Jul 13, 2023
This year marks the bicentennial anniversary of the Historic Batavia Cemetery.
For the past 200 years, many of the most well-known local residents have come to their final resting place on Harvester Avenue. These individuals helped shape Batavia, Genesee County and even Western New York during their lives.
We would be remiss not to remember them and their accomplishments. Behind the iron fence of the cemetery, lies politicians, land agents, soldiers, businesspersons, lawyers, poets and even librarians who all left their mark.
When discussing the residents of the Historic Batavia Cemetery, we must start with the Ellicott Family.
The most prominent of the Ellicotts is of course Joseph, whose monument was erected after his death in 1826. Joseph was the surveyor of the Holland Purchase, the Resident Agent of the Holland Land Company in Batavia, the village’s founder, and responsible for the establishment of Western New York as a whole.
He even standardized the foot as a unit of measurement, measuring it at 12 inches.
Other members of the Ellicott Family include: Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother who assisted him in surveying and a member of the House of Representatives; Rachel Ellicott Evans, Benjamin’s twin sister who moved the family to Batavia and was the one responsible for preserving the Ellicott name; David Ellicott Evans, Rachel’s son who went on to succeed his uncle as the Resident Agent in Batavia.
The most striking feature of the cemetery is the Richmond Mausoleum. Anyone who has passed the cemetery is most likely familiar with it.
The Richmond family included some of the wealthiest Batavia residents from the 1850s through the end of the 19th century. Dean Richmond, the patriarch, became extremely wealthy in the railroad industry upon coming to Batavia, even became the President of the New York Central Railroad in the 1860s.
He was very well connected politically, and even was a friend of President Lincoln, though on opposite sides of the isle.
When Dean passed away in 1866, his estate was worth $2.5 million, today almost $50 million. His wife Mary went on to invest in many of the major companies in Batavia, provided the land for the New York State School for the Blind, elected the first president of the Holland Purchase Historical Society and had what is now the Richmond Memorial Library built.
She increased the family’s fortune before her death in 1895.
There are many other noteworthy residents.
The Brisbanes, one of Batavia’s earliest families, reside in the cemetery. James was Batavia’s first storeowner and postmaster; his son Albert was a journalist and leader in the utopian socialist commune of the mid-19th century; and his son Arthur was a renowned journalist, often called the “Patron Saint of Yellow Journalism”.
Trumbull Cary was another early entrepreneur and state politician from Batavia.
Phineas Tracy was a United States Congressmen and Genesee County Judge. His nephew, Major Phileman Tracy, from Georgia, was killed in the Civil War, and Phineas had his body transported to Batavia. He is the most northern buried Confederate Soldier in the United States.
John Henry Martindale was a Civil War General and military governor of Washington, D.C. during the war. John Henry Yates was a poet, preacher and songwriter.
Eli Fish was the preeminent brewer in Batavia, and the namesake of today’s Eli Fish Brewing Company. Mary Elizabeth Wood was the first librarian of the Richmond Library, but traveled to China and for decades came to develop the national library system of that country.
Lastly, though his body is not buried in the cemetery, we must mention William Morgan. Morgan disappeared after attempting to publish a manuscript detailing the secrets of the Freemasons in 1826. Almost 40 years later, a monument was erected to him in the cemetery.
You can learn more about the Historic Batavia Cemetery at the new exhibit at the Holland Land Office Museum “Memento Mori: Historic Batavia Cemetery, 200 Years, 1823-2023.
Ryan Duffy is executive director of the Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia. His “History with the HLOM” column appears twice a month in The Daily News. Read past columns online at www.thedailynewsonline.com.