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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Cuba Cemetery

by David H. Crowley
Cuba Cemetery

At a public meeting in September 1841, Cuba residents decided a common burial ground was needed. The Cuba Cemetery Association was formed and a committee was named to acquire a site. It was learned that Lewis Nash would sell two-acres behind his home for $300 and so the cemetery trustees began organizing the laying out of burial plots and roads, and interments in the new cemetery soon began.

The Association struggled to collect money from lot purchasers and did not pay their debt to Mr. Nash on time. After some efforts to revive the Association in 1850 and 1869, New York State intervened in 1898, and re-formed the Cuba Cemetery Association with a new board of trustees. This time, the director’s instituted better fiscal management, including an assessment on lot owners to pay for general maintenance of common areas and unoccupied lots; this finally led to consistent upkeep and beautification of the grounds.

By 1902, the efforts of the revitalized Cuba Cemetery Association were paying off. An article in the Cuba Patriot & Free Press noted:

Three years of time, much hard work and inconsiderable amount of money has worked wonders in Cuba’s silent city. This long neglected resting place of our dead, has in three short seasons by the untiring efforts of the officers and directors of the Cuba Cemetery Association, assisted by many public spirited citizens, been transformed from an eyesore to all who visited it, into a beautiful spot, where we can in some measure of comfort consign the bodies of our loved ones to their last long sleep. It were a sin that this peaceful village on the hillside was so long allowed to remain a tangle of wild plants and vines, but all is changed now and velvety green grass now flourishes where weeds and vines formerly grew unmolested. Carefully graded lots, paths and drives, and well-trimmed shrubs and trees, made the Cuba Cemetery of the present a place of beauty for the living, and a fitting resting place for the dead. 

(Cuba Cemetery, Cuba Patriot, 27 March 1902.)

In 1855, a Roman Catholic cemetery was consecrated in Cuba, on a half-acre of land immediately to the east of the existing Cuba Cemetery. Cuba’s Catholic population at the time was overwhelmingly Irish, consisting of laborers who had come to the area to work on railroad or Genesee Valley Canal construction. It was important for the Catholic community to have its own cemetery because of devout Catholics’ need to be buried in consecrated ground. Establishment of separate cemeteries was common in communities with both Protestant and Catholic residents.

By 1898, the Catholic cemetery had expanded to the south, into roughly a trapezoidal shape. In 1923, Cuba Cemetery and the adjacent Catholic cemetery merged. Today the two are fully integrated, with no fence or border distinguishing the two; only the prevalence of Irish names indicates the location of the former Catholic section.

The Cuba Cemetery has long been admired for its beautiful, peaceful setting and has been referred to as an “excellent example of the mid-nineteenth century rural cemetery style.”

Based on contemporary English cemetery and landscape design, the American rural cemetery movement in the late 1800’s, was inspired by romantic perceptions of nature, art, national identity, and the melancholy theme of death. Rural cemeteries were typically located on hilly sites at the outskirts of cities and villages, both due to concerns about sanitation and disease and to foster the sense of a special place, apart from the ordinary world, set aside for contemplating and honoring the memory of the dead. Rural cemetery landscapes are characterized by curving forms, irregular massing of plant materials, and asymmetry rather than a formal, regularized layout.

Cuba Cemetery is the final resting place of many of Cuba’s most notable citizens, including many members of the first families to settle in Cuba, business leaders, veterans of wars dating back to the War of 1812, politicians, abolitionists, and philanthropists. Also buried here are farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, homemakers, and other typical citizens who made their homes in Cuba. Very few, if any, cemeteries in communities the size of Cuba can boast that they are the final resting place of two Medal of Honor recipients.

The cemetery contains burials and monuments to men and women who served in wars dating back to the American Revolution. One soldier from that war, Ashbel Webster, is commemorated on a monument erected b descendants in 1929 that contains a lengthy description of his Revolutionary War record and a biography of him and of his wife (see accompanying photo). Eleven soldiers from the War of 1812, one from the Mexican-American War, 119 from the Civil War, six from the Spanish-American War, and scores of men and women who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam in addition to more current conflicts all rest in the cemetery.

In the Cuba cemetery.

The cemetery has grown many times over since its origins on Mr. Nash’s two-acre plot. Additional land was purchased in 1854, 1869, 1898, 1899, 1957, and 1981, bringing the cemetery to its present size of 11.9 acres, including the Catholic cemetery added in 1923. More than 5,700 people have been buried there. It includes two mausoleums and its most notable feature, a century-old receiving vault, to which no known changes have been made since its construction.

Newer sections are distinguished by their flatter topography and more modern monuments; Section E is developed in the twentieth-century memorial park style, with markers flush with the ground to give the appearance of unbroken lawn.

In 2014, Cuba Cemetery was nominated to the State and National Registers of Historic Places, in recognition of its historical importance to the town and village of Cuba and its notable design. Many notable individuals are interred in the cemetery and this designation is certainly a tribute to their contributions of to the proud heritage of our Western New York area and our nation. Still run by the Cuba Cemetery Association, it remains a peaceful place of contemplation and scenic beauty. The cemetery is located on Medbury Avenue, in the northeast corner of Cuba Village.

About the author: David H. Crowley has served as Cuba Village mayor and Cuba town Clerk. He is currently serving on the Cuba Rushford Central School Board of Education; is Historian for both Town and Village of Cuba; and for many years was owner, publisher, and editor of the Cuba Patriot and Free Press.

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