Surrounded by a suburban sea on the South Mountain, there is a small 19th century cemetery that attracts attention these days.
The Young Family Cemetery on Upper Wellington Street recently received an award from the Hamilton City Heritage Committee for its historical value and for being in much better condition than the burial grounds of early settlers.
Charles Dimitry, who is vice-chairman of the heritage committee, says he nominated the cemetery for the award in recognition of the “great care” taken in its upkeep. Maintenance is handled by the City of Hamilton, but younger family members and nearby residents have also helped out over the years.
The 80ft by 85ft cemetery south of Stone Church Road was established in the 1830s and had its last burial in the 1950s. Shaded by mature trees, the chain-link fence that surrounds it is solid, the ground is well cut and the approximately eight tombstones are in fairly good condition.
“I grew up near Upper James and Limeridge and have always been amazed at how many small family cemeteries there are on Hamilton Mountain,” says Dimitry. “A lot of them aren’t in great shape. But Young Cemetery stands out for being well maintained.
This, however, has not always been the case. In the 1970s there were problems with neglect and vandalism and in 1990 there was a proposal to move the graves to Mount Hamilton Cemetery on Rymal Road. But that plan was rejected, and residential development ended up bypassing the Young family cemetery rather than through it.
A nearby cemetery that is much less exemplary today is the Ryckman family cemetery, Dimitry says. It’s about a mile west of Young Cemetery, in a field near Upper James Street. The fence needs work, the plants are overgrown and there have been vandalism issues.
This summer, bulldozers cleared land near Ryckman Cemetery to make way for residential development. A City of Hamilton spokesperson says the cemetery will remain where it is and a road or trail will need to be built to access it. Hopefully the grave will be beautified along the way.
The young cemetery also has a connection to a strange event that happened four kilometers away in 1982. As I recounted in an October 2020 Flashbacks column, a demolition crew discovered a large piece of stone tomb in a wall cavity of a house in Upper Wellington, near Queensdale. More recently, I learned that the cemetery marker was from Young Cemetery.
The broken tombstone is interesting because the house it was in is said to have been haunted. Spectator composer Norm Bilotti, who lived in an apartment in the house in the early 1970s, complained that he and his then-wife Sherrie were twice awakened by a strange apparition of a legless woman with wild hair.
The story of Bilotti’s ghost was chronicled in a long feature story in The Spectator in 1971, so it was a strange coincidence to discover a cemetery marker in the same wall from which Norm’s ghost appeared 11 years later. .
The headstone bore the names of two babies – Martha Louisa from 1888 and Emma Grace from 1879. No surnames were visible.
I linked it to Young Cemetery because the names and dates appear on the Young family tree which is on a metal plaque at the cemetery. Both youngsters died before their first birthday.
I spoke to three descendants of Young, and none of them knew how the stone ended up in the wall cavity of a house down the street from the cemetery. They also didn’t know what happened to him after the stone was salvaged during the demolition.
But they knew of another strange story in the family’s history which involved “Hamilton’s first murder mystery” and this story is told on a second plaque in Young Cemetery.
The younger members of the family were Loyalist settlers who were among the first farmers on Hamilton Mountain in the early 1800s. Daniel Young (1755-1836), with his wife Dorothy Elizabeth (1763-1830), fled to British North America after fighting alongside the British during the American Revolution.
After Daniel’s death he passed his land on to his children and part of it was used for the family cemetery which today stands off Upper Wellington.
In 1827, Daniel Young’s son John and his grandson Christopher found themselves framed for the murder of a farmhand named Jesse Masters who was allegedly killed in a coal pit located on the property. A neighbor named John Sheeler claimed to have witnessed the murder, and the Youngs were put on trial even though authorities could not find a body.
The Youngs were found not guilty, but many people still believed they had committed the crime. So, in 1830, the young members of the family set out to find masters. Miraculously, they located the former farm worker in New York State and convinced him to return with them to Ryckman’s Corners.
Obviously, the information about his murder had been greatly exaggerated. Sheeler was convicted of perjury and, according to a 1959 Maclean’s magazine article, he became the last person in British North America to be pilloried.
More old cemeteries
If you want to learn more about Hamilton’s old cemeteries, local historian Bill King is hosting a tour of “Abandoned and Forgotten Cemeteries” in Lower Town on Sunday, July 24. “We’re looking for the few remaining cemeteries and headstones in downtown Hamilton,” he says. The tour doesn’t include the Young Family Cemetery, but there are plenty more to visit. King and John Streets at 10 a.m. Admission is free.