve missed. This is the closest cemetary to my ancestors place of birth/death on Miller Street.

  25. Karen Kelly says:

    Loved the photos…would you know where the former inmates from Utica Insane Asylum would be buried? I am searching for my grandmother who was abandoned there. She would have had no money or family and is maybe in a Potters field somewhere? Any help would be so appreciated.

  26. Mark Stoughton says:

    Karen Kelly both New Forest Cemetery and Forest Hill Cemetery had “Public Grounds” check with their respective offices.

  27. Marwan says:

    Hi, what beauiful photos. Im stumped, my great grandfather was Saied Abdul Wahed married to Fatima Abdul Wahed, they lived worked and died in Utica New York in the 1920’s or 30’s. i have searched all the sites i can possibly think of and cannot find anything?? Now that i have started looking im addicted!!! My gand father is old now and he cannot give me much more information other than what i have supplied. Also he said that my Great grand father worked on a garbage truck and passed away in a tragic accident!! i know i am probably on the wrong web site, but this is where my search took me. Any help would be amazing. Thanks for your time and sorry once again.

  28. Sandra Tarlin says:

    This cemetary shaped me as a child. I believe it influenced my abilities to connect to the visionary. I began to write about it and could not even remember the name of the place. I am thankful that you posted these pictures. They help me to reconnect to images and memories that I hold. Thank you.

  29. Jonathan Benton says:

    Are you still posting on this blog? I have lived outside of New York State for the last 40 years, but my family is firmly rooted in central New York and I have probably visited every county in upstate new York (and have lived in Erie, Rockland, Orange, Oneida and Albany counties). I love your photos of Forest Lawn Cemetery. I have dozens of ancestors buried there and visit as often as I can. I saw from a Boston museum site that my great-great-great uncle Lewis Bradley painted a picture of the Oneida Stone in the 1840s-50s, supposedly at “Utica Cemetery.” Would that have been Forest Lawn or the Hamilton College cemetery in Clinton? — Jon.