On July 25, 1984 a bulldozer working on terracing land in Highland Park unearthed some bones. The operator immediately stopped working and the coroner was called. He determined that they were very old bones and that there were many burials. That first day they uncovered ten adults and two children.
A team of archaeologists headed by the Rochester Museum and Science was enlisted to remove the graves. Their team included some amateurs and college students that would work over the next few months at digging out the remains. They used small brushes, trowels and Q-tips to carefully remove each bone of the skeleton. Over 1000 photographs of the work in progress were also taken.
Someone phoned me in September to tell me about the site and when I got there I was able to stand near the graves. You could see the outline of decayed wood that had been the coffin around the skeleton. I got talking with a gentleman that was from RMSC and he explained by taking off a layer of soil they could see where graves were located because the replaced dirt was mixed. He also said that had found remains of fence posts that had at one time surrounded the cemetery.
The next day after my visit the story of the cemetery was published in the local newspaper. I went back to the site a couple of days later and the area was completely fenced off so no one could get as close as I was a few days earlier.
Research by the Monroe Historian and others indicated that the cemetery was one that was used by the Monroe County Poorhouse that was first located next to the cemetery in 1826. A penitentiary was also added to the site in 1854. No records of the burials were ever located.
Altogether 305 skeletons were removed. Only those graves that needed to be removed for the work being done on the park were removed. Estimates from 500 to 900 more are still buried there in the park based on a size of 125 by 175 feet for the whole cemetery.
Some of the burials were in neat rows and others were askew. Some graves were only under a foot of soil and others were down eight feet. One grave had 4 burials, on top of each other. Those were probably 4 people that all died the same day. None of the burials had shoes. Few graves had any possessions. Only a few buttons, a 1850 German coin and a crucifix were recovered.
It appears that the cemetery was used up to 1863 when burials from the Poorhouse began being recorded in the records of Mt. Hope Cemetery and as buried there.
A preliminary study was done at RMSC and some of the bones were found to contain arthritis, rickets and signs of malnutrition. One middle-aged man had both legs removed. In the 1800s the pPorhouse and penitentiary were located in the Town of Brighton (but now part of Rochester). There are early vital record for Brighton that include death at the Poorhouse for 1847 – 1850 (see this web page). Those records don’t indicate where the people were buried but it seems very likely that most were buried in this cemetery. One of the deaths is Adoniram Perkins who died on 4 June 1848 from the amputation of his legs. Is he the burial that was found without legs? We will never know for sure.
Newspaper accounts of 1984 say that the remains would be buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery within the year. Instead, I found out that the remains were sent to the University of Buffalo medical center where much more extensive testing was done. There they remained for ten years when the remains were returned to Rochester and buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.
A boulder was later placed in Highland Park to the memory of those buried in the cemetery. Again, it would make you think that all the burials have been removed but that is not the case. The bolder is located south of Highland Ave. and north of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial. For the next couple of weeks, during the Lilac Festival you can find the boulder behind the Nick Tahou’s food truck.