Cemeteries of St. Helena, New York

Burials were made in several near-by cemeteries. One at the top of the eastern hill was opened about 1830 and was the first in that entire section. Fifty persons were buried there. In 1839 the Oak Hill Cemetery, near Brooks Grove, was established. Some years later, when the plot had to be enlarged, Milton Burnap, Sr., Fred Marsh, Sr., and James Piper, early settlers at St. Helena, helped with the task and chose their family burial spots.

The two cemeteries at Castile were used, and also, of course, the well-known cemetery on the western hillside. Because there were no burial spots in the valley, the riders in the funeral processions, consisting of horse-drawn vehicles, had many nerve-wracking experiences in the wintertime, as they wended their way up the steep icy hills on their mournful journeys. There were many deaths each winter.

St. Helena Cemetery

The completion of the dam meant the time was at hand when the little cemetery of St. Helena would have to be moved. The State Department of Public Works ordered the exhumation of the bodies and the contract was given to Mr. Anthony Spallino, contractor from Niagara Falls, New York. Only eight monuments marked the graves in the cemetery, now overgrown with brush and some trees since the time of the last burial there. From the markers, the last burial was thought to have been made in 1871, but relatives and friends of the Orsburn family say the two little Orsburn boys were buried there in 1894.

Among the remains found at St. Helena were those of what appeared to be an Indian. There was some speculation as to whether the body could be that of Jesse Jemison, son of Mary Jemison, “The White Woman of the Genesee.” According to Mary Jemison’s life story, told by her to James E. Seaver for publication before she left the Gardeau Reservation, her son Jesse was killed in a drunken brawl by his brother John, while engaged in logging operations for Robert Whaley, near Tea Table Rock, at Wolf Creek. Burial was made after the manner of the white people. The fact that this occurred about 1812, while the land at St. Helena was not sold until 1823, would cause some doubt as to the possibility of the remains being those of Jesse Jemison.

A total of ninety-two bodies was found, a large portion of them being infants and children. Many of these died from measles and whooping cough which were both dreaded diseases in those early days. The remains were placed in small wooden boxes, made at the Clyde W. Barber Lumber Mill in Castile. The dimensions of the boxes were 1′ x 2′ x 2′ 2′. They were made from pine and hemlock lumber. All the boxes were marked where identification could be made. Some markers were located under the earth. Inscriptions furnish the following data:


Asa W., died Dec. 17, 1884, 86y 4m.


Sally, wife of Richard Emmett, daughter ot Josiah and Mary Stocking, died Aug. 1, 1851, 18y.


William, died May 12, 1851, 57y, 3m 22d.
Elmira, daughter William and E., died July 22, 1841, 6y.
Melvin, son William and E., died July 8, 1841, 1m 20d.


George E., died Oct. 4, 1848, 4m.


Lydia E., daughter George M. and Lucy, died March 22, 1875, ly 6m 5d.


Helen, daughter Josiah and Mary, died Jan. 29, 1845, 6y.
Dennis, son Josiah and Mary, died Jan. 30, 1845, 3y.


John, son S. M, and Mary, died April 10, 1846, 10y 1m. John Westbrook was the grandson of Nehemiah Westbrook, first white owner of Polly Jemison’s farm on Gardeau Flats.

The re-interment of these pioneer people took place at Castile in Grace Cemetery, where a special section in the southeast corner was allocated for that purpose. All the markers were placed at the proper graves and each unidentified grave was marked as that of a child or an adult.

Source: Anderson, Mildred L. H, and Marian P. Willey. St. Helena, Ghost Town of the Genesee, 1797-1954. Castile, N.Y, 1954. Print.

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