Wiltwyck Rural Cemetery was founded on March 20, 1856 at a “…meeting of Citizens of Kingston, Ulster County, convened at Brown’s Hotel in the Village of Kingston for the purpose of forming a Cemetery Association under the Act of the Legislature of the State New York passed April 27, 1847.” A motion to adopt the name “Wiltwyck Rural Cemetery Association” was unanimously passed. The following persons were elected as Trustees: Edwin W. Buddington, John D.L. Montauge, Henry H. Reynolds, William M. Hays, William Hendricks, Abijah Smith, Augustus Schoonmaker, Jr., Joseph S. Smith, and Peter Elmendorf Cole. Joseph S. Smith was elected Chairman and William D. Hill, Secretary. The first order of business was a motion, “Resolved that future annual meetings of the Association shall be held on the first Monday of April in each and every year”. A reading of the minutes of the Association notes that many prominent community members have served as Trustees through the years.
The land for the original grounds of the cemetery were conveyed to the Association by Joseph S. Smith (deed recorded in Book 84, page 281 by the Ulster County Clerk) with the stipulation that the grounds were to be used for burials and no other purpose. The land was generally in the vicinity of Jacobs Valley bounded by lands of Joseph S. Smith on the west, Pine Grove Avenue on the north, the lands of John O’Reilly to the east and the Twaalfskill Brook near Wilbur Plank Road on the south.
Constant improvements have been made to the grounds as land was cleared, leveled and graded to prepare for the sale of lots. In 1861 a right-of-way was established from the Wilbur Plank Road across Twaalfskill Brook via a bridge over the brook into the grounds. In 1862 a “Keepers” house for the Superintendent as built for $600.00. A plan to extend Furnace Street to the east and to build a bridge over Jacobs Valley was proposed to “make a pleasant entrance”. It cannot be determined if that plan was ever executed. All of the shares of the Association sold to the Trustees to finance the original building of the grounds were redeemed in 1874 as the Association was now solvent. The Trustees were now in full control of the Association which ended years of disputes over lot boundaries and who had the right to do what they wanted with their lots. Unauthorized tree removal for logging purposes seemed to be a major problem.
The New York, West Shore and Buffalo Rail Road presented their plans to the Trustees in September, 1881 for the building of a rail line which would have them acquire some of the cemetery lands on the west side. A sum of $5000.00 was offered for approximately 2 acres. The Trustees accepted the offer in April, 1882 in the spirit of increasing business for the citizens of Kingston and the rail line was built.
Additional lands have been acquired beginning in 1884 with the purchase of land from Mrs. Cecelia O’Reilly on the east side of the cemetery. In 1884, the Trustees established a Perpetual Maintenance Fund to care for grave lots in the future. The present stone pillars at the Pine Grove Avenue entrance were authorized in 1897 and erected in 1898. The plan to build the present house that serves as the office and home for the Superintendent was proposed in 1900 to be erected for a sum not to exceed $2500.00 to $3000.00. Local architect Myron S. Teller was engaged to draw up the plans and construction began in 1902. A problem with buckling foundation walls was discovered by the architect who required the builder to tear it down and start over. In 1905 the Trustees accepted a plan for the landscape design of the east side of the cemetery up to and along the present West O’Reilly Street that was prepared by Calvin Vaux of New York City. During that year, the cemetery grounds were opened on Sunday afternoons from 1 o’clock in the afternoon until dusk for the pleasure of the people of Kingston to enjoy. The use of wagons and carriages was allowed as long as the horses were driven at a walk.
As the cemetery grew in size and use an interesting fact was recorded in the annual report of the Superintendent in 1911 and 1912. The building of the Ashokan Reservoir and dam necessitated the removal of bodies from cemeteries in the valley that was to be flooded. Many of those disinterred were brought to Kingston for reburial in Wiltwyck Rural Cemetery which caused a sharp increase on the work of the staff and Superintendent. In April, 1912 the Trustees at the annual meeting passed a resolution of appreciation to the City of Kingston for the improvements to Pine Grove Avenue which caused the board to express their compliments on a “…beautiful and stately approach to Wiltwyck and St. Peter’s Cemeteries” to the Mayor and Common Council.
In a printed booklet about the Wiltwyck Rural Cemetery Association, authorized by the Trustees in 1916, the following two paragraphs were inserted in the Preface. The stated aims of the Trustees then are the same in the 21st Century:
“There is no disposition to interfere with preferences and tastes, but the stability of the improvements, the good appearance of the grounds, a proper mode of burial, and a respectful observance of the sacredness of the place, requires that some of the rights of the individual be secondary to the general good.
It is the aim of the Trustee to make Wiltwyck a quiet, beautiful resting place for the dead, where well kept turf, the foliage of trees and the unbroken quiet give a sense of repose.”