Your Hometown: Spring Forest Cemetery
Over the course of more than 150 years, more than 12,000 bodies have been laid to rest in one of the most prolific cemeteries in the Southern Tier. Among the dead buried there are the founding fathers, former lawmakers, local heroes, and lives taken too soon. In the latest edition of Your Hometown, YNN's Chris Whalen takes us inside the history of Spring Forest Cemetery.
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BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Wrought iron gates welcome visitors entering Spring Forest Cemetery in Binghamton. Inside, beautifully crafted headstones, monuments, and mausoleums dot the grounds. Some of them date back hundreds of years, whereas others provide a more recent memory of loved ones who have passed on.
"These are people from a different time period and a different lifestyle, and yet there's modern burials too, so it spans the whole span of history of a community. There's probably a few smaller cemeteries in Broome County that might be a little older, but Spring Forest by far would probably rank right up at the top of the older and more prominent cemeteries in the region," said Gerry Smith, Broome County Historian.
In Binghamton, the area bordered by present-day Mygatt and Prospect Streets was chosen as a new place to inter some of the area's faithfully departed.
"There was an earlier cemetery in the city of Binghamton that was near Eldridge Street that was basically running out of room, and the association that was created, they wanted to create a major cemetery built like a park, a park-like atmosphere. Trout Creek running through, benches for people to sit and enjoy their lunch, lots of tree plantings and different types of floral treatments," noted Smith.
And so Spring Forest Cemetery was created. Although the graveyard wasn't built until the 1850s, it is the eternal home of some who died prior to its construction.
"Some of those were buried in Christ Church cemetery. Christ Church, the oldest Episcopal church in the city of Binghamton had its own cemetery," said Smith. "When this was built, a lot of these people were dug up, the cemetery was closed in the early 1900s, and a lot of those people were removed and brought over here."
The oldest headstone belongs to Joshua Whitney Sr., the man who was chosen to be the land agent for William Bingham for whom Binghamton is named. However, before he could begin his work laying out the plans for the new city, he died of yellow fever.
Whitney's son, Joshua Jr. then took over that job and later had his father's remains moved back home. Around the 1793 headstone are the graves of Joshua Jr. and the rest of the Whitney family.
Other notable Binghamtonians interred at Spring Forest include Daniel Dickinson, the city's first and only resident elected to the United States Senate; businessman and former mayor of Binghamton Sherman Phelps; Isaac Perry, an architect who designed the New York State Inebriate Asylum and others whose names are unknown but memories not forgotten.
"When Interstate 81 was being constructed through the north part of the City of Binghamton and on up through, it went through the old cemetery of the Broome County Poor House. They knew that there were approximately 600 people buried in the cemetery, no real headstones, a couple of markers with numbers. They disinterred 180-plus bodies and reinterred all the remains they found here in Spring Forest Cemetery," Smith explained.
One of the most unique sites at Spring Forest remembers 18 victims from the deadliest tragedy in the city's history. On July 22, 1913, fire ripped through the Binghamton Clothing Factory on Wall Street. In the fire, 32 workers lost their lives, and 18 were burned beyond recognition. They were all laid to rest in a knoll in the middle of the cemetery.
"The bodies were brought here on flatbed trolley cars and they're buried in a large circle around this monument with just flush stones with no names and the names of the victims are here on this monument," noted Smith.
Gone for 100 years, but not forgotten, and surrounding them is nearly 12,000 other memories that live on through the preservation of the cemetery's history.