A team effort involving Scouts, Seabees, and veterans and community groups restored a historic cemetery where a War of 1812 veteran is buried

CANANDAIGUA — A decades-long silence was broken at an abandoned landlocked cemetery off Wyffels Road in the town of Canandaigua. And for many, it’s a dream come true.

Sounds of clanging shovels, buzzing chainsaws and the chatter and laughter of more than 30 volunteers signaled rebirth and restoration on Saturday, Sept. 8, to historic Wolverton Cemetery, also known as Red Dock Cemetery.

Tucked away in a privately owned 50-acre wood between County Road 16 and Laura Lane, the 60-by-80-foot burial site is most notably the final resting place of War of 1812 veteran Seth Beeman.

And thanks to a battalion of volunteers under the leadership of 16-year-old Josh Dutcher, a member of Canandaigua Boy Scout Troop 30 and Eagle Scout candidate, the site has been cleared of overgrowth; a 400-foot split rail fence installed; burial sites probed, recorded and logged; and honor paid to Mr. Beeman.

Initial planning for the project started in June, with specifics nailed down in mid-August, Dutcher said.

But long before the big work day, in the steamy summer heat, the Canandaigua Academy junior and his dad, Jay Dutcher, created access for volunteers by clearing the thicket of scrub bushes, bramble and poison ivy that had overgrown the tombstones.

When Sept. 8 finally arrived, the payoff was huge, Josh said. 

“It’s fun seeing how quickly all the work is getting done,” he said. “I’d just like to thank everybody that came and helped out. Without them it would take a very, very long time.”

Pitching in were members of the United States Navy Seabees, the Ontario County Historical Society, Canandaigua and Seneca chapters of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, Troop 30 Boy Scouts, Canandaigua Rotary Club, and town of Canandaigua Historian Ray Henry, Ontario County Historian Preston Pierce and Town of Canandaigua Parks and Recreation Director Troy Bennett.

Navy Seabees Petty Officer Colin Haire spoke on behalf of his sizeable team.

“We’re doing a community service project for the Boy Scouts of Canandaigua, rehabbing the old cemetery,” he said. “We’re putting a new split rail fence around it, clearing out some old trees that have fallen down and allowing the (Daughters of the American Revolution) to come in and record the graves that are here. Just making it a nicer place in general.”

Haire and his team also led a flag ceremony commemorating Mr. Beeman’s service to country that included the playing of Taps.

Ontario County Historian Preston Pierce explained that Mr. Beeman helped defend Fort Erie in the Buffalo area in 1814.

“He played a major role in the fight around Fort Erie, Ontario,” said Pierce. “His importance isn’t so much individual as what he represents, which is the experience that a lot of pioneers of Ontario County had, pioneering this land, participating in its defense during the War of 1812, and then he died here in 1868.

“A typical pioneer, he’s buried here with what appears to be his first wife, and a child that died probably from cholera or some other waterborne disease,” said Pierce.

Historic records show that Mr. Beeman served with other local people.

“His militia commander was from Yates County, and they literally marched here to Fort Erie and back again,” said Pierce. “So think about what it would be like to walk to Buffalo, even on a cleared path now, and then walk back.”

Only one historic marker predates Mr. Beeman’s — and it’s no longer in place, Pierce said. It was in Pioneer Cemetery in the city of Canandaigua and marks the final resting place of William Walker, the first pioneer to settle in the area.

Cynthia Schwab of the Canandaigua Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was busy recording grave marker rubbings and placement, cataloging each known burial site. She said her organization was on hand to “ensure that the records of our ancestors are properly recorded and acknowledged.”

For town of Canandaigua Historian Ray Henry, the day of restoration was years in the making.

“This is true to my heart because I’ve been trying for about 10 or 12 years to get somebody to do something,” said Henry. “Now it’s unbelievable — the Seabees are here, DAR, the scouts, the Rotary. It’s an outpouring is what it is.”

For now, Wolverton Cemetery, surrounded by privately owned land, will remain inaccessible to the public except for maintenance two or three times a year, said Henry.

More dreams for future historic restorations in Ontario County include additional cemeteries and railroad sites, he said. But next in line will be a farm museum and education center on Routes 5 and 20 between Canandaigua and Geneva. Henry’s group is working on securing non-profit status for the project so they can begin fundraising.

Editor's note: A key player in the restoration of the Wolverton Cemetery off Wyffels Road was Town of Canandaigua Parks and Recreation Director Dennis Brewer.