SARATOGA SPRINGS — A lifelong city resident who led efforts to preserve and enhance the oldest cemetery in Saratoga Springs was posthumously honored with the placement of a plaque and the planting of a tree in the Gideon Putnam Burying Ground.
The tree, an American beech, is expected to rise to a height of greater than 50 feet, grow to a spread at maturity of about 40 feet and for generations overlook the west side neighborhood where Eugene Corsale made his home. Corsale engaged the help of the Department of Public Works, local businesses and volunteers, and is credited with providing the leadership through which $120,000 in grant funding was secured to underwrite the restoration of the burial grounds, which had fallen into disrepair.
Graffiti marred the stone wall of the Putnam family plot and trash was strewn about. Broken tombstones were used as skate board ramps and some residents used the dirt paths of the overgrown landscape as a short-cut to Broadway. “The cemetery was ignored, overgrown, and misused,” explained Samantha Bosshart, executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation.
The cemetery was established in 1810 by Gideon Putnam. The Massachusetts-born visionary relocated to the area in his twenties. He laid out a wide street scheme for a broad way, built Saratoga’s first boarding house hotel, and donated a plot of land to be used as a public burial ground. While working atop scaffolding during the construction of nearby Congress Hall, Putnam fell and suffered severe injury. He died a year later. In 1812, he became the first person interred at the cemetery named for him.
In addition to the walled enclosure of the Putnam family plot, hundreds of Saratoga Springs residents were laid to rest at the cemetery through the 1840s. A century later, fewer than half of the original 232 stone markers remained. Accurate records of those buried within were not kept, and the cemetery fell into disrepair. With Corsale’s leadership, stone walls were restored, gravestones cleaned, the landscape trimmed and grass reseeded, and a perimeter fence installed to prevent vandalism.
“What we see here today is in large part (due to) Gene’s legacy,” said Bosshart, choking back tears as she recalled many purposeful visits to her office by Corsale, who died in March 2014 at the age of 85. “Gene would come by, usually with some butterscotch candy or a lollipop he got from the bank, and say: ‘You know what we have to do.’ It was a privilege and an honor to know him.”
The Gideon Putnam burying ground is the city’s oldest cemetery in the city and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being designated a City Landmark. It was preceded by the Sadler Cemetery, where bodies were first interred in the 18th century, but those bodies were mostly relocated to other cemeteries. The memorial tree was purchased and planted by the Heritage Garden Club with the assistance from Sustainable Saratoga, and a bronze plaque recognizing Corsale was provided by the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation.