, General Interest
The Westchester County Potter's Field & The Eastview Cemetery
Several years ago, I came across a record at the Find-A-Grave website that listed a William Yerks being buried at “Potter’s Field” in Valhalla. It gave no date of birth or date of death. I had long ago discarded the idea that this William Yerks could be related to any of the Yerks' in our family tree. But being stuck at a dead end with finding the burial place of William Yerks, born 1801, I decided to write to the Westchester County Archives to see if they might have any records pertaining to potters field.
There is a William yerks buried in Potters Field in Valhalla. Can you tell me whether there are any records for Potters Field that might provide me with date of death or other info? Apparently he is buried in Row I , a double grave that is shared with Isaac Stokes .
If you think you may have records, I will come down from Connecticut to research him if necessary.
A short time later Jackie, from the County Archives, wrote back to me.
Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. We have very little on Potters Field, unfortunately. As it was connected to the county Almshouse, that would be the place to look. From the index, I see there was a William Yerks who passed away in the Almshouse in 1876. He was from Mount Pleasant, and was 75 years old. If that sounds like your man, you are welcome to come in to see the record; we’re open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 9-4. The amount of information is in these Almshouse records varies, some are very sketchy, and some have a decent amount of detail. It depends on who was keeping the records.
I was already interested in the Almshouse because Armenia Yerks, who was thedaughter of the William Yerks that I was looking for, showed up in the 1900 Census there. Now it seems, I also had a William Yerks who was within the same age range as the one I was looking for.
So I once again made the long trip to the Westchester County Archives in Elmsford, New York from my home in Connecticut. Jackie immediately remembered me and my request. She quickly guided me to an index that was compiled by a volunteer. That index lists the names of “inmates” of the Almshouse Institution. I immediately recognized several names in the index.
The Almshouse research led me to discover that this branch of the family tree had fallen on hard times and that many family members had spent time at the Almshouse in Eastview. William Yerks, The person I was searching for had in fact, died while at the Almshouse on September 17, 1876.
You can read about my Almshouse research on our Family History Blog (http://www.hayesfamily.us).
I asked Jackie about the location of Potters field. She told me that it had once existed in Eastview, not to far from where the Almshouse was, but it had been moved to its current location. Jackie had also showed me a map of Potters Field that detailed the burial locations of people buried there, including William Yerks. The map was created as part of a disinterment and re-internment project in 1976. I took a quick photo of the map using my iPhone and headed up the street to where Potters Field is located today in search of Williams burial place. I easily found Potter's Field on this cold, wet and dreary afternoon, hidden behind an office building belonging to the County. Each plot is marked with a small concrete marker with a brass plate on top. Some of the brass plates indicated the name and / or burial dates of the person buried there. Some of the plates are either damaged or just plain unreadable.
Much to my dismay, I couldn't figure out how the map compares to current internments. Starting at the top of the hill, I did a quick walk through looking for any names on the map, but I just couldn't find any. Trying to navigate the huge map on an iphone didn't help any. After about 30 minutes, I gave up and headed home.
One week later, I headed back to Potters field on a warmer sunny afternoon. I made a quick stop beforehand at the County Archives to pick-up a paper copy of the internment map. With map in hand, I headed back to Potters field to find William Yerks.
Click image to enlarge
This time I notice two arrows on the map. One was on an inset which showed the overall grasslands reservation. The other appeared near the diagram of the plots. So matching them up, I was able to determine the relation of the map to the geography of the cemetery. AH HA! It was now apparent to me why I couldn't figure out the layout of the map as it pertained to the geography of the cemetery the first time. It was because the map IS ONLY OF THE AREA OF GRAVES THAT WERE MOVED! The map does not show the other two thirds of the cemetery. It appears the re-internment project was for something to do with a nearby water utility shed. It appears that they needed to created a corridor through the middle of the cemetery for some reason, maybe to lay some pipes.
Discovering The Layout Of The Cemetery
As it turns out, William Yerks was one of the graves that was moved. All the gravestones from the re-internment project were placed in a solid row going across the field just up from where they once were. It appears that they significantly condensed the space between remains. The re-internments were placed in columns of four deep with each column in-front of the appropriate markers. Each column is just three feet wide.
I did eventually find the concrete burial marker for William Yerks. But much to my surprise, it was NOT the William Yerks I found in the Almshouse records. According to this marker, this William Yerks died on December 8, 1929 and was 49 years old.
So this led me to wonder where my William Yerks was. After looking at several markers in the four corners of the cemetery, it became clear that this cemetery only holds the remains of those buried between 1927 and 1971. The earliest internments are at the bottom of the hill, followed by the corridor where remains were moved from, followed by a few more graves (circa 1930), then a tree line. After the tree line, you find the row of markers that were moved for the water project. Then extending up the hill, you will find the markers equally space for burials between 1930 and 1971. There is no map for these markers.
In Search Of The Old Almshouse Cemetery
So it appears that no graves were ever moved from the old Eastview Almshouse Cemetery. So armed with a map from 1901 of the Eastview area, I set out on an expedition to see if I could find the old cemetery. Needless to say, much has changes since 1901. Eastview is really nothing more than an entrance and exit for the Saw Mill Parkway. All the homes are gone. Only a pumping station building for the nearby reservoir still remains. I quickly realized that it was possible that the Saw Mill Parkway may run directly over the old cemetery. But there was no way to know for sure. But there is one way I could think of to get an idea of where it was in relation to todays topography. I decided to overlay my 1901 map onto a Google Map of the area. This is what I got.
Click image to enlarge
While it may not be 100% accurate, it does provide me with a fairly reasonable idea of where to find the old cemetery. I am sure there are no markers there today, but it does create a little bit of comfort at least knowing where it is. According to one account on the the Find-A-Grave website, the Cemetery was "covered over with 20 feet of dirt and the Parkway was then built over it". Well based on my overlay, it sure does look like they paved over at least part of the old cemetery for the new parkway. I guess disturbing people buried in Almshouse graves didn't generate much public outcry back then. Based on the overlay, it appears that the high tension power lines follow the path of the old railroad track. If that is true, at least part of the old cemetery lies between the powerlines and the Saw Mill Parkway.