By Alicia Dziak
Three years ago, Gail Carucci, a summertime resident of Ellicottville, attended an Ellicottville Historical Society meeting. During the meeting, it was announced that work on the Bryant Hill Cemetery had been completed, and next, the town was hoping to tackle the Jefferson Street Cemetery. Carucci was immediately interested in helping with the project and the rest is history.
“Mary Elizabeth Dunbar, our town historian, provided me a list of those that were buried there, according to a 1957 walk through by the DAR,” said Carucci. “I took pictures of all the headstones and monuments, and began researching.”
The first goal of the committee was to get the cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The application was a very involved process and required a lot of research,” Carucci explained. “We needed to show how and when the property became a cemetery, but because the records were destroyed in a fire, we didn’t have any of the information we needed.”
Without records in hand, the committee was eventually able to submit the application. They had to wait almost a year and finally received approval in January of 2012.
“We found out there were plaques available, but they cost almost $1,000, and we didn’t have the money to get one,” she said.
While waiting for the approval, work began on restoring the cemetery. In summer 2011, Crandall’s Memorials of Olean came out to the cemetery to give volunteers a demonstration on how to gently clean the headstones.
“We had about 30 volunteers helping out that summer, and together, we cleaned over 400 headstones in the cemetery,” Carucci explained.
Although the cemetery was looking much better, the volunteers still noticed that many stones were broken and in various states of disrepair. For the past three years, the Town of Ellicottville has provided funds to have Crandall’s Memorials do some deeper cleaning and repairs on all but 43 headstones. Crandall’s will return next year to finish this project.
Carucci said, “We immediately noticed how much brighter the cemetery was.”
In addition, Ken Hinman, a Ellicottville town board member, volunteered his time to repair the stone wall on the property.
Good news came this summer, when Carucci found out about the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. They established a grant program in 2013 to fund plaques or a sign to designate when a property is placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The application was completed, submitted and Carucci was thrilled to learn the Jefferson Street Cemetery was the very first historic place approved by this new grant program to receive monies toward a plaque and pole.
To celebrate the success of the project so far, and the receipt of the new status and plaque, an unveiling ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 14 at 1:30 p.m. The event will be held at the cemetery, followed by a reception at the Town Center.
“We hope the community will come out to celebrate with us,” Carucci said.
Meanwhile, Carucci continues doing extensive research trying to find descendents.
“When I do find them, those are my aha moments!” she said, describing that mission as a main goal of the project. “Everyone has a story and I would like to preserve them!”
Other goals of the committee are to purchase a monument for those without headstones and a sign for the cemetery.
To raise money for the project, Finnegan’s Wake was held at the Gin Mill as a fundraiser event this year.
“A number of donations have come in from descendents of people who were buried in the cemetery, as well as others who are interested in our project,” she said.
A Twilight Heritage Walking Tour fundraiser event is also in the works for 2014. If anyone is interested in participating in any way, please contact Gail Carucci at email@example.com or call her at (716) 307-5510.
It’s been three years in the making, but through the hard work of Carucci and many community volunteers, the Jefferson Street Cemetery restoration project is well on its way to being completed.
“The way things are going, I think we’ll be able to accomplish all our goals by the end of next summer,” Carucci stated.