Abandoned History
A Visit To The Old Poor House Cemetery

By James Boles,Ed.D.

J.Boles 2017


Here lie the residents of the Niagara County Almshouse who were laid to rest between 1929 and 1916an inscription on the poorhouse cemetery bench. Donated by Orleans Monument Company, Lockport NY.

J.Boles 2017


The only marked stone in the cemetery. Reconstructed and donated by Orleans Monument Company.

The poor house cemetery, which was not kept up for a number of years, is now nicely maintained by the county. There is a mowed right-of-way path back to the 300 x 300 foot burial ground. The story is that the land that contained the cemetery was accidently sold and after discovery of this, in 1993, the county did the right thing and mapped the approximate dimensions and purchased back the land. With graves dating to the 1820s, and not much maintenance over the last 100 years, it was rough. In 2011, I visited the overgrown site to explore the options for the Museum of disABILITY History’s planned clean-up. It was difficult to find. I made a sharp right turn into the field across from the jail. The right-of-way was faint and hard to follow. My truck rolled past the old silo and the stone barn foundation which was covered with vines and scrub brush. In the first visits to the cemetery you could not find it. There was one marked stone on its side, which was the only indicator that you might be in a graveyard. The land was wild with thorn bushes, rocks, and trees obscuring the area. After sometime, with a machete, and garden tools, the boundary stone walls and scattered crudely cut grave stones appeared. The project began in 2012, thanks to the help of Niagara County Legislature Chairman, Bill Ross who cleared the way for all the groups – it should be noted that it would not have happened if not for Bill Ross. With combined efforts of the Niagara County Department of Buildings and Grounds, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, the Niagara county Historians office, local historians, volunteers, People Inc., and Orleans Monument Company, the property was restored. A detailed description of the project can be found in David Mack-Hardiman’s book, “Of Grave Importance-the Restoration of Institutional Cemeteries”. Volunteers from People Inc. do an annual check and clean-up.

J. Boles 2017


This is one of the few original rectangle-shaped grave stones. They were cut from the poorhouse quarry, with no names or numbers.

This small cemetery contains over 1400 graves. A discovered book of records lists up to 3 burials in each grave. Catherine Emerson, the Niagara County Historian recently reported that she often receives genealogy questions from family members asking if a relative was in the poor house or buried in the cemetery. The Museum of disABILITY History receives similar requests. Records can be found at the Niagara County’s Historians Office, the Museum of disABILITY History, and the New York State Archives. However it is not clear that all burials were in the cemetery as graves were found on the south side of the street when the jail was built in 1960. Former Niagara County Historian, Clarence Lewis, speculated that the graves were from an earlier private cemetery or quick burials after an epidemic. The south side graves were also found near the quarantine house.
Over the years of its existence the early Niagara County Poor House served many helpless groups. Later outside specialized services such as orphanages, institutions for the mentally ill and the disabled were developed and used by the County. Burials after 1916 were at the Niagara County Infirmary on Davison Road.
Because of requests I am trying to occasionally write about Abandoned History locations that can be visited. This can be difficult because of concerns about destroying a historical site or disturbing the owner. Fortunately many of the properties are owned the local governments and or can be seen from the road. All issues are considered when identifying a historical site. Most of the Abandoned History finds are obscure and not well known so I am always cautious.

J. Boles 2017


Memorial stone at the entrance to the Almshouse Cemetery

An interested reader can visit the old Niagara County Poorhouse Cemetery. It is located across from the Niagara County Sherriff’s Office on Niagara Street Extension. There is a large boulder with a plaque and some history-and the right of way is to the left. I was down there last week and the area is well kept by the county. It was an easy drive back to the cemetery which is located at the end of the cut path, and the graveyard is to the left. On the path lined with purple and white Phlox wildflowers, you pass the silo and a stone ramp to the barn foundation from the farming days. This area has a unique feel to it and although small there is a draw to recognize those that reside, it is quiet but requires attention. As you view it- it demands and should receive respect. Many people and groups helped restore this unrecognized historical site let’s keep it peaceful. Thank you to the Niagara County’s Sherriff’s Office and the Niagara County Maintenance Department for keeping a watchful eye on the old poor house cemetery.
Jim Boles, Ed.D., is a Lockport native and retired CEO of People Inc., now working part-time at the Museum of disABILITY History, researching early care and healing. He has a strong interest in preserving the area’s local history and promoting cultural tourism. Jim can be contacted by calling the museum or via email: Jboles@people-inc.org