Mindy Pitre, associate professor of anthropology and J. Ansil Ramsay Professor of Public Health, is co-director of the Death in St. Lawrence County project (DSLC). DSLC aims to document, map, and digitize all of the 200+ cemeteries in St. Lawrence County in upstate New York. DSLC involves academics and officers from three upstate New York institutions (St. Lawrence University and SUNY Potsdam and Oswego) and various government agencies (St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services, Canton Town Historian’s Office, and the State Historic Preservation Office). Together we are using the information we gather from local cemeteries to better understand life and death in the region, beginning with the St. Lawrence Poorhouse Cemetery in Canton, NY.
The St. Lawrence Poorhouse Cemetery (c. 1871–1920) is a particularly interesting cemetery in that it represents an important aspect of Canton’s cultural history: it reveals the lives and deaths of the county’s most vulnerable inhabitants. Those buried within the cemetery (see image taken by Adam Hill) were “indigent,” “poor,” “insane,” or “idiots” and lived and worked within the County Home that was founded in 1869 and went out of use in 1970. Over 600 individuals are thought to be buried at the site, of which only 111 simple tombstones remain. Through an examination of inmate records and other textual sources and the application of geophysical techniques (ground penetrating radar and geographic information systems), DSLC will document this long-forgotten part of St. Lawrence.