History in a Fulton Cemetery

While doing research for my Nestlé book, I learned about the Swiss chocolate makers who immigrated to Fulton to start our candy factory. Some of those chocolatiers became permanent residents of our city and were buried in the Mt. Adnah Cemetery. Since my parents and grandparents are laid to rest in St. Mary’s Cemetery, I’d never been to Mt. Adnah, so, on a warm summer evening in 2017, I made my first visit there, hoping to locate the burial plots of those early Nestlé founders.

Pulling into Mt. Adnah, I noticed how different I felt being on the cemetery grounds after driving Fulton’s busy streets. Aside from knowing that I was in a sacred space, there was something about Adnah’s abundant shade trees and roadways curving up and down hills. It felt like I was following a country lane back in history.

Those feelings were confirmed after I read the book “Historic Overview of Mt. Adnah Cemetery.” (Copies of the book are available at the Fulton Library.) The work by historian Christine Lozner, published in 1991 and recently reprinted, tells the story of how Mt. Adnah came to be.  Ms. Lozner’s thorough review takes us back a century and a half to the founding of Fulton’s first cemetery.

The year was 1851, and Mt. Adnah was about to become one of America’s few “rural cemeteries.” This new type of burial ground was a result of large cities forming in our rapidly-expanding United States. Crowded urban conditions meant families no longer had large backyards, farm fields or rural churchyards to lay their loved ones to rest, but people still wanted a peaceful setting to remember them. Rural cemeteries, established on the outskirts of those cities, were the answer.  When Fulton-area residents decided to create Mt. Adnah, it became the first such cemetery in Central New York, founded before Oswego’s Riverside Cemetery (1855) and Syracuse’s Oakwood Cemetery (1859).

In the mid-1800s, Fulton was not yet a city—that would happen fifty years later—but the two towns of Fulton and Oswego Falls that would one day merge were already home to five Protestant and one Roman Catholic church. When it began, Adnah offered burial sites to everyone, no matter their religion. (When St. Mary’s Cemetery opened in 1873, Catholics began being laid to rest there.)

Ms. Lozner’s book points out the warm welcome Mt Adnah planners received. She noted that community support recorded in the Cemetery Association’s minutes included fundraising efforts by “the Ladies of Fulton and a community band that provided a concert for the benefit of the Mt. Adnah Cemetery.” Once money was raised, the Association “resolved to purchase from James L. Voorhees 36½ acres of land on the southeast edge of the village.”

Work on the cemetery began in 1853, when surveyor Peter Schenck laid out 12 acres of the property. (An additional eight acres were cleared and added soon after.) Schenck was already familiar with the Fulton area, having created the first comprehensive map of the two towns in 1848. After visiting other rural cemeteries, Schenck included what he considered their “essential elements” in his Mt. Adnah plans. Perhaps most important, as Ms. Lozner pointed out, was what the Christian caretakers of Adnah wanted for their cemetery: “Nature was healthful, wholesome and salubrious…it was the environment closest to God and therefore capable of teaching moral lessons about life.”

Ms. Lozner also uncovered the origins of the cemetery’s unique name: “Adnah is a Syriac word meaning ‘rest’ or ‘repose.’ The cemetery thus became ‘The Mount of Repose,’ a peaceful, beautiful dormitory where friends and relatives rested from their labors, and the terrors of death were minimized.”

As I read Mt. Adnah’s founding principles I began to understand why driving through the cemetery stirred my emotions. Mr. Schenck planned Adnah so that “hillsides climbed over the tops of others, the route through the grounds provided the visitor with a surprising and captivating sequence of internal views.” Ms. Lozner noted that the cemetery had a small lake and fountain to reflect the beautiful property. (It was later filled in when more space was needed.) Even the abundant shade trees I had noticed were intentional: Schenck suggested pine and red and white oaks, as well as ornamental shrubs and plants.

In 1854, a fence was deemed necessary to protect the cemetery from cattle wandering into the property from nearby farms. Adnah’s original bylaws stated that hitching posts be provided so horses would not be tied to trees. A cedar picket fence was constructed in 1855 and a more permanent gate in 1866. By the turn of the century, a cast iron arch welcomed visitors. It greets us today.

All those efforts helped maintain the beauty of Mt. Adnah, but it was in the design of headstones, monuments and mausoleums that the cemetery’s intentions were raised to an art form. One shining example of this was a chapel built in 1909 as a protected space for religious services. Built of Gouverneur granite with copper lanterns, pinnacles and trim, the Gothic style building stands in the form of a Greek cross. Its heavy oak doors feature copper knobs and iron hinges. The chapel’s interior is detailed with a mosaic floor of Italian tile and walls of pressed brick. Stained glass windows let sunlight in.

As Fulton grew, additional burial space was added, bringing Mt. Adnah to its current 44 acres. Today it welcomes many visitors, not only those attending to a loved one’s burial site, but also by people looking for a quiet setting to reflect.

Like all of Fulton’s history, Mt. Adnah requires care and attention, and its board of directors is dedicated to preserving this gem. If you’d like to help, you can make a donation to “Mt. Adnah Cemetery Association,” 706 E. Broadway, Fulton, NY 13069. As one board member reflected, “Mt. Adnah will always be a jewel in the fabric of Fulton.”

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