The resting place of some of Western New York’s earliest settlers is facing financial insolvency unless funds can be raised to pay for maintenance costs. 

City Hill Cemetery is Yates County’s oldest burying ground, founded in 1788 by the followers of Jemima Wilkinson, “the Publick Universal Friend,” with the first burial recorded the following year at the death of Elizabeth Holmes, wife of Jedediah Holmes in 1789.

Though Wilkinson’s settlement is long gone, City Hill has continued to accept the mortal remains of many of Yates County’s citizens for 230 years. And the current officers of the cemetery association want to enlist the help of all the descendants of those families to make sure it continues in that mission for hundreds of years more.

After the association held their annual meeting, President William Hansen penned a letter to the families saying, “... we are aware of the increase in mowing costs, tree maintenance, headstone and fence repair. In order for the cemetery to remain solvent, we need your help.” He added, “As a private, non-profit organization, we strive to keep expenses manageable, yet our expenditures far exceed any interest income we (the trust) receive for maintenance.” 

In the records of City Hill, there are ledgers recording the sale and location of all the plots, as well as letters that have accompanied donations for the upkeep. Some from the 1920s for hundreds of dollars would equal thousands today. One sweet letter from an elderly widow was for just $3, the mite she could afford to give. Those expressions of devotion are what Hansen hopes for in this new appeal for tax-deductible donations. “Any contribution you could make would be greatly appreciated.”

Hansen is the brother of the late Bruce Hansen who was known for his many good works and efforts to improve the amenities of Torrey and all of Yates County. He and his daughter Christine Mattison gave a tour of the cemetery, along with Tom Eskildsen, whose family has also been integral to the support of City Hill. They recently donated several acres west of the older part of the cemetery for its future expansion. Hansen says that the remaining parts of the iron fence from the 1800s on that side will be relocated to the front of the cemetery.

In recent years, after a period where the management was not as strong and areas were allowed to grow up in brush, Eskildsen organized the Dresden Boy Scout Troop in a massive and very well-done cleanup effort, revealing stones that hadn’t been accessible in years.

The iconic, massive white pine trees that are a hallmark of the old cemetery also have costs. Over the centuries, falling limbs have damaged some headstones. Others have toppled for lack of solid foundations and frost heave. The association hopes to engage experts in righting and restoring the stones, but many are made of slate and are so old their inscribed faces have flaked away with weathering. Some of the oldest graves are even unmarked, in accordance with the beliefs of the Friends. 

With many plots still available on the east side and future plots on the west side when it is developed, the space available for future families to be interred with their loved ones is assured. However, the perpetual care of City Hill Cemetery will depend upon the generosity of the families whose names have been recorded and preserved over the centuries in this most beautiful resting place.

Mail your donation to:

City Hill Cemetery Association 

Mrs. Toby Bond, Treasurer 

590 City Hill Road 

Penn Yan, New York, 14527 

I would like to make a donation to City Hill Cemetery Association for the amount of $_____. Please mail me back a receipt for my tax-deductible donation. 

Name ____________________________________

Address __________________________________