December 9, 2013
Fair Ridge Cemetery was founded in 1867, when a group of prominent town citizens met to establish “an association for the purpose of procuring and holding land to be used exclusively for a cemetery or place for the burial of the dead.” Jesse Haight Underhill (1812 1896) sold the original 12-acre site to the association, and became one of its first trustees. The first president was Horace Greeley.
At the time, it was apparent that the four religious graveyards in town would eventually fill up. Some local families may also have wished for a more sizeable and secure alternative to the private burying grounds that they had on their properties.
Still another motive might have been to create a cemetery more in keeping with current fashion. The earlier graveyards were not planned, but simply grew. The graves tended to be laid out simply in rows and oriented so that on the Day of Judgment, the deceased would rise to face the east. During the 19th century, these expedient arrangements were supplanted by “rural” or “garden” cemeteries, laid out like parks. The monuments were given more space, and oriented to be viewed from curving paths and carriageways.
Fair Ridge Cemetery came into use as soon as it was founded, and some earlier graves were evidently moved into it from elsewhere. It has served as the community’s principal final resting place ever since. In recent decades, the site has been considerably enlarged to provide space for future expansion
The original sections of the cemetery lie along the gently sloping ridge that parallels Quaker Road. The earliest graves are concentrated toward the southern end. Most of the gravestones are clustered in family plots, some enclosed within fences or walls, some with a central family monument surrounded by smaller individual markers.
The more modern sections are located on the slope to the west. There are still a few family plots, but most plots contain only the graves of individuals or couples. This reflects the shift from a largely agricultural community, with families who remained here for generations, to a suburb composed of families who have moved here from elsewhere and may later move on.
An especially historic section of the cemetery is located at the southern end of the rear slope. It contains about 40 graves, which were moved here in 1903 when the enlargement of the Croton Reservoir forced the evacuation of the Croton Valley Quaker meetinghouse and graveyard. Several of the monuments are simple fieldstones that go back to the turn of the 19th century.
New Castle was originally settled about the middle of the 18th century. Most of the pioneer families were Quakers, and their earlier generations were buried in the graveyard of the Chappaqua Friends’ Meeting House, a short distance away on Quaker Road. But from the time that Fair Ridge was founded, many old families, Quaker and non-Quaker alike, chose to bury their deceased members in the community cemetery.
Here are just a few of the most widely represented of these families:
The original Quinby family homestead was centered on Whippoorwill Road, about where the Whippoorwill Country club is now. In the 18th century, Moses Quinby was one of the three Quakers entrusted with the construction of the first meetinghouse. His descendants settled on Millwood Road and King Street, and both branches have plots here.
The extensive Washburn family in New Castle originated with Richard Washburn, who settled on Campfire Road in the early 1700s. The graves of his descendants are located throughout the cemetery.
The Carpenter family also traces its roots to 18th-century pioneers, and, its members, like the Washburns, are buried individually and in family plots at several locations in the cemetery.
John Underhill was a 17th-century Indian fighter who later became a Quaker. Several of his Quaker descendants settled in Westchester. As noted above, the site of this cemetery was on land owned by Jesse Haight Underhill, who is buried with his parents and offspring in a family plot at the southern end of the ridge.
The earliest gravestones in the cemetery, those moved from the old Croton Valley Meetinghouse, are rough slabs of local fieldstone, in keeping with the Quaker preference for simplicity. Some are blank; others are incised with crudely carved initials. They serve only to mark the graves.
In the 19th century, even the Quakers shifted over to professionally carved monuments. Initially, the favored material was marble, which was associated with the democratic ideals of ancient Greece and Rome. But as the decades passed, it became increasingly clear that marble weathered poorly, and that the carefully carved inscriptions were likely to dissolve into illegibility. So, late in the century, there was another major shift, to durable granite, which has become the standard ever since.