“RIP” Plattsburgh Pioneers

February 26, 2024

The Riverside Cemetery, bordered by Steltzer Road (formerly Riverside Road), is a beautiful park-like old cemetery in the heart of the city. It’s so old, in fact, that it holds the remains of Plattsburgh’s pioneers, revolutionary war veterans and casualties from the Battle of Plattsburgh.  The Riverside Cemetery Association of the City of Plattsburgh was incorporated on April 15,1909, and the Association received the land from the City of Plattsburgh in1910. The land was first set aside by the Platt brothers for a burial ground from the very start of the settlement.  The oldest documented year of death on a stone is that of Maria Louise Eleonore, aged 31, the first wife of pioneer Peter Sailly, who died December 23, 1786, leaving a son and three daughters. One can hardly imagine the loss of this “kind wife and tender Mother, the comfort and solace of Her Husband and family,” 2 days before Christmas. The oldest stone is that for 3-month-old Betsey Wait.

Of course “Platts-burgh is the “city of the Platts,” and 4Platt brothers are buried in Riverside: Zephaniah, Nathaniel, Charles, and Daniel. Their accomplishments are extraordinary:  Zephaniah was the founder and settled the village in 1785.  He was a member of the US Constitutional Convention of 1776, a State Senator, a Judge, and a Regent of the University of NYS. Nathanial Platt was a Captain in both the French and Indian War in 1760 and the Revolutionary War, where he fought with George Washington.  After the War, he headed North.

Brother Charles traveled the world, studied medicine in Paris, was a Captain of the Minute Men in the Revolutionary War, and came North in 1785. He practiced medicine here, at no charge to his patients.  Daniel also served in our armed forces, in the US Navy.

Memorial markers ‘with grateful recognition’ were placed at the graves of each brother April 29, 2023 by the Saranac Chapter NSDAR with the accompanying words that ‘nothing is really ended until it is forgotten. Whatever is kept in memory still endures.’.

Another notable service member buried in Riverside is the Rev. Frederick Halsey (1761-1838), Chaplain to the troops in the Battle of Plattsburgh, and first pastor of the Presbyterian Church.  Halsey came to Plattsburgh in 1795. Over two centuries, Halsey’s grave stone deteriorated greatly but thanks to the generosity of local donors, the site was restored in2013 and rededicated in 2014, as part of the Bicentennial Celebration of the Battle.

Names familiar to us from the oldest Riverside tombstones persist in the city to this day.  Samuel Vilas built the Vilas Home, specifically for elderly ladies. Peter Sailly, George William Palmer and his wife Ellen Lynde left their names on our streets. The Myers Fine Arts Center at PSUC is named for John Platt Myers. And Loyal Smith who bequeathed the site of his home on the corner of Oak and Brinkerhoff to the YMCA, yet died a pauper.

And then there are the British. Every year the Battle of Plattsburgh festivities open with a ceremony to honor the dead of the War.  Graves are decorated with the American flag and the Union Jack. Captain Downie of the British Navy, whose remains are in Riverside, is probably the highest ranking member of the British military buried in the United States.

Take a cemetery stroll any time of year to honor and express your gratitude for the lives and legacy of our pioneers. 

For those interested in researching a burial site, visit the Clinton County Historical Association Museum at 98 Ohio Avenue or the Northern New York American Canadian Genealogical Society at 44 Emmons Street in Dannemora.  Or use the following link HERE.

Anne Bailey

This article written by Anne Bailey was taken from the research of the late Plattsburgh City Historian Jim Bailey and Journalist Cathi Bartenstein.

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