When the New Paltz Rural Cemetery was chartered in 1861, the United States was in the midst of a rural cemetery movement. Before 1831, cemeteries as we know them today did not exist. Burials took place in small family plots, churchyards, and municipal burial grounds. As these burial areas were becoming more crowded, real estate costs were rising in growing cities, making centrally located cemeteries financially prohibitive. At the same time, Americans were seeking a more meditative place with beautifully designed landscapes to honor their dead. As the rural cemetery movement evolved across the country, cemeteries also became places for recreation. People passed through the often elaborate entrance gates to picnic and enjoy the architectural design and horticulture. In a sense, the rural cemetery movement created our first public parks in many communities.
The New Paltz Rural Cemetery is not only a testament to this movement, but a reflection of our unique history as well. Sections A and B contain the burial plots of our early New Paltz families. It is worth noting that beginning in 1867, African American families began purchasing plots in the cemetery. These plots were initially segregated in the back of the cemetery in Section C West. In addition, the large Soldiers’ Monument, the centerpiece of Sections A and B, was erected in 1870 and dedicated to the many soldiers from the New Paltz area who fought and died in the Civil War. Likewise, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the largest organization of the Union’s Civil War veterans and the forerunner of modern American veterans’ associations, established a burial area in the cemetery for Civil War veterans in the southeast corner of Section A. More recently in 2008, a section of the New Paltz Rural Cemetery was dedicated as the Ulster County Veterans Cemetery. Today, the lives of those buried at the New Paltz Rural Cemetery continue to pass the history of our community on to future generations.
Old Stones Historians, clergy to rededicate New Paltz Rural Cemetery
By Erin Quinn - Hudson Valley Times
"There is a long, untold story of the New Paltz Rural Cemetery, located off of Plains Road and organized by a group of civic-minded New Paltzians in February of 1861. [...] It is the story of honoring Civil War heroes, who were brought back from the battleground and needed a place to rest. It’s the story of many individual family plots scattered here and there, who unearthed their loved ones remains and moved them to the Rural Cemetery for a final resting place. It is also the story of many African-Americans, some of whom were slaves or farmhands, who were left buried in unmarked graves, but were given entrance to the Rural Cemetery in 1867. At first the plots were segregated, but over time blacks became integrated into the cemetery."...