Backyard Graveyard

Backyard graveyard
image courtesy of: J. Arty

House Crazy Sarah has always wanted one. Her very own collection of stones on top of people bones in her backyard. That may sound morbid, but how many people can say they own their very own cemetery?

This lucky homeowner in New York state is one of the few who is now the caretaker of this fascinating collection of historic tombstones (and presumably, the mortal remains buried beneath).

backyard cemetery
image courtesy of: J. Arty
She graciously allowed me to share these photos of the sacred ground situated on her large property. She and her husband are restoring the 185 year-old main house. It was originally built for a judge who was apparently friends with Charles Dickens. It is also reported that Theodore Roosevelt stayed here for a time while his own home was being built in a neighboring town.
This is a photo of the house restoration-in-progress:
historic New York home
image courtesy of J. Arty
And a historic drawing of the house:
historic house drawing
image courtesy of: J. Arty
The gravestones, however, predate the house by well over a century. In the town’s local historical records, a “Peter T.” discovered the property’s tombstones in 1831 and kept a notebook detailing his finds. (Pictured below.)
image courtesy of: J. Arty


One of the tombstones dates back to 1687!
1687 gravestone
image courtesy of: J. Arty
It’s not clear whether the cemetery originated as part of a church, or was some type of family plot. The homeowner discovered that the original house on the land burned down to the ground and the “new” one was built in 1834.  Through research, the homeowner has also discovered that one of George Washington’s spy’s has ancestors buried in this little cemetery!
old gravestone
image courtesy of: J. Arty
The homeowner has blurred out the names on the graves to protect her privacy and the privacy of the descendants who still reside in the area.
gravestone in the backyrad
image courtesy of: J. Arty
Family plots on personal property were not uncommon 100-200+ years ago in some parts of North America where people lived for generations on family farms and estates. But is it legal today? Surprisingly, yes. Well, in most states. Some states, like California, forbid burying a dead body in the backyard due to space limitations and the effect on real estate value. And even in states where backyard burial is legal, there are strict zoning requirements that must be adhered to such as specific setbacks from adjacent property and bodies of water. These limitations would exclude most city and suburban homes whose lots are simply not large enough. So you don’t see a whole lot of backyard graveyards these days.
backyard tombstone
image courtesy of: J. Arty
Another fun fact: A cemetery is a place where the remains of dead people are buried or interred. The term graveyard technically refers to a burial ground within a churchyard, or a burial ground connected to church property. So technically, House Crazy Sarah named this post incorrectly. This is a backyard cemetery.
Special thanks to J. Arty for sharing photos of these treasures with us!
ps… if anyone else has a historic backyard cemetery – please she with House Crazy Sarah (she loves that stuff!)

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