The wild woodland had grown up around the Crafts family cemetery on a hillside near Potter over more than 200 years, and with the trees and brush came generations of area residents without family ties to those who were laid to rest there. Their stories were nearly lost.
Now, thanks to the efforts of Boy Scout Erik Hobbs of Penn Yan Troop 44, and son of Mark and Pam Hobbs, the Craft family members, especially noted Revolutionary War veteran Edward Crafts, have a tranquil resting place that’s like new.
Hobbs took on the project last fall, and with the help of his family and other volunteers, has invested a total of over 283 hours of work into the project which involved clearing of years of overgrowth and debris, research of the Crafts family history, solicitation of resources, and just plan old hard work installing a picket fence, flagpole with illumination, new grave markers and chain link fence.
The final touch, a sign explaining the cemetery and his project, was installed Sunday, Aug. 2.
Hobbs, 16, who will be a junior at Penn Yan Academy this fall, started working on his project to clean up the area where five members of the Crafts family are buried near the French Cemetery on Fitch Road before he learned about a connection to important events in Revolutionary War history.
Edward Crafts, born Oct. 12, 1746, joined Paddock’s Artillery Co. of Boston as a young man. His brother, Thomas was already a lieutenant in the company. According to information compiled by Erik and his father, Mark Hobbs, Edward entered the Continental service in 1775, and was present at the battle of Bunker Hill.
Paul Revere also served under Edward’s brother, Thomas, according to the Hobbs’ research.
Edward Crafts was also a witness to the Boston Massacre, and testified in the subsequent hearing.
He was an intimate friend of John Hancock and Samuel Adams, but after sustaining physical and financial damages in the war, he moved his family to Potter (then Middlesex), where he died at age 60 on April 11, 1806. Some of his family moved on to Ohio after his death. Hobbs has been in touch with descendants of Crafts who now live in Oregon.
Hobbs learned a lot about managing resources and being flexible through this experience, he says. This project was not the first one he had planned to use for his Eagle badge. Other proposed projects didn’t come together, and to complete this one, Hobbs’ plans were adjusted over time.
An Eagle project must be completed by the time a scout is 18 years old, and it must benefit the community. Only 7 percent of Boy Scouts achieve the rank of Eagle Scout, according to information on the Scouting website.
Working with a budget of $550, Hobbs received financial support from Five Star Bank, American Legion, Elks, Lions, Rotary, Moose, and Seneca Lake Duck Hunters Club. He also received donations of equipment and supplies from Carey’s Lumber, Knapp & Schlappi Lumber, KG Graphics, Engravers Plus, and Parts Plus.
The Yates County Veterans Services office helped acquire a new veteran’s marker for Edward Crafts grave since the original slate stone was badly weathered and broken.
The work began last fall at the same time other volunteers were working on the French Cemetery which is nearby.
Many of the gravestones in the Fitch Cemetery date back to the early 1800s, and nature has left its mark on stones bearing the names of some of the town’s earliest settlers.
Town Clerk Patty Bootes said that back in the 1990s, she was involved with other residents in a project to document town cemeteries and ensure their maintenance. The cemetery on Fitch Road was one of them.
“Anybody who was anybody in the town was buried in that cemetery,” Bootes said. She noted 11 Revolutionary War and Civil War veterans are buried in the cemetery located on Harvey Road off Route 247.
In recent years, however — with some of those who took the lead in the project gone, and with financial constraints on the town — the Fitch Road cemetery has received little more than lawn maintenance.
The situation caught the eye of a Naples man who drives by the cemetery daily on a newspaper delivery route.
“Every day I look at that cemetery,” said Bruce Phillips, an Army veteran.
He said the age of the cemetery, with its deteriorating condition, has been tugging at him for years as he drove by. He said he has stopped a few times to take a closer look.
Phillips recently decided to contact officials and offer to take the lead in restoring the site.
Ken Graff, who does cemetery lawn maintenance for the town, said the cemetery does indeed signify an important part of the town’s history.
Graff, Bootes, and others have said they are pleased with this project and think it is a good start to further restoration of town cemeteries in need of work.
A database of more than 40,000 records detailing all known burials in Yates County has the information for about 100 cemeteries in the county, including those in Potter.
New York did not require the recording of deaths until after 1880, according to Yates County’s website.
Researchers were forced to turn to other methods and sources of documentation. The gravestone might give clues to birthplace, family ties, the ever-elusive maiden names of married women and other facts about the deceased person’s life.
Because of Yates County’s small size and population, it was possible to imagine the completion of such a project within a reasonable amount of time. Even though a few previously unknown graves continue to turn up, the vast majority are now recorded in this database and available only by writing or visiting the Yates County Office Building, 417 Liberty St., Suite 0032, or by calling 315-536-5147.
For information on the project to restore the cemetery on Fitch Road, contact Bruce Phillips at 585-314-5570 or Patty Bootes at Potter Town Hall, 585-554-6758.
More information about Edward and Thomas Crafts can be found at a website that was created about the project by Mark Hobbs at http://crafts.fingerlakeswebworks.com.
Includes reporting by Julie Sherwood