Not far from Whitehouse on the West Branch of the Sacandaga River, and just hidden off the side of the West River Road among the trees and brush, is a cemetery dating from the nineteenth century. When Susan Allen, Mike Groff, and I visited the cemetery on April 11, we found five substantial gravestones that are in excellent condition and pay witness to the family names of Flansburgh, Davison, Fountain, Mattig, and Carpenter. Today's physical witness to the ghost town of Whitehouse exists only in old foundations, cellar walls, chimneys, the town highway, two steel suspension foot bridges, and the small cemetery. Records of history and the pride and memory of local people and descendants keep the cultural heritage of Whitehouse in living memory. The cemetery boasts no fence, access road or identifying sign. However, the state cemetery law requires that the town maintain an eight-foot wide access road to any graveyard, as well as to mowing and fencing it if the burial ground falls to the town's responsibility by virtue of the fact that it contains the remains of people from more than one family.
The cemetery is located within the New York State Adirondack Forest Preserve. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, has proposed a management plan for the Silver Lake Wilderness, which the agency has created, but has no plan to recognize the cultural and historic heritage area, or to improve the access to the cemetery. In fact, the DEC considers the cemetery to be a "non-conforming" use. Unlike the situation for other "non-conforming" uses, DEC has proposed no plan to specifically eliminate the cemetery. However, by calling for the destruction of the town highway called the West River Road that leads to the cemetery, DEC is, in effect, demanding to deny future access to the cemetery.
The Whitehouse cemetery is like many other town cemeteries and tiny family cemeteries hidden away on land bought up by the State of New York for the Forest Preserve over the years. Very similarly to the callous procedure enshrined by the National Park Service, the DEC's procedure of eradicating highways closes down access to the cherished places, so that descendants and local people who would like to visit, pay their respects, and maintain the cemeteries find it impossible. Thus the local culture, heritage, and history are eradicated. And, more harshly, the normal effort of people to show reverence toward those who came before them is squelched. Deliberately closing down access to local cemeteries, whether the villain is the National Park Service or the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, becomes a demoralizing force in the human community. It is a force of tyranny and debasement. Someday, the radicals who control these agencies will be called to task.
|Our Hike on the Threatened Road to Whitehouse|